Review: 2017 GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cab – Haul Your Cargo and Your Kids

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People don’t often think of pickup trucks as “family vehicles,” but there’s a lot to be said for them if you look for the right features. There’s a wide range of trucks out there, from those with no back seat (standard cab), to those with an unusable back seat (many extended cabs), to those with back seats so large you could camp in them. The former might be tough to use with kids, but the latter can be great, allowing you to safely haul your kids and have plenty of room for cargo and/or horsepower for towing.

I recently had the opportunity to drive a 2016/2017 GMC Sierra 1500 4WD Crew Cab SLT for a week, and I could easily see it being someone’s family car.

Vehicle Features and Driving

We’ll get to the carseat stuff in a minute, but first let’s explore the Sierra’s features and what it’s like to drive it.

The Sierra gets a 5-star overall rating in the government crash tests. That includes 5-star ratings for driver and passenger frontal crash, driver and passenger side crash, and a 4-star rating for rollovers. It receives ratings of Good in most IIHS categories, with the exception of the small overlap test (Moderate), headlights (Acceptable), and LATCH ease of use (Poor—we’ll get to this later). Regarding the headlight category, only one large pickup rated better than the Sierra—the other trucks all got marginal or poor ratings.

The Sierra comes with the safety features one would expect: Antilock breaks, a full range of airbags, a tire pressure monitoring system, etc. The model I drove had some extra safety features, including a forward collision alert system, parking assist, and a lane departure assist system.

The lane departure feature was really neat. I’ve driven a lot of cars that alert you when you’re drifting out of a lane, but this takes it one step further. If the vehicle detects that you’re leaving a lane (while not actively steering and with no turn signal on), it gently turns the steering wheel on its own to keep you in the lane. This is a very subtle process, and I had to test it several times to fully understand what it was doing, but it really did help keep the truck where it was supposed to be, in large part because the steering wheel moving on its own definitely grabs your attention.

I’m the first to admit that I’m not a “big car” person. The bigger the vehicle, the more I worry I’m going to run into something, especially when parking it. It’s the kind of fear that subsides over time, but I was still a bit nervous in the mere week I drove the Sierra. That said, I didn’t run into anything, nor did I have any trouble driving or maneuvering the truck.

Many pickup trucks, especially at higher trim levels, can look and feel like luxury cars inside, and that’s true of the Sierra, too. But make no mistake: It’s a pickup truck, and it feels like one when driving. It took a good depression on the gas pedal to get it going, and the acceleration took a while. That’s probably not surprising, but I drove the Sierra right after testing out the 2016 Subaru Forester, which accelerates like mad with just a feather’s touch, so it seemed like a big contrast. The ride was a bit bumpier than what you’d experience in a typical sedan, but again, that comes with the territory. Overall it was actually smoother than I expected it to be.

The Sierra definitely felt sturdy, and once I got used to the way it drove it was pretty fun, even for someone who gets nervous with big vehicles. I even parked it somewhat decently! (I’ve written about my parking woes in the past.)

Carseats and Kids

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Manufacturers—It’s Time for You to Step Up

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Emma in NautilusIn 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics changed their rear-facing recommendations to age 2 or until the highest rear-facing weight or height limit of the child restraint has been reached. Shortly after, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also changed their policy to show that rear-facing is safest for kids up to the limits of their rear-facing carseats. While the two policies aren’t quite in line with each other as far as limits go, what’s clear is that at the very least, kids should stay rear-facing to age 2.

It’s been 6 years now since those recommendations changed and I’d say most parents have heard of them. Some want to stick their heads in the sand and pretend like they didn’t hear them because they want their kids to see them eat their mom snacks or because they think their kids’ legs are twisted up and uncomfortable, and for others, it’s truly a new discovery. We have 4 states—New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, California—where it’s the law that children must stay rear-facing until at least age 2, and 5 other states where bills have been proposed in state legislatures to make it formal. This is real.

So, manufacturers, what’s the problem?

Caregivers are getting conflicting messages and it’s confusing the bejeezits out of them. I know—how could this possibly be confusing when we have a 6 year old recommendation and even laws coming out to enforce the safety aspect of rear-facing? It seems clear-cut.

First, I want to say manufacturers have been giving us great seats lately. Really awesome seats! I can’t think of a better time in the last 17 years that I’ve been in carseats that I’ve seen such a great selection and if I had a kid in a carseat, I’d probably be switching them out on a daily basis. The manuals have improved so much too! Sections have been reorganized, color-coded, and written at a lower grade level so you don’t need to have a graduate level college degree to understand it.

Let’s get into the confusion by talking about these awesome infant seats on the market (technically we’re supposed to call them rear-facing only seats). They go to 35 lbs. or 40 lbs. and can hold kids who are no longer infants (see why we’re supposed to call them rear-facing only seats?). A mom who has a 30 lbs. 32” 19 mo old may think that her son is big enough to go straight into a Graco Nautilus because the box on the forward-facing only Nautilus says it fits children in a harness from 20-65 lbs. (and, after all, it’s “the last car seat you’ll ever buy”). There’s no mention on the side of the box, or in the manual, that the Nautilus is not an appropriate carseat for a child under age 2. Besides, after a caregiver has gotten a carseat home and unboxed is not the time to read in the manual that the carseat is not an appropriate model for their child.

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Graco isn’t the only manufacturer. Dorel (Safety 1st, Cosco, Maxi-Cosi, Eddie Bauer), doesn’t put age recommendations on their packaging and in fact, rescinded their stance on rear-facing to age 2 that they had on several convertible models (it’s complicated). Evenflo is in the process of converting their line to an age 2 minimum for forward-facing, but that takes time to trickle down; they say it should be completed by this summer. Britax is the only manufacturer currently with text on the side of their combination seat (harness seat that converts to booster) boxes that says the seat has an age 2 minimum.

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I’m not asking for much. A simple “Recommended for ages 2+” on the side of the box next to the weight limits on every combination seat would cover it. It doesn’t change the company’s overall philosophy or policy and would let caregivers clearly know the seat isn’t appropriate. Similarly, convertible seat packaging could have wording on the side next to the weight limits that says, “Recommended for ages 0-2+, 5-40 lbs.,” “Recommended for ages 2+, 20-65 lbs.,” and so on.

Labeling on the sides of restraints has improved so much in the past several years. Wording has been simplified and bright colors are being used. It’s time to make text on the boxes practical so parents aren’t stuck buying inappropriate carseats that could put their children at risk.

Reason #4239423742398475 your kid is crying.

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A familiar scene in our house is me sitting quietly on the couch, lights dimmed, enjoying the last few minutes of silence before heading up to bed. I get up and start putting things away and I hear a sudden cry coming from upstairs. I go into Declan’s room and he’s sitting in his bed, crying uncontrollably while holding his leg. He can’t stop crying long enough to tell me what’s wrong, but I already know because we do this frequently.

Growing pains.

Which is kind of misleading because there’s no actual proof that it’s caused by growing anyway. Supposedly it’s more related to the crazy amount of physical activity kids do, even if it’s just running and jumping around the house. I do know this is true- I notice an increase in the times this happens when we do a long walk or hike, or he’s jumping on a trampoline. However, just because they can’t prove it’s not directly related to growing, I wouldn’t be surprised if it does have something to do with it. I mean, you see how fast our kids grow. It’s absolutely insane. So unless you gave birth to Stretch Armstrong then I wouldn’t doubt rapid growth is fatiguing.

growing-pain

The pain is related to the muscles and ligaments more than it is bones, is almost always in the legs and almost always bilateral, or at least alternating legs each time it happens. Worst of all, it’s almost always at night. If the pain is constant and occurring during the day, it’s probably worth mentioning to your child’s pediatrician. If you notice any rashes or lumps/bumps in the pain area (outside of an isolated injury of course), fevers, or limping around during the day, it needs to be checked out. Growing pains are painful, but aren’t associated with anything you can physically see.

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So what can you do? Mostly comfort measures. Leg massages, applying heat (a rice sock is amazing for these situations), and making sure they are hydrated. A warm bath before bed can help relax the muscles, and adding a bit of epsom salts (magnesium) can help too. Most literature you will find on growing pains basically states that there’s no definite proof of what causes it and there’s no definite proof of what can relieve it and the comfort measures stated before are recommended. For me personally, when I was pregnant and experiencing leg cramps I know that magnesium and potassium uptake helped so I’ve done this with Declan and it seems to help significantly. Most normal healthy people get enough magnesium from foods, hence why it’s not always added in multivitamins, but given how picky some kids can be, I wouldn’t doubt that they don’t always get in the amount recommended. Magnesium rich foods include dark leafy greens (yeah, I know, I can hear you laughing from here), nuts, seeds, fish, bananas, avocados, and lots more. I’ve noticed a big difference in Declan’s episodes by adding some of these things to a smoothie in the morning. They do have magnesium supplements for children too, but check with your ped first before giving, especially if your child is already taking a multivitamin with magnesium in it.

Most importantly, stretch! Get down on the floor with your child and do some leg stretches. If you’re into yoga, include your child! I am about as capable at yoga as a drunken sloth but I can do leg stretches with Declan and they’ve been enough. Take comfort in knowing that most growing pains happen in the preschool years so it’s not forever.

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All these little things popping up is tough. It feels like there’s always something, you know? Just remember that being a kid is even tougher. So do some stretches, eat some bananas, and I’ll cross my fingers for you tonight.

The Carseat Lockoff Guide

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What is a lockoff and which carseats have them?

As LATCH weight limits shrink due to federal standards, more and more carseats require using the seatbelt to install once the child reaches a certain weight. In some cases the LATCH weight limit can be as low as 25 or 30 lbs. (child weight). The problem with seatbelt installations is that most parents have no idea how to lock the seatbelts in their vehicle in order to properly install a carseat or infant seat base. Ask the average parent or caregiver what a “switchable retractor” is or a “locking latchplate” and you’ll probably get a very confused look in response.

This is why every car seat in North America should come with a built-in lockoff! If you are installing with a seatbelt instead of lower LATCH anchors and your carseat has a lockoff device – use it and you will never have to worry about LATCH weight limits or understanding pre-crash locking features on vehicle restraint systems.

Function of built-in lockoff device: A lockoff device can serve more than one function but its main purpose is to cinch or clamp the seatbelt in such a way that it cannot loosen and your tight carseat installation stays tight!  

Current list of carseats that feature lockoff(s)