Consumer Reports 2015 Convertible Seat Ratings

Posted in: Blog, Response to Media

First, a little background.

Car crashes remain a leading cause of preventable death and injury to children worldwide. Head injuries are the most common serious injuries sustained by kids in car crashes – regardless of age, restraint type, and crash direction. While non-use of car seats/boosters/seat belts remains a serious problem, misuse is also a huge problem. More than 90% of all car seats are NOT used properly – and studies show the average seat has 3 errors – with the two most frequent errors being that the seat is too loosely connected to the vehicle and the child is too loosely strapped into the car seat. Studies consistently show that it does NOT matter so much which car seat you have – whether Consumer Reports gave it a basic or a best rating, or a score of 45 or 95 – but rather what matters MOST is how well you use it.

Study after study shows these are the 5 MOST IMPORTANT things you can do to keep your child safe in the car:

  1. EVERYONE uses an appropriate restraint – car seat/booster/seat belt – on EVERY trip (no exceptions… including on vacation or in a taxi)
  2. Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible – at the very minimum, until 24 months of age.
  3. Use the tether strap on EVERY forward-facing car seat. ZERO EXCEPTIONS. It doesn’t matter if the car seat is secured with LATCH or the vehicle’s seat belt… ALWAYS USE THE TETHER when the seat is forward-facing
  4. Use a booster seat until the vehicle’s seat belt fits an older child properly – ie. when they pass the 5 step test.
  5. Make sure the car seat is installed TIGHT to the vehicle and the child’s straps are SNUG to the body without puffy coats.

Now, about Consumer Reports (CR).

CR belongs to the ICRT – International Consumer Research and Testing – an independent international organization for consumer research and testing comprised of more than 35 consumer organizations worldwide. ICRT and its members do not accept any advertising and are independent of commerce, industry, and political parties. They’re funded by the money received from magazine & online subscriptions – as well as from sales of products on Amazon & Ebay that occur when a consumer clicks on a product link on the CR website.

What is the consumer’s interest?

As stated on the ICRT website, ICRT member organizations “act exclusively in the consumer interest”. With regard to car seats, the consumer’s interest is to have the safest seat possible… which means the engineers designing the car seats need access to as many tools as possible in order to design the safest seat possible. Unfortunately, CR refuses to share complete crash test protocol data (specifically the 3D CAD data of the crash test bench + crash pulse geometry) with child restraint engineers so that they can design their seats to perform better in CR’s new crash test (see more below).

What is CR’s new crash test?

CR is now using a new crash test procedure that they developed… it is not used by any other testing organization or government in the world. They created a new test to address what they saw as imperfections in the FMVSS213, the current crash test standard that applies to all seats sold in the US.

While we understand the deficiencies in FMVSS213, we do wonder why CR felt it necessary to develop their own test when there are well validated test protocols used in Europe that address many of the faults in FMVSS213.

The new CR crash test is loosely based off the NCAP testing of vehicles (like what NHTSA uses to give their 5 star rating to vehicles) in that it uses a higher speed of 35mph.

What else goes into CR’s ratings?

CR assesses ease of use by having their staff – who are certified child passenger safety technicians – look at different criteria (see below).  The flaw in this is that given a >90% misuse rate for car seats, parents misuse the “easy” to use seats just as frequently as the “hard” to use seats. A better assessment of the seat’s ease of use would be to assess real parents (who are NOT CPS techs) using the seats and see which ones show greater levels of difficulty and/or misuse – as this would be the best indicator of which ones have the greatest/least potential for misuse in the real world.

Here are the criteria by which CR assesses ease of use (and underneath each bullet are our thoughts on these criteria):

The Car Seat Lady’s CR Wish List

We have asked CR on several occasions to share more of their information so that parents could make a more informed decision… but they have not done so. Here’s a few of the things we have asked for:

Release complete, not averaged, crash results

Which UK detailed crash test performance rating

Which UK detailed crash test performance rating

We asked CR to release the complete crash test results for each seat – rather than an averaged assessment for each seat. Other ICRT members release complete crash test results. To the right is a screenshot of a rating from Which UK for a car seat that can be a forward-facing 5-point harness, and then becomes a high back booster, and then a backless booster. While the overall rating for this seat looks bad (just 1 star) a parent can learn a lot about the best way to use their seat by looking at this. They can see that it performs well in a crash as a 5-point harness (4 stars), but not as well in the booster modes (1 or 3 stars). Therefore, a parent can make an educated decision to continue using this seat in harnessed mode – perhaps passing it down to a younger child who needs a harness and getting a different booster for the older child – instead of switching this seat to booster mode and buying a new harnessed seat for a younger child.

Different installation methods -> potential for differentials in protection

A convertible car seat in the US has 9 different installation methods (see below).

Here are the configurations that CR used for testing convertibles

Image from Consumer Reports

Image from Consumer Reports

It is likely that some methods offer superior crash protection than others. With CR’s ratings it is impossible to know how the seat did in each of these methods as each convertible seat simply receives one score of Basic, Better, or Best for its crash performance. CR doesn’t even divide the ratings by rear-facing & forward-facing!

Why should you care? If you were buying a car seat and knew you’d be installing it in the center of your car with a lap belt, wouldn’t you want to know which car seat performed best in that situation? If you have captain’s chairs in your minivan and could install with either LATCH or the shoulder/lap belt, wouldn’t you want to know if the car seat you bought offered better crash protection with one of these installation methods than the other? Rigid LATCH systems are rare in the US (but very common in Europe) and have ease of installation and safety benefits in a crash… and if parents were to see that there was better crash performance with these seats we may see more manufacturers offer this in the US. A more complete sharing of the data would undoubtedly be in the consumer’s interest.

Release complete testing protocol to manufacturers

Since the ultimate consumer interest is that every car seat is the safest possible, this can only be achieved if those designing these car seats have all the tools necessary to design the best seat. Bringing a car seat to market is a mulit-million dollar investment as the tooling alone can run upwards of a million dollars. As such, today’s car seats are designed and crash tested on computers many times before the physical product is even built. Using 3D CAD (Computer Aided Design) data and FEM (Finite Element Modeling) the child car seat manufacturers can learn how the car seat they are developing will perform under various crash testing conditions – and modify the design of the seat before the tools to build it are even made. Once the tools are made, it is often cost-prohibitive to make changes to the seat for a while.

When European ICRT organizations report their ratings for car seats, it is based on the widely accepted and respected ADAC crash test results for car seats. While some of the European ICRT organizations also have their own crash pulse for further testing, one common thread amongst all testing done in Europe is that it is done on the same crash test bench as required to meet European standards (R44/R129). This European bench has a stiffer cushion than the FMVSS213 bench – so it would have been reasonable for CR to simply use the European bench, rather than inventing their own. Car seat manufacturers have access to the CAD data for the European crash test bench.

Child car seat manufacturers in Europe have access to all the pulse variants & CAD data for the ADAC crash test and as such can run Finite Element Analysis (FEA) on their seats and ensure that the new seat they are designing, or the modifications they are making to an existing seat, will achieve the best results in a real crash test.

If CR was truly interested in manufacturers being able to build the best seats possible – with the underlying assumption that their new crash test will show which seats are the safest – then they would release their 3D CAD data of the crash test bench & crash pulse geometry to the child restraint manufacturers. Until then all we can conclude is that they are more interested in selling magazines to parents as it is more sensational to say that some seats do worse than others… because putting out a magazine where all the car seats achieved the highest rating just wouldn’t be as sensational.

Put these results in context

CR tested only in frontal impacts. In the real world, side impacts are the most likely impact to cause injury to kids (frontal crashes are 2nd) – and most side impacts are not 90 degree T-bones, but rather at an angle which means that there is both forward movement and side-to-side movement of the car seat in the crash. Performance in an oblique (not 90 degree) side impact might be where we see true differentiation between the protection offered by various car seats.

What do we make of CR’s results?

Many of CR’s ratings – specifically regarding ease of use and ease of installation – are highly subjective, and therefore lack scientific rigor. The Car Seat Lady installs several thousand car seats every year… which is probably more than any other group in the country (or close to it). We have a depth and breadth of experience with different car seats in different vehicles spanning 2 decades.

We continue to be troubled by the fact that seats earning poorer crash test ratings can still receive a significantly higher overall score than those with better crash test performance. Nonetheless, it is important to remind everyone that even seats that receive a “Basic” rating for crash protection still meet the government’s standards AND will offer good protection to a child in a crash – we know this from real world crashes.

ALL seats will work best and offer maximal protection when used properly – and the misuse rate is astronomically high for ALL seats (even the ones that CR rated as easy to install). So make sure that whatever seat you have for your child is installed properly AND the child is buckled properly on every trip.

When to switch to a convertible?

CR noted when testing rear-facing-only seats (infant seats) that there was contact between the dummy’s head and the blocker in about 50% of the crash tests. This 12-month-old dummy is 29 inches and CR reports that the dummy’s head was at least 1 inch below the top of the seat pre-crash.

Image from Consumer Reports - showing dummy's head hitting the blocker when seated in the Graco Snug Ride 40 (rear-facing only seat) but not when in a convertible seat with a taller shell height

Image from Consumer Reports – showing dummy’s head hitting the blocker when seated in the Graco Snug Ride 40 (rear-facing only seat) but not when in a convertible seat with a taller shell height

In cases where there was head contact, no additional tests were run on that same seat with the same installation method to assess the repeatability of this finding. We therefore wonder if seats that did not show head contact, may in fact have shown it were additional tests run. It is impossible to draw scientific conclusions when a test is run only once.

It is important to note that CR released their results on the infant seats in April 2014… but made no mention of this issue with the dummy’s head contacting the blocker at that time. In fact, they still don’t mention anything about this in their infant seat ratings. If they were truly concerned about the infant’s head being at increased risk for injury in the infant seat, we don’t know why they didn’t release these findings a year ago when they first learned of them.

What do we recommend? Make sure there is AT LEAST 1 inch of room between the top of your child’s head and the top of the rear-facing-only seat. If you can allow a little bit of room between the front seat and the infant car seat, even better. If you are finding it too heavy to lift the carrier in/out of the base – even if your baby hasn’t outgrown the rear-facing only seat – this is a good time to switch to a convertible seat, using it rear-facing of course!

Some forward-facing seats showed structural damage

There were a few seats – Britax Roundabout G4, Britax Boulevard G4 (same should apply to Marathon & Advocate G4), and Safety 1st Advance SE 65 Air+ – where when tested with dummies at their uppermost weight ranges (52 and 62 pound dummies respectively) there was structural damage to the shell of the seat – specifically where the shoulder straps attach to the back of the seat broke. Despite the damage to the seat, ALL of the injury parameters required under FMVSS213 with regard to assessing whether the dummy is likely to be injured or not were within the acceptable range. However, the concern is that if there was a 2nd collision – for example you hit someone, the shell of the car seat breaks but the child is unharmed, but then someone hits you – that the car seat may not be able to adequately protect the child.

The reality is that with nearly every convertible seat on the market, it is impossible to get a 55 or especially a 65 pound child in these seats as the kids are too tall long before reaching these weights. Also, seats are allowed to experience some structural damage as a way of managing the crash energy. We agree that should there be a second crash (you get hit, then someone hits you for example) there could be consequences to the protection of the child in a seat that experienced damage. However, the likelihood of this happening is likely slim as 1. the severity of the crash used by CR is far greater than almost any real world crash and 2. the weight of the dummy used far surpasses the weight at which actual children can typically fit in these seats. Nonetheless, since the seats were only tested with a 35 pound dummy and then the 52 or 62 pound dummy, it is impossible to know at what weight the seats start to experience structural issues. If it were at a child’s weight of 40 pounds this would be concerning as many 40 pound kids fit in these seats and ride in them – whereas if it were at 50 pounds most kids are too tall for the seats by the time they reach 50 pounds and would be in a different seat anyway.

However, what happened with the Recaro ProRide/PerformanceRide is more concerning as the structural damage occurred not only with the heaviest dummies, but also with the 35 pound 3 year old dummy when the seat was tested forward-facing. If you are a parent with this seat, we would suggest turning the child back rear-facing so long as they are within the height and weight parameters to use this rear-facing – and if this is not possible, we think it is very reasonable to consider replacing this seat.

The Cosco Scenera (not to be confused with the Scenera NEXT which is a completely different car seat) had significant cracking at the rear-facing belt path when tested with the 35 pound 3-year-old dummy. Since this cracking happened in 2 of the 2 tests they ran when the seat was installed with the seat belt, but did not happen in the 1 test they ran with the seat installed with LATCH, we would recommend installing this seat rear-facing with LATCH if possible, instead of with the seat belt.

CR’s 5 top rated convertible seats with The Car Seat Lady’s Pros/Cons for each seat:

***Please understand these 5 are not our top rated seats, but rather Consumer Reports’ 5 top rated convertible seats***

1. Chicco Next Fit $300


Fairly high rear-facing capacity (40 pounds – with essentially no height restriction)

Well designed seat belt locking devices that allow for an easier, more secure seat belt installation (but due to their location we find a 2nd person may be needed to help close it so you don’t release the slack in the seat belt)

Installs securely with LATCH or seat belt in a wide variety of vehicles both rear and forward-facing

More leg room than average for rear-facing kids (although legs are more elevated than in other seats)

Open belt path allows for pulling LATCH or seat belt from inside the car seat (requires unsnapping/unzipping cover to access opening, however)


Seat is wider than some – so not as ideal for putting 2 kids side by side or 3-across

High sides and a low spot for the child’s bottom can make it more difficult to lift the child in/out of the seat

Deep internal recline puts the child’s knees higher than average and also does not give rear-facing kids as good a view out the rear window

Harness straps are harder to tighten than on Chicco’s infant seat (due to introduction of a no-rethread harness on the Next Fit which is not found on the Key Fit)

2. Britax Marathon Click Tight $265


Click Tight plate serves as a seat belt locking device – so parents don’t have to understand how their seat belt does/does not lock

Installs securely with seat belt in a wide variety of vehicles both rear and forward-facing – but often requires significantly more brute force to close the Click Tight plate than one might expect

V-shaped tether yields better performance for forward-facing kids in many frontal and side impacts compared to a straight tether – especially in cases when the vehicle head restraint design is fixed and does not allow a straight tether to go under the head restraint.

Can purchase anti-rebound bar for rear-facing (sold separately for $20)


Limited RF capacity compared to the Boulevard & Advocate Click Tight as head rest on Marathon is not structural – so kids will outgrow it RF before 40 pounds in some cases

Very low, tight crotch buckle causes some children discomfort

Limited leg room for rear-facing kids compared to similarly sized seats

Several problems seen with this new seat – including leg straps falling off the plate they are attached to (seats made since Nov 2014 should not experience this problem), and a recall where the harness could loosen on the child

Narrow angle to get rear-facing kids in/out can make buckling the child more difficult

Click-Tight bevel must be fully parallel in order for Click Tight plate to be locked down… but this is not obvious as the plate often locks down with the bevel slightly angled – which could cause the plate to open in a crash.

We find it puzzling that CR gave it an excellent for ease of use, despite CR finding the need to include tips to caregivers with regard to installation…

3. Evenflo Sure Ride/Titan 65 $100


Very high forward-facing capacity due to very tall shoulder strap height

High rear-facing capacity for taller skinny kids – but can be limited by the massive space between the shoulder strap slots which may preclude some kids from taking full advantage of the height this seat offers

Open belt path allows for pulling LATCH or seat belt from inside the car seat


Wide on the outside which means it will take up more room into adjacent seats, preventing another car seat or booster from fitting next to it

Takes up a significant amount of room into the front seat when rear-facing in some cars

Harness straps twist and get uneven

No seat belt locking devices (recommend LATCH installation when possible)

Loosening & unhooking the LATCH strap can be exceptionally difficult when the seat is tightly installed

4. Cosco Scenera NEXT $45


Narrow seat – will accommodate 2-side by side or 3-across more than many other convertibles

Open belt path allows for pulling LATCH or seat belt from inside the car seat


Short shell limits rear-facing use for taller kids – will be outgrown typically before a child reaches the 40 pound weight limit

Harness straps twist and get uneven

Complicated re-routing of harness straps for small babies

No seat belt locking devices (recommend LATCH installation when possible)

Loosening & unhooking the LATCH strap can be exceptionally difficult when the seat is tightly installed

5. Graco Contender $140


Very high seated height which allows all kids to ride rear-facing to 40 pounds

Open belt path for rear-facing allows for pulling LATCH or seat belt from inside the car seat (the belt path is closed for forward-facing, making the installation more difficult)

Harness straps tighten smoothly (but may twist in the buckle tongues) – and can’t get uneven

No rethread harness adjusts smoothly

Compact design fits nicely in smaller cars – especially rear-facing


No seat belt locking devices (recommend LATCH installation when possible)

Does not have the push-on lower LATCH connectors found on the slightly more expensive Graco seats (Size4Me/Fit4Me/HeadWise) – which means that loosening & unhooking the LATCH strap can be exceptionally difficult when the seat is tightly installed

Forward-facing installation more challenging as belt path is closed – making it more difficult to pull the seat belt or LATCH belt tight

Yes, the Clek got a score of 45… and yes we’re gonna keep using it for our kids!

The Car Seat Lady kids - 6y and 3y in Clek Foonf (forward and rear-facing)

The Car Seat Lady kids – 6y and 3y in Clek Foonf (forward and rear-facing)

From our pictures, many of you may know that our own kids ride in Clek seats after they outgrow their infant seat. Some of you may be wondering if we will change and use a different convertible seat given the current ratings (which gave the Foonf a score of 45/100)… and the answer is NO!

First, let’s just clear something up lest you think that this is an advertisement for Clek (or any other manufacturer). The Car Seat Lady – just like Consumer Reports – is completely independent and does not accept any advertising. We even disable ads on all our YouTube videos AND when we used wordpress for our blog hosting we paid wordpress so that there were no ads on our blog.

We chose the Clek seats for our own kids – and may have recommended their seats to your child as well – for the following reasons:


Transparency: Clek is currently the only US manufacturer to release their crash test data publicly on their website. We like when a manufacturer shows that they have nothing to hide. CR refuses to release their data.

Rear-facing capacity: The Clek seats (Foonf & Fllo) have an extremely high rear-facing capacity of 50 pounds or 44 inches, and because they install securely with the seat belt can truly be used to 50 pounds (other manufacturers’ seats with 50 pound weight limits have significant installation issues with the seat belt in many vehicles which limits how many kids can truly use the seat beyond the 35 pound rear-facing LATCH weight limit for those seats)

Rear-facing kids get a view & a stretch: Because the Clek seats sit high off the vehicle seat they give the child a great view out the rear window – and because of the anti-rebound bar they also give much more leg room than other seats (which makes it easier to get the child in/out of the seat… the amount of leg room for rear-facing kids is NOT a safety issue)

Ease of Use: The straps on Foonf & Fllo tighten really smoothly and don’t twist or get uneven – which means that it is easier and quicker to buckle the child in/out of this seat than most other seats… especially for kids who put up a fight.

Rigid LATCH: With the Foonf, forward-facing kids get the added safety benefit of rigid LATCH (called ISOFIX in Europe) – which rigidly connects the car seat to the vehicle and greatly decreases the forward and side-to-side movement of the car seat during a crash, allowing the car seat to be more closely coupled to the vehicle and the child to experience fewer of the crash forces.

Narrow Profile: They have a narrow exterior (but wide interior for the child) so allow more room for adults in back, and facilitate 3-across scenarios more often than many other seats.

Ease of Installation: When used rear-facing, Foonf and Fllo both install very securely and quite easily with the vehicle’s seat belt due to well designed seat belt lock-offs. We’ve installed several hundred Clek seats just this year alone and respectfully disagree with CR’s assessment that the seats are difficult to install rear-facing with the seat belt. Here’s our Fllo rear-facing with seat belt installation video – it doesn’t get much easier than this with seat belt installations right now.

Anti-rebound bar for added rear-facing protection: CR detracted points from these seats because the ARB requires removal for forward-facing… but nearly every seat with an ARB requires it to be removed for FF. We are concerned that CR’s ratings will disincentivize other manufacturers from offering this safety feature.


Foonf’s weight: If you’re looking for a travel friendly seat, Foonf is not your seat. Due to the rigid LATCH it weighs 36 or so pounds. Fllo – when used with the GoGoBabyz Original Travelmate – is quite travel friendly.

Forward-facing installation: Foonf will always install securely with rigid LATCH. When installing the forward-facing Fllo with seat belt or LATCH, or forward-facing Foonf with seat belt, we find that in some cars you will achieve a very secure installation, but in some it is not possible to achieve a secure installation. Given the high rear-facing capacity both these seats offer, a child who is kept rear-facing to the max can in many cases transition from rear-facing to a booster seat, skipping the whole forward-facing step.

Foonf’s height rear-facing: In some vehicles (some large SUVs, some tiny sedans… vehicle size is surprisingly not a good predictor of this problem) when a taller child is rear-facing in the Foonf the driver’s visibility out the rear view mirror is blocked when the Foonf is installed in the center. Solution: move the Foonf to behind the driver which is a natural blind spot – or consider Fllo which sits 2 inches lower from the roof line.

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