The Car Seat Lady responds to Consumer Reports’ April 2014 Infant Car Seat Ratings
Posted in: Blog, Response to Media
We’ve struggled to make sense of Consumer Reports’ infant seat ratings released last week – and how to explain why we disagree with many of their conclusions.
It boils down to this: their findings often differed with our combined 55 years experience in the field installing more than 25,000 car seats in nearly every vehicle on the road. In 2013 alone, the 3 of us who make up The Car Seat Lady helped parents install more than 2,000 car seats – including hundreds of the infant seats they evaluated – and succeeded in achieving secure installations where their ratings suggest we would have failed, and vice versa.
We’ll have a more thorough analysis of their ratings and where we agree and disagree coming soon, but in the meantime wanted to share these thoughts.
Before we go any further let’s just cut to the chase on 2 points.
- Don’t go out and buy a new seat. You can keep your baby well protected by making sure your seat is installed properly and that your baby is secured properly in the seat. Since 90% of all car seats aren’t used properly, don’t assume you’re doing it right; get the installation checked by someone trained.
- Our top 2 most-recommended seats have not changed. We love them because:
- They’ll install easily and securely in virtually any car with OR without the base (see here for videos).
- They offer a European routing path for the seat belt when installing the seat without the base – which not only gives a super secure installation, it also keeps the child safer by helping the shell of the car seat manage the crash energy as best as possible. In fact, Cybex’s testing of the Aton/Aton2/AtonQ carrier withOUT the base, using this European routing path, shows that the carrier alone performs to the same exceptional level as the Aton2 does when tested with the base AND the load leg. Consumer Reports found that the Aton2 with the base and load leg performed better than any other seat in their crash tests (CR did not crash test seats without their bases).
- The harness straps adjust smoothly.
- They fit preemies nicely as well as larger infants.
So… what are The Car Seat Lady’s top 2 most-recommended rear-facing-only seats?
#1 is the Cybex Aton2. We love this seat and use it for our own babies & grandbabies. We haven’t found the installation trouble that Consumer Reports (CR) encountered – and we’ve installed hundreds of the Cybex seats… many more than CR has. It is one of the few US seats to offer a load leg on the base – a safety feature that significantly decreases head & neck forces. The straps are much harder to tighten on the baby with the AtonQ… which is why we prefer the 2. The Aton2 is super compact – taking up 4 inches less room into the front seat than most other infant seats.
#2 is the Graco SnugRide 35 with Classic Connect (not the Click Connect or any other number). We have also used this seat for some of our babies. We love that, like the Cybex, this Graco has a European belt path for installing the carrier without the base, as shown here in this video and discussed on pages 35-36 of the manual. Please note that the Click Connect seats do NOT have a European belt path… which is one of the reasons we don’t recommend these seats. You can find the 35 Classic Connect here or here.
Now, onto our thoughts about the Consumer Reports ratings:
With time and resources limited, the focus should be where the need is greatest. Making infant seats safer in frontal crashes, as CR has set out to do, is not where the need is greatest.
Few infants die in car crashes in the US. 76 died in 2010. Older kids in car seats & boosters have higher injury & death rates in car crashes – so the initial focus should be on the older kids, not infants who are the best protected people in the entire car.
More infants are injured in their car seats OUT of the car than in a car crash (estimated 7.3K vs 5.5K in 2010) – with drops and falls being the most common mechanism of injury, and head injuries being the most frequent injury types. Therefore, if the goal is making infants safer in car seats, the initial focus should be on keeping them safe in the seats when they are used out of the car.
Side impacts make up 40% of the crashes in which a child ages 0-8 dies – so it’s puzzling why CR focused only on frontal crashes…. although perhaps the CR debacle from 2007 (where CR created their own side impact crash test, published their findings that every car seat on the market was essentially a death trap for kids, and then a week later retracted the entire article after realizing they had totally messed up their crash testing–the car seats were fine, their testing methods weren’t) is why they didn’t do any side impact testing this time.
With an astronomically high misuse rate (~90%) the focus should be on identifying and highlighting specific design features that enhance ease of, and likelihood of, proper use. While CR focused on ease of use, their findings are all the more puzzling to us as nearly every seat with a built-in locking device for the seat belt (a feature known to increase the chance of a proper installation) received negative comments from CR about some aspect of this device – while seats without such devices were not penalized for lacking this ease-of-use feature.
This isn’t the first time we’ve been concerned by CR’s findings because of:
Inconsistencies within their own ratings
- Nearly identical seats receive disparate ratings for unclear reasons. For example, the Cybex Aton & Aton2 are nearly identical – the only differences are the load leg & LSP on the Aton2 – yet the Aton received a lower ease-of-use rating than the Aton2.
- Highlighted pros & cons (called “highs” and “lows”) seem to be randomly selected and not listed for all applicable seats – unfairly making some seats look better and others worse.
Inconsistencies between their assessments and our experience with these seats
- We’re most concerned that their ease-of-use, fit to vehicle with LATCH, and fit to vehicle with seat belt assessments often differ greatly from our experience installing literally thousands of these seats in a wide variety of vehicles (much wider than the five vehicles they used in their evaluations).
- With a 90% misuse rate for car seats, an accurate portrayal of the features that lead to a proper installation is critical. For example: built-in locking devices for the seat belt almost uniformly received criticism from CR – when these are important features in increasing the chance of an easy & secure seat belt installation.
- With regard to the Installation of a carrier without the base, there are 2 methods of routing the seat belt around the car seat – we’ll call them the American and European methods for the locations where they are most commonly found, but understand that both methods are found on seats in the US. The American method typically yields a secure installation in just a few cars (about 1 out of 5 cars in our experience). The European method yields a secure installation in nearly every car (about 4.9 out of 5 in our experience).
- The video below allows you to see firsthand the difference in the secureness of the installation between the American and European methods. The seat shown is the Graco Snug Ride 35 Classic Connect.
- After having seen the above video, we’re sure you’ll understand why we can’t explain how CR found the installation of some seats with the American method to be easy to achieve a secure installation without the base (Britax B-Safe, Graco Snug Ride 40) while others which install identically were noted to be difficult to achieve a secure installation without the base (Chicco Key Fit, Graco Snug Ride 35 Classic Connect, Britax Chaperone). In our opinion, all seats with an American method should have received the same rating of “does not yield a secure installation without the base in many vehicles” – and all seats with a European method should have received the same rating of “installs well without base in many vehicles”.
- CR mentioned that the Maxi Cosi Mico “installs well without the base in many vehicles”… but failed to mention several important points:
With regard to the fit in the vehicle, CR commented about the room the Britax B-Safe & Graco Snug Ride 40 take up in the vehicle… despite the fact that these 2 seats take up the same amount of room in the vehicle both side to side and front to back. However, CR said the B-Safe was a “good seat for small vehicles” while for the Graco Snug Ride 40 Click Connect they said “design and length of the seat can limit or preclude installation in some vehicles”. How does one come to these opposite conclusions on seats that in fact take up the same amount of space??? Most puzzling of all is that CR fails to mention that the Cybex Aton/Aton2 takes up 4 inches LESS room into the front seat than the Britax B-Safe and Graco Snug Ride 40, in addition to being a smidge narrower, making the Cybex seats a MUCH better choice for small vehicles than the B-Safe or any other seat. When we had to install an infant seat in the back of a Porsche 911 convertible… you guessed it, the Cybex was the only one to physically fit and install securely.
- The Mico that they rated is no longer being made – it was replaced by the Mico Nxt and Mico AP, neither of which have a European belt path… and therefore neither of which install well without the base in most vehicles.
- The comment of “installs well without the base in many vehicles” also applies to the Cybex Aton & Aton2, Nuna Pipa, and Graco Snug Ride 35 Classic Connect – as all feature the same European method, but CR only bestowed this positive comment on the Maxi Cosi Mico.
- CR had a lot to say with regard to the seat belt lock-offs on various seats:
- Chicco Key Fit/30can slip
- Britax B-Safe hard to close
- Britax Chaperone makes installation “awkward”
- Graco Snug Ride 40 gives secure install
- Graco Snug Ride 35 secure – but difficult to open
- UPPAbaby Mesa lock-off won’t close on some seat belts & difficult to hold tension while closing.
- Some of CR’s statements contradict manufacturers’ instructions – which makes us worry.
- Example: With regard to the Cybex Aton2, CR says: “Load leg may prevent installation in the center position of some vehicles with floors that [sic] raised.” However Cybex clearly states on page 24 of the Aton2 manual “The Load Leg is an effective safety feature of the Aton 2 and using it is STRONGLY RECOMMENDED. However, if necessary (e.g. in a center position with a hump in the foor), the base may be installed with the Load Leg folded up underneath.”
- Most infant seats can be installed with OR without their base – but CR only crash tested the seats in their bases, despite commenting on ease/difficulty of achieving a secure installation of the carrier without its base and factoring this into a seat’s overall score.
Lack of Clarity and Transparency
- CR’s highest rated car seat (Chicco Key Fit 22/30), by their own admission, was problematic when installing the carrier without the base (“Secure installation of carrier without base is difficult to achieve”) and when installing the base with the vehicle’s seat belt (“Belt lock-off can slip in some vehicles”). The Car Seat Lady wants to know why a seat with these drawbacks garnered the highest rating, especially since at least one other seat (the Cybex Aton2) outperformed it in the crash testing. We think the best seat must install securely in all cars and in all methods of installation.
- By failing to disclose the detailed methods surrounding their crash testing and formula for assigning a numerical score to a seat, it precludes a thorough scientific evaluation of a topic they’re trying to make scientific.
- By creating an entirely new crash test, they know that the car seat manufacturers will likely not be able to replicate the test – which runs counter to their stated goal of pushing manufacturers to make safer seats.