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Friday, November 13, 2009

Buying a Convertible Car Seat? Read This!



By Katie M

You may as well chalk up buying a convertible car seat to the likes of buying a new car. It can be pretty overwhelming. The infant car seat was almost a no-brainer. Just about every brand and style offers the same qualities and safety factors – it’s just the price to contend with. But with convertible car seats, there are so many factors and options to consider. Of course you want to consider safety, but also design, functionality, price – and even advice from friends, family and the sales guy trying to sell you the seat. In the end, you use use the infant car seat for just six months, but you'll use the convertible car seat for years.

Safety was top-of-mind for us when we bought our convertible car seat, but so was size, functionality, and price. It seemed that everyone I knew was buying Britax car seats. Yes, they are always rated #1 in safety, but they are also BIG. One thing that was important to us was finding a car seat that would fit well in airplanes. We travel at least twice a year by plane to visit family, and the Britax model (at the time) didn’t seem functional for plane rides. We also were stunned at the price tags for Britax. But then again, how do you put a price tag on safety? In the end, we opted for a Graco model. Five years ago, Graco was second in safety to the Britax, and the great price, size and functionality of the model we chose made it a deal-maker for us.

So what do you need to consider? And what models really make the grade?

First, don't forget to brush up on NC infant car seat rules from my earlier blog. As for convertible car seats, I did a little research online to find out what is considered the best brand for every budget.

You need to know that convertible car seats can be used both rear-facing for infants and forward-facing for toddlers. Weight ranges vary on these car seats, so consider your child's height and weight before buying a car seat. All car seats in the U.S. meet minimum safety standards, and most models are easy to install in many vehicles, hold up well over time and are easy to adjust for proper harness fit.

That said, here’s what the experts recommend:

According to an article on CBS:
If you're looking to splurge on a convertible car seat, try the Britax brand. Their seats retail for about $330, but they come in fun patterns and colors. Britax also prides itself on their side impact protection technology.

For something more affordable, consider the Evenflo Symphony Sure Latch. It retails for around $200.00. The price accounts for the padding and the fashion. This model can hold a child up to 65 pounds, but you can literally fit a first grader in this harness.

And the top five picks from www.About.com:
1. Britax Boulevard Convertible Car Seat
The Britax Boulevard car seat rear-faces from 5-35 lbs. and forward-faces to 65 lbs., so your baby gets plenty of use from this car seat. The Boulevard has height-adjustable side impact protection, something lacking in other convertible car seats, and the infant pad provides a better fit for small babies over other car seats. The built-in lockoffs make seat belt installs easy, and the push-button LATCH connectors are also far easier to use than others. You can adjust the harness height without re-threading the straps, too. The top tether can be used both rear- and forward-facing. The rear-facing tether adds a big safety advantage.

2. The First Years True Fit Convertible Car Seat
This new convertible car seat from The First Years has a lot of great features and comes in under $200. The True Fit rear-faces to 35 lbs., and the removable headrest makes rear-facing installations easier in smaller vehicles. The forward-facing limit is 65 lbs. and when you add the headrest again, the shell is tall to give a longer useful life. You can adjust harness height without rethreading any straps. Built-in lockoffs help with tricky seat belt installs. The True Fit has infant padding to keep infants from sliding around in a car seat that is also designed to fit much larger children.

3. Britax Marathon Convertible Car Seat
The Britax Marathon is one of the most popular car seats on the market, thanks to the tall shell and ease of use. Your baby can use this car seat rear-facing 5-35 lbs. and forward-facing to 65 lbs. Generally it is outgrown by height before the weight limit is reached, but most kids can use it through age 5 or even 6. The built-in lockoffs and easy-to-use LATCH belts make for quick and easy installations in many types of vehicles. One of the best features of the Marathon is Britax's thicker, wider straps that don't twist very easily. The top tether can also be used rear- and forward-facing on the Marathon, a feature not found on many car seats, which adds a big safety advantage for rear-facing kids.

4. Sunshine Kids Radian 65 Folding Convertible Car Seat
The Radian car seat has a good 65 lb. weight limit and the ability to be tethered rear- and forward-facing. The narrow base makes it easier to fit several car seats in your vehicle, but the Radian car seat still has plenty of comfort for your baby thanks to a roomy seat space and forward-facing recline option. This car seat folds for travel outside the car, and can even fit in an airline overhead bin. Rear-faces 5-40 lbs.(models made in or after Sept. 2008, prior to that the rear-facing limit was 35 lbs.), forward-faces to 65 lbs. The Radian 65 has a unique forward-facing recline option that adds comfort for older kids on long trips. Radian car seats can be hard to find in retail stores, but can easily be purchased online.

5. Graco My Ride 65 Convertible Car Seat
The My Ride 65 car seat was the first in the U.S. to feature a 40 lb. rear-facing weight limit. The forward-facing limit is 65 lbs. The infant padding is great for helping smaller babies fit into a seat that is also made to accommodate a larger toddler. The separate, color-coded LATCH straps for rear-facing and forward-facing installations, so there's no confusion as to which to use. Best of all, this is a sturdy car seat with plenty of EPS foam for impact protection, a reasonably tall shell, and high harness slots for about $150, which puts some of these excellent features in reach for many more families.

Another source for comparisons on convertible car seats is my all-time favorite guide on baby gear: The Baby Bargains book. They not only have great recommendations, but great advice on buying the best gear without paying top dollar.

Now Note This: Don’t Buy These Two Models
According to Consumer Reports, the Evenflo Triumph Advance convertible car seat and The Recaro Signo both cracked in safety tests. The Evenflo Triumph Advance convertible car seat cracked when tested in a simulated 30 mph frontal impact on the test sled in a rear-facing orientation with a 3-year-old sized dummy and three-point belt. The seat shell cracked completely where the shoulder belt exits the belt-path opening. They retested it under the same conditions and got the same results.

The Recaro Signo cracked in simulated 30 mph frontal crash tests on the test sled. It cracked here the LATCH bar meets the seat shell in a rear-facing position with a 3-year-old (35.65 lb.) dummy and LATCH installation. They retested it under the same conditions and got the same results.

Consumer Reports also reinforces the message that it’s best not to re-use any car seat that has been in a crash. Literally, when in doubt, throw it out – even if it shows no visible signs of wear, tear or cracks.

So what has been your experience with convertible car seats? What are your favorite brands, or brands we need to steer clear of? Please offer your smarty advice below!

Special thanks to CBS, About.com, and Consumer Reports in compiling information for this blog.

5 comments:

Maythi said...

ny idea when this consumer reports was out? We have an evenflo Triumph (I don't think it's the Advance?) When doing the research years ago for our first child, the Evenflo Triumph was one of their top recommendations? Just curious. I will look it up online as well. Thanks!

Maythi said...

sorry, that was supposed to say "any idea".

Katie M said...

Hi Maythi,
I found the article online and it's dated June 2009. Here is the link (just copy and paste into your url):

http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:c8BHH1Gp3AoJ:www.consumerreports.org/cro/babies-kids/baby-toddler/convertible-car-seats/overview/convertible-car-seats-ov.htm+Consumer+Reports,+the+Evenflo+Triumph+Advance+convertible+car+seat+and+The+Recaro+Signo+both+cracked&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

Maythi said...

Thanks Katie! We have another version of the Triumph, not the Advance. Apparently there are different Triumphs. Thank you again for checking!!

Amber said...

A great place to start when looking at car seats is the Kyle David Miller Foundation. It is a non-profit created by parents who lost their son because he was not in a 5pt car seat (just a booster). They wanted to compile the best information (non-biased) and compile it for parents in one place. They also fundraise to provide car seats to less fortunate families.

When it comes to ordering I highly recommend Hip Monkey. All their profits provide car seats for the less fortunate. They have huge sales (AND no sales tax AND free shipping). They offer all the best car seats at substantial discounts and promise to sell you only a brand new seat to ensure the absolute longest time of use before expiration. You can see actual pictures of the seats with children of multiple sizes buckled into them. We have ordered multiple times and recommend them explicitly. I love that safety is their number one concern. They are not affiliated with any car seat manufacturers.

If you have questions about the seats, how they fit in specific cars, which ones work together, etc. contact the folks at Hip Monkey. They are excellent resources and can give specific answers.

After all, the best car seat is the one that fits properly in your vehicle and is installed and used properly every time.

I can't say enough good things about both of these organizations!

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