There are oodles of car seats on the market but not all of them are user-friendly. Some are pretty expensive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re easy to install quickly when you’re in a hurry to travel with your baby or toddler. We’ve talked about the lightest, but what most parents want to know is how easy they are to buckle up in the back seat. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has some answers in its “Ease of Use” ratings list.
The NHTSA categorizes the ratings from best to worst, with five stars for excellent and one star for poor or substandard features. All types of child restraint systems are rated, including infant, convertible, combination seats, 3-in-1, and even booster seats. Some brands of car seats rate better than others. The seats are evaluated according to:
- How easy the labeling is to read and decipher
- How simple the instructions are to understand
- How secure the child is when buckled into the seat
- The usefulness of the seats’ installation features
- The overall ease in using it
Three infant seats that rate five stars for overall ease of use are The 1st Years Via, the Evenflo Secure Ride 35 and the Evenflo Serenade.
- The 1st Years comes out on top all around, with five-star ratings in all categories, although there is some constructive criticism listed. The seat has a five-point safety harness, but there are less than three harness adjustment heights. Also, it’s hard to find the user’s manual, and the instructions are hard to follow.
- The Secure Ride 35 tops many of the others overall, with five-star ratings in the Installation Features, Securing the Child and Instructions categories. There are some drawbacks, though. The seat’s LATCH storage area isn’t labeled clearly, and the belt routing path is hard to read and not all parts are labeled. The labels also don’t explain how to use the LATCH system. For this reason the seat only rated three stars under the Evaluation of Labels category.
- The Serenade also gets a generally favorable review as well as outstanding ratings in the Installation Features and Securing the Child categories. Where it falters is in the Instructions and Labeling categories, where it receives a four-star and three-star rating, respectively. The manual attached to the child restraint is in a hard-to-find place, plus it provides incomplete information on the types of vehicle seat belts.
Among the worst offenders are the Safety 1st Starter and the Safety 1st Designer 22.
- The Starter only received a one-star overall rating. It has multiple problems, such as the way the LATCH attachments are fastened. Removing the attachments from the lower anchors in the car means considerable twisting and turning. There’s no dedicated storage area for the pieces that make up the LATCH system, and attaching or removing the car seat from the base is a struggle. As far as securing the baby, the harness clip is not labeled, and a head hugger/body pillow blocks the harness slots, making them hard to see.
- Like the other Safety 1st car seat, the Designer 22 is only able to capture one star in its dismal overall rating. It has many of the same problems the Starter has, plus it has no helpful labeling to indicate what position the car seat handle should be in when transporting it in the vehicle. There’s no picture of a child correctly buckled in the car seat to look at as a guide, and there’s no information given to help parents and caregivers find the proper fit when buckling up the child.
Some of the easiest to use convertible car seats include The 1st Years True Fit Recline, both front-facing and rear-facing.
- The True Fit Recline rear-facing seat earns five-star ratings for securing the child, clear instructions and easy-to-understand labeling. But even these don’t escape some suggestions on how to improve. To convert the seat, a series of steps must be followed, and apparently it’s complicated enough to bring out the user’s manual to consult. Also, to route the seat belt, the padding on the car seat must be lifted. Finally, although the seat says it reclines, there aren’t enough recline levels to the seat. On the forward-facing seat, the required consumer warnings are placed in an inconspicuous place on the seat, or not illustrated in the owner’s manual like it should be.
Some of the convertible seats receiving a low rating include Safety 1st Uptown and Sunshine Kids Radian 80, both front-facing and rear-facing.
- On the overall rating, the Safety 1st rear-facing seat only received one star. The NHTSA gave it a one-star rating on installation features, instructions and labeling. It received only a two-star rating on securing the child. The forward-facing seat does better, but not by much. It gets two stars for overall performance and four stars for installation features, but only one star for labeling and two for clear instructions and securing the child.
- Both the rear-facing and forward facing Sunshine Kids seats only managed to snag a two-star overall rating. The rear-facing model earned two-star ratings in securing the child and labeling and four stars for instructions, but only one star for installation, The forward-facing model somehow managed to get four stars in that category and three for securing the child, but only one star for clearly-written instructions.
|Valerie Baldowski is passionate about writing about everything from childrens safety and juvenile products to gardening tools. She is the mother of a high energy 8 year old child so she is accustomed to researching childrens products and services… See more about Valerie|
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