What 5 year old kiddo wouldn’t want a pink zebra car seat? What parent doesn’t want a car seat that harnesses to 50 pounds and turns into both a high back and backless booster for under $100? The Baby Trend Hybrid 3-in-1 combination car seat is a forward facing only seat that comes in cool patterns but can flummox even experienced technicians.
First, a disclaimer: when used properly, the Baby Trend Hybrid is just as safe as any other car seat for children over age 2. The key to that statement is “used properly,” and unfortunately this seat is very difficult to use correctly, despite having cool patterns and seemingly generous limits. We’re going to do a mini review and explain why this seat can be so difficult to use.
CSFTL Quick Stats
- Forward facing weight range: 22-50 pounds
- Forward facing height range: 29-48″
- High back booster weight range: 30-100 pounds
- High back booster height range: 42-50″
- Backless booster weight range: 40-100 pounds
- Backless booster height range: 42-57″
- Highest harness position : 17.5″(4 harness positions)
- Highest belt guide position: 19″
- Expiration: 6 years
- Lower anchors can be used in high back booster mode
- Hook on lower anchor connectors
- One crotch buckle position: 6″
- Has both front entry and rear entry installation methods
- 2014 IIHS Good Bet for highback mode and Best Bet for backless mode
The Baby Trend Hybrid is a combination seat: a seat that can be used with a harness forward facing and converted to a seat belt positioning booster. This seat is appropriate for children over the age of 2. Read more about why this seat should not be used for children under age 2.
This model is well over the minimum age to ride forward facing: she is 5 years old, weighs 45 lbs and 43.5 inches tall.
The Hybrid has six headrest positions and the harness positions are approximately 12.5 inches, 14 inches, 16 inches, and 17.5 inches. The crotch buckle is about 6 inches out from the back of the seat and the buckle strap is about 4.5 inches and 4 inches if using the body insert. The short strap and shape of the buckles pinched this model’s legs.
High Back Booster Mode
Once a child over 42″ and 30 pounds has outgrown the harness and is ready to transition to a seat belt positioning booster (read more about why we recommend children be over age 5 to use a booster here), the Hybrid can be switched to booster mode. To use the booster, the harness, crotch buckle, and insert all must be removed. The seat belt fit was great on both our 7 and 5 year old models with the belt guide just above both Littles’ shoulders. The head rest wasn’t consistently easy to adjust upwards and it did feel like it was going to break.
The belt guide is very narrow and not very easy to initially thread the belt. It also can keep the shoulder belt from retracting properly as well if the child leans forward.
Backless Booster Mode
The top shoulder height for high back mode is 19″. Once children outgrow a proper fit in high back mode,and are at least 40 lbs and 42″, the Hybrid can be converted to a backless booster. At 65 pounds and 48 inches our 7 year old model has a nice lap belt fit but would’ve had slightly better shoulder belt fit using the belt guide that comes with the seat for backless mode.
Installation: There’s the Rub
As we know, the best car seat is the one that fits your child, fits your car, and that you can install and use correctly every time. As we can see with our 5 and 7 year old models, the Baby Trend Hybrid fits children within an appropriate age range as both a harnessed car seat and a booster. The real issues are in the second parts of that sentence: this seat must be installed correctly in your car. Unfortunately, doing that correctly is much easier said than done.
There are multiple versions of the manual with different rules on front and rear entry. Because there are so many different versions of the manual, we can not offer a simple recommendation on how to install for your child and car: you must follow the rules that came with your individual seat.
Further complicating matters, these rules can be very difficult to interpret, even for CPSTs very experienced with reading manualese.
Since we aren’t comfortable generalizing about a seat with so many different versions of the manual, here’s a few images of our pink zebra seat properly installed using various methods.
Front Entry Installation
For the front entry installation method the belt path goes in front of both armrests, going behind the shell of the seat to connect the points; this is the belt path for both LATCH and lap and shoulder belt installations. This path is backwards from the way most parents think to install seats and can be rather confusing. This belt path can also be difficult or even incompatible with many seat belts: some belts may not be long enough, belts can easily get twisted, and the belt path tends to cause confusion regarding where the belts go and how to route them.
Rear Entry Installation
The rear entry method of installation will be more familiar to many caregivers, but you must consult your own seat’s manual to confirm that it is allowed for your child and car. Like all harnessed car seats, this method is only a safe option if it produces a tight installation.
The harness assembly is another confusing point for some versions of this car seat. Early versions of the Hybrid had a standard rethread harness with a double splitter plate with one metal plate for each harness strap. This double splitter plate where most seats have one can sometimes get hung up on the back of the seat and on the seat belt when using the front entry installation; this can make properly tightening the straps difficult.
Muddying the issue further, depending on when the seat was manufactured, there are a few different splitter plate assemblies. The original version was a dual splitter plate with one harness on each side. The second version also had a dual plate but both harnesses were routed onto both plates. This is very confusing even for seasoned CPSTs and lack of clear directions certainly doesn’t help. Baby Trend has announced that the newest version of this seat may solve these issues as it has only one splitter plate and both harnesses will be threaded onto that. Still, a car seat that caregivers either can’t adjust or tighten properly is not a safe option for their child.
In summary, though the Baby Trend Hybrid 3-in-1 fits a range of children, it can be difficult to install and use properly in a range of cars. Even if you’re confident in your car seat usage and installation abilities, or you have your local CPST on speed dial, you may still have problems installing this seat. Our technician with ten years of experience and a deep love for pink zebra struggled with this seat. Even the most car seat savvy parent may find this seat incompatible with her car. The colorful covers will appeal to many children in a world of black and grey seats, but the pattern isn’t worth it if you can’t use the seat correctly. Remember the best seat is one that fits your child, fits your vehicle, and that you can install, then use correctly every time.