Evenflo SafeMax Review

Evenflo’s newest mutlimode car seat boasts an exciting new feature: it’s the first seat to be rollover tested.  We had a chance to meet the SafeMax in a super secret booth during our visit to the Evenflo area at the ABC Kids Expo this fall so we were eager to spend some quality time with a SafeMax of our own!

CSFTL Quick Stats

Evenflo SafeMax

Evenflo SafeMax

  • Rear facing weight range: 5-40 lbs
  • Rear facing height range: 19-40 inches and the top of the child’s head is at least 1 inch below the top of the head restraint in either of the two lowest headrest positions
  • Forward facing weight range: 22-65 lbs
  • Forward facing height range: 28-50 inches and the tops of the child’s ears are below the top of the headrest
  • Highest harness slot: 17″
  • Lowest harness slot: 6″
  • Booster mode weight range: 40-120 lbs
  • Booster mode height range: 44-57 inches and the top of the ears are below the top of the headrest
  • Booster mode minimum age: 4 years old CSFTL recommends that children be at least 5 years old before moving to a booster seat
  • Expiration: 10 years
  • Lower anchor weight limit: 45 lbs

Measurements

  • Weight: 20.2 lbs
  • Width at widest point: 21″
  • Seat pan depth: 14″
  • Crotch buckle: 7″ without padding
  • Shell height: 26″

Features:

  • Platinum cover
  • Rollover tested
  • No rethread harness
  • Push on lower anchor connectors with LATCH Guides
  • Can use LATCH in booster mode

The SafeMax is basically an Evenflo Symphony on steroids.  For the most part, we’re fans of the Symphony but it’s got one pretty big limitation: a low rear facing height limit because it can only be used rear facing when the top of the child’s head is at least 1 inch below the top of the head restraint in either of the two lowest headrest positions.  The SafeMax carries the same low rear facing height limit so even though it rear faces to 40 lbs and 40 inches, that restriction means it’s likely that most children cannot use the SafeMax for extended rear facing.

Where the SafeMax shined for my family was in forward facing mode.  My kiddo is pretty darn particular about how her car seats feel: she likes a smooth cover and for the seat to extend around her legs a bit.  The SafeMax met all those criteria!

Installation: Rear Facing

Evenflo SafeMax installed rear facing

Evenflo SafeMax installed rear facing

The SafeMax includes Evenflo’s SureSafe lower anchor connectors and a set of optional lower anchor guides.

Lower Anchors

Evenflo Safemax - lower anchor strap delivered in forward facing belt path

Evenflo Safemax – lower anchor strap delivered in forward facing belt path

The Safemax ships with the lower anchor strap in the forward facing belt path. This introduces an extra step in setting up the seat for rear facing use.  This section describes the SafeMax model with quick connectors; the model with Surelatch has a different setup method.  That’s described on page 23 of the manual.

To change the lower anchor strap to the rear facing belt path, to remove the infant pillow and peel back the cover to expose the strap, which is in the forward facing belt path.

Evenflo Safemax Manual twist lower anchors

Evenflo Safemax Manual twist lower anchors

Move each side’s lower anchor connector from the forward facing belt path to the rear facing belt path.  Twist the strap within the plastic strap guide so that the strap lies flat in the rear facing belt path.

Evenflo Safemax lower anchors rear facing

Evenflo Safemax lower anchors rear facing

Once the lower anchor strap is in the rear facing belt path, attaching the seat to the vehicle with the SureSafe connectors was quite simple.  My car has lower anchor guides built in so I didn’t need to use the lower anchor guides.  I found that installing the seat rear facing required removing the lower portion of the cover, then pulling the tail of the lower anchor directly up through the shell of the seat.

Front to back, the seat was not as large as I expected.  In the most reclined position for a newborn, the SafeMax takes up about 32 inches of space.

Padding

The extra padding can be used (or not used) at any point in rear facing mode.  It cannot be used at all in forward facing mode.

Cupholders

Evenflo SafeMax cupholder liner

Evenflo SafeMax cupholder liner

The SafeMax has two cupholders which are molded into the seat.  The seat also includes 2 removable dishwasher safe cupholder liners.  Our model found the cupholders a fun place to store a variety of hair ties and small stuffed friends. Note: the cupholder liners are only for use in forward facing mode. The manual is a little confusing on this topic because the molded cupholders can’t be removed.
We interpret this line:

Use the cup holders with the child restraint in the forward-facing position ONLY.

to mean that the liners should only be used in forward facing mode.

Fit to Child: Rear Facing

Newborn Doll

Evenflo SafeMax: Newborn doll, 7 lbs, 17 inches tall

Evenflo SafeMax: Newborn doll, 7 lbs, 17 inches tall

Our newborn doll is 7 lbs and 17 inches long.  She fit quite well in the SafeMax.  With the extra padded headrest, her head was pushed forward a bit.  Removing the headrest but leaving the body pillow in place offered a slightly better fit.

The manual contains a caution about consulting the child’s doctor before using the SafeMax for preemies. We’d suggest checking with your child’s physician.  We also note that finding a physician who is also a CPST is quite rare.

Evenflo SafeMax preemie warning in manual

Evenflo SafeMax preemie warning in manual

 

2 Years Old

Evenflo SafeMax: 2 years old, 28 lbs, 36 inches tall

Evenflo SafeMax: 2 years old, 28 lbs, 36 inches tall

This model is 2 years old, 28 lbs and 36 inches tall.  He normally rides in a Chicco NextFit so his dad was used to loading him into a car seat with pretty high sides.  His dad reported that getting this little cutie pie into the SafeMax was a bit easier than the NextFit.  Our young model enjoyed the seat so much that he didn’t want to get out!

Installation: Forward Facing

My car, a 2016 VW GTI, features a very annoying (yet comfortable for adults who do not ride in car seats) dip in the seat.  This makes fitting many car seats a bit of a challenge since it’s never clear whether to try and set the car seat’s base into that dip or on top of it.  The SafeMax didn’t offer me much choice; the base is wide enough to spill over the sides of this gap in the seat.  I was able to install it with less trouble than I’d anticipated but it did start to loosen after a couple of days.  I re-installed it and it’s been solid ever since. I have every reason to think this loosening install was due to the odd shape of my vehicle’s seat rather than an issue with the seat.

Headrest Adjustment

When the seat isn’t installed forward facing in a vehicle, moving the headrest isn’t terribly difficult.  It took a bit of strength to squeeze the handle which is mounted on the back of the seat.  Once the seat was installed forward facing in my car, moving the headrest down was almost impossible.  My back seat’s headrests aren’t removable so I had to squeeze my hand in between the vehicle headrest and the back side of the SafeMax, then grab the handle and hope I could manipulate it enough to move it up.  Eventually, I was able to raise the headrest without uninstalling the seat but it was no picnic!

Fit to Child: Forward Facing

3 Years Old

Evenflo SafeMax: 3 years old, 36 lbs, 39 inches tall

Evenflo SafeMax: 3 years old, 36 lbs, 39 inches tall

This model was happy to show us her face painting and model this seat at the same time.  She’s 3 years old, weighs 36 lbs, and is 39 inches tall.  She’s got quite a bit of room to grow in the SafeMax: it could be a long-lasting option for her.

4 Years Old

Evenflo SafeMax: 4 years old, 44 lbs, 44 inches tall

Evenflo SafeMax: 4 years old, 44 lbs, 44 inches tall

This young man was proud to tell me that he’s almost 5!  I’ve known him since before he was born so I wasn’t surprised by this.  He’s 4 years, 10 months old, 44 lbs, and 44 inches tall.  He was able to clamber into the seat and buckle himself in without issue, refusing my offers of assistance.  The seat’s ample padding was great for him and he also enjoyed storing some special trinkets in the cupholders.

6 Years Old

Evenflo SafeMax: 6 years old, 50 lbs, 46 inches tall

Evenflo SafeMax: 6 years old, 50 lbs, 46 inches tall

This sassy model was happy to don her ballet shoes and join me in the driveway.  She’s 6 years old, weighs 50 lbs, and is 46 inches tall.  The seat fit her well; it has the kind of flared sides and smooth cover that she prefers in a car seat.  She’s got a bit of room to grow yet in harnessed mode so that’s a big plus.

I had worried that the open channels on the harness adjuster behind her back would be uncomfortable for her but she hasn’t complained yet.

The high sides offer her the kind of “hug” she likes from a car seat but they are kind of challenging for her to climb over to get into the seat.  We find ourselves waiting quite a while for her to get in and get herself buckled — much longer than we do when she’s riding in her other car seats.  It took her a few days to figure out how to unbuckle the chest clip herself.  For children who are escape artists, this could be a good thing!

I’m not quite sure what her exact formula is but she tells me that her primary car seat, the Graco Contender, rates a 100.  She’s loved that seat since the day she first met it in 2014.  Despite that long-standing relationship, she says the SafeMax rates 1000!

Converting to Booster Mode

The process for converting the SafeMax to booster mode was pretty challenging and a bit frustrating at times. The good news is that it’s something families are likely to do only once but I’d suggest keeping the manual handy during the process.

First, remove the seat pad (aka cover).  This part of the process got easier the second and third times I tried it but the first time tried my patience.  The clips that hold the seat pad in place are amply sized. Once I figured out which direction to pull each one, removing them was pretty simple.

After the seat pad is removed and the seat is pretty much naked, it’s time to remove the lower anchor from the forward facing belt path and set it into the seat pan so you can access the belt path.

Evenflo SafeMax Harness Storage

Evenflo SafeMax harness storage: the back side

Then, let all of the slack out of the harness and wrap it behind the shell of the seat.  Buckle the chest clip behind the seat, down at the base.  There are little plastic feet on the back of the seat that hold the harness in place.  The buckle tongues sort of hang out underneath the chest clip, remaining attached to the harness.

The last step is to tuck the top of the harness and permanently affixed harness pad covers into the harness slots.  This sounds so easy. It was not.

Eventually, I sort of figured out that twisting the very top of the harness strap just so, then tucking it into the harness slot at just the right angle allows it to almost lay flat.

The manual reminds caregivers that failure to tuck these harness pads completely into the seat could make a child uncomfortable. That was on my mind as I struggled to tuck them in.

Evenflo SafeMax harness storage

Evenflo SafeMax harness storage

We reached out to Evenflo for suggestions on how to find that sweet spot and get them stored comfortably out of the way. They suggested that we turn the harness tab so it is vertical and then insert from the top of the harness tab first towards the bottom of the track, pushing up. There is a larger bunch of webbing that is gathered at the top of the tab — inserting that first helps the rest lay flat in the track.

Despite all of my efforts, I never did get them quite flat.

Evenflo SafeMax crotch buckle storage

Evenflo SafeMax crotch buckle storage

The manual then instructs caregivers to put the seat in Recline 1, the most reclined position, and remove the crotch buckle from the bottom of the seat. I found that the harness that was now wrapped around the back of the seat prevented the base from locking into place on Recline 1.  So as I was attempting to remove the crotch buckle from the bottom of the reclined seat, the base kept slipping positions and the entire seat would move away from me.

I’d suggest removing the crotch buckle before wrapping the harness around the base of the seat.  This is out of the order listed in the manual but might be more effective.

Once accessed via the bottom of the seat pan, the crotch buckle pops out of place.  It stores right on the seat, it’s flipped upside down and locks into a flat position on the seat pan.  This is super handy — there’s no chance that the crotch buckle or harness can be misplaced while the seat’s in booster mode!

Evenflo SafeMax lower anchor storage

Evenflo SafeMax lower anchor storage

After the harness and crotch buckle are stored, it’s time to move the lower anchors back into the forward facing belt path, put the seat pad back on, and store the lower anchors.

The seat pad attaches without too much trouble — the clips are generously sized and slid back on quite easily once I knew where they all attached.

Fit to Child: Booster Mode

6 Years Old

Evenflo SafeMax booster mode: 6 years old, 50 lbs, 46 inches tall

Evenflo SafeMax booster mode: 6 years old, 50 lbs, 46 inches tall

After all that struggle to convert the seat to booster mode, my kid found it quite comfortable and the belt fit was great.  The belt guide is covered by the same fabric as the headrest.  I had wondered if this would help or hurt when trying to thread the belt through the guide — I’m pleased to say that it seemed to make that easier!

The seat’s large size made it a bit of a challenge for my six year old to buckle herself in, but once she was in the seat, she assured me that it was really comfortable.  The belt fit was solid — the shoulder portion fit right across the middle of her shoulder and the lap portion was across the tops of her thighs.

ParentLink® PREMIER Service

Included with the seat is access to expert advice on installation and use.  This feature includes a live video installation service, where caregivers could “meet” virtually with a CPST to get help with the seat.  We applaud anything that helps caregivers use their seats with confidence so we’re big fans of this new feature.

We always encourage caregivers to find a CPST who is local to them, find your nearest CPST in our Technician Listing.

Rollover Tested

The elephant in the room here is the SafeMax’s claim to fame: it’s been rollover crash tested.  This sounds amazing!  One additional measure of security for your Little on a well-featured seat.  But.

At the moment, there isn’t a federal standard for rollover testing, nor is there one in the works.  There is an FAA inversion standard, which this seat (and all seats that are approved for use in aircraft) passed.  Evenflo designed and built their own rollover test standard for this seat.  While that innovation is tremendous, without a fully developed standard for this type of test, we just can’t assert much about how the SafeMax might perform in a rollover crash.

We do see that the headrest is quite large, quite padded and reinforced, and the attached harness pads could help secure a child in the SafeMax quite well. Evenflo says that this headrest has:

“A combination of premium materials designed to absorb and dissipate crash forces, providing advanced protection where your child needs it most.”

Platinum Series

The SafeMax is equipped with Evenflo’s Outlast technology, which helps the cover stay cool even in hot weather.  My model reports that the cover is quite plush and comfy, and it does indeed keep her cool.

Every model who tested this seat for us found it so comfortable that they didn’t want to get out.

Important Information: Where to Find

Evenflo SafeMax FAA approval label

Evenflo SafeMax FAA approval label

FAA Approval: the SafeMax is approved for use on airplanes in harnessed mode.  The approval sticker is located on the back of the shell of the seat.  It is not approved for use on airplanes in booster mode.

Evenflo SafeMax date of manufacture

Evenflo SafeMax date of manufacture

Date of Manufacture
The date of manufacture label is also on the back of the shell of the seat. The SafeMax has a 10 year lifespan.

Evenflo SafeMax manual storage

Evenflo SafeMax manual storage

Manual Storage
The manual stores in a pocket on the back of the seat.

Overall Thoughts

The SafeMax is a very plush seat.  In a lot of ways, it’s easy to use and fits a variety of children well.  Those are all features that we’re very fond of around here!

The main drawback is the size and weight of the seat — families who need three seats across or to move a seat between cars often may want to look at other options.  Families looking for a plush, easy to use, long-lasting seat for their growing Littles may find that the SafeMax is a great option!

Our friends at Evenflo are giving one SafeMax away to a lucky reader in the United States. Please read our terms and conditions before entering. Enter below for your chance to win!

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