You may have heard the buzz – a self-installing car seat! Can it be true? We were given the chance to spend a week with this seat so we could take a closer look. At $499, the price is not attainable for many families, but 4moms has provided a full-featured seat for this price. Let’s take a look!
CSFTL Quick Stats
- Weight range: 4-30 lbs
- Lowest harness position: 5.5 inches with the insert
- Height range: 32 inches or less
- Expiration: 7 years from the date on the sticker
- Handle position: Must be in carry (upright) position when vehicle is in motion
- Shell height: 19 inches
- Weight (carrier only): 11.4 pounds
- Carrier width at widest point: 18 inches
- Base width at widest point: 14.5 inches
The biggest feature of this seat is, of course, that it installs itself! An app guides you through the installation process, which is available for installation with lower anchors. The car seat also features a large canopy, a substantial infant insert, and European belt routing for a baseless installation.
Spoiler alert: The automatic installation worked well. However, there were more steps involved and more time involved than I’d expected.First, I installed the 4moms app on my phone. The next step was pairing the device with the car seat’s base. This took me two tries but worked! After that, the phone must remain within bluetooth range of the base (which was on my living room floor for this exercise) while the software downloads. I was surprised when a screen appeared informing me this would take 20 minutes – updating my iphone doesn’t even take that long! 4moms told us that if the download is interrupted for more than 10 minutes — just long enough to walk out of range or take a phone call — the download must start over again. Thankfully this phone addict was able to part with her iPhone for the required 20 minutes!
Next, out to the car! The app prompted me to place the phone on the floor of the car to measure the angle. In the middle of this sequence the app stalled, but it restarted and prompted me to begin again. For fun, I tried this in my living room as well. Thankfully we would not be able to reenact the Titanic marble scene in my living room – it’s flat!
The next step in the automatic installation sequence at the car is entering the VIN. The app prompted me to scan the VIN barcode, but my car, a 2016 Kia Soul, doesn’t have a barcode. So I proceeded to the “enter manually” option. The app said my VIN wasn’t recognized. I tried again, making absolutely certain that I had typed all of the digits correctly, but it still failed. We asked 4moms about this, and they checked their database and found that my particular car had not been originally entered into their system correctly. Just my luck!
Since the automatic VIN identification didn’t work, I was unable to review or test the functionality that tells the user where to find the lower anchors in their vehicle. However, I already knew where my car’s lower anchors were. Indeed, the vehicle owner’s manual lists this information.
I connected the lower anchor connectors. As an aside, the 4moms app refers to them as “latches”. We always advocate using correct terminology. This seat does allow latch borrowing up to a spacing of 16″, if your vehicle also permits. Again, your vehicle owner’s manual will have this information. The app then prompted me that tensioning and leveling would commence. It was fun to watch the base tighten on its own!
The resulting installation was incredibly tight and correctly leveled.
The app also does “continuous monitoring”. Every 10 seconds, it rechecks the tension and level of the installation and alerts the user if it’s been compromised. In addition, if the carrier is in the base and the caregiver leaves the vehicle, the app sounds an alert. (We are checking with 4moms on whether it would then be impossible to also use a hands-free bluetooth connection at the same time.)
I attempted to install my daughter’s Clek Foonf rear facing next to the installed 4moms base, and I got a tensioning alert from my 4moms app. I checked with 4moms about this. They pointed out that this is a beneficial feature of their seat, because, they said, often two seats are installed where one compromises the tightness of the other, and the caregiver is unaware. Nevertheless, it may be problematic if the 4moms seat cannot be installed flush against another seat.
Manual Installation With the Base
I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the base’s automatic responses as I attempted manual installation with the lower anchors. The base kept prompting me to begin the automatic installation sequence. We asked 4moms about this, and they told me that I must have inadvertently pressed the button on the base, which should go dormant after 5 minutes. When I did begin to install it, I was able to connect the lower anchors, but pushing down on the top of the seat only tightened one side, and not enough. I’d expected it to work like the base of the Uppababy Mesa, where a small amount of downward pressure causes the lower anchors to retract and therefore tighten. 4moms informed us that I should have pressed down with both hands rather than rocking side to side. (The manual shows one hand, so I can see how it might confuse even caregivers who haven’t installed similar seats!)
Vehicle Seat Belt
Likewise, I found the seat belt installation very problematic. The manual’s instructions were very clear, but my seat belt just didn’t seem to want to cooperate with the manual. The manual instructs to put both the lap and shoulder belt under the vehicle belt guide. My seat belts did not both fit under the belt guide; together, they were too thick. 4moms told us afterwards that it’s best to insert one corner under, then wedge one seat belt in, then the other. Though I didn’t get a chance to try this, I am skeptical that it would work.
Then, after I tightened the shoulder belt, I attempted to slide it under the shoulder belt lockoff as instructed by the manual. The shoulder belt lockoff is shorter than the width of the shoulder belt, so the shoulder belt would not stay in the lockoff. I was not able to achieve a secure installation, but 4moms assured us that the lockoff would still hold the belt despite the shoulder belt’s extending outside the lockoff
Installation Without the Base
The 4moms Self-Installing Car Seat requires use of European routing in any seating position with a lap and shoulder vehicle seat belt. I found myself double and triple-checking the level line on the side of the seat, since this installation angled the seat much more upright than I expected. To put my mind at ease, I finally measured the angle, and it was exactly 45 degrees. The shoulder belt guide was higher than I expected as well. Nevertheless, I was able to get a secure installation. The manual suggests tipping the car seat towards the back of the vehicle (presumably with no baby in it!) if the vehicle shoulder belt isn’t long enough to reach over the back of the carrier. The baseless installation reminded me of the Combi Coccoro’s European routing installation in terms of the angle of the seat and the positioning of the shoulder and lap belt.
Now that we’ve covered installation, it’s time to discuss actually using the seat! Overall I found the 4moms seat gave an excellent fit for a range of babies, and it’s easy to use. The two buttons to adjust the handle are very well-placed and easy to operate.
The buckle was exceedingly difficult to unbuckle – I could see someone with hand mobility issues or arthritis having a very difficult time with it. However, the chest clip could probably be opened by a precocious 12 month old! The 4moms website advertises that the seat has a “self-retracting buckle”. I was stumped when I searched for this on the seat, but 4moms clarified that this refers to the fact that the crotch buckle is held away from the baby when it’s not buckled. This makes it easier to put the baby into the seat while not having to fish under the baby for the buckle.
In the back of the seat, the straps are joined without a splitter plate. Like the Cybex Cloud Q, this setup presented some difficulties: the straps got caught coming through the harness slots. In addition, the headrest got stuck in the second-to-lowest position; when I managed to get it to the lowest position, it then wouldn’t click into other positions.
The manual is clear, well-written, and easy to understand. The illustrations work well to show the desired positioning and functionality. The green shading is particularly effective in showing necessary adjustments.
Fit to Child
The 4moms Self-Installing Car Seat fit our preemie doll exceptionally well. 4moms told us they’d tested this at a local NICU, and it shows. As the mom of a former preemie myself, this is a point near and dear to my heart. 4moms even said they shortened the length of the strap covers, as longer strap covers caused the chest clip to be placed too low.
The infant insert must be used for infants 4-8 lbs, and it is optional for infants 8-11 lbs. The insert itself unfortunately isn’t labeled with this information, though the information is readily available in the manual.
It’s not often that I get to test newborn fit on an actual newborn! At the time of our photo session, this little fellow was 5 days old and 8.5 lbs. As such, the infant insert is optional for him. I tried the seat with and without it. While the fit was better with it, I was very impressed that there wasn’t head slump without it. Often, if the baby’s back is not supported with an infant insert, the headrest (on a seat with an attached headrest) can cause head slump, especially in a newborn. But this one didn’t!
This young man is 2 months old and about 13 lbs. At his weight, he is too heavy for the infant insert. However, as with the newborn and preemie, the fit is perfect.
Our 30″ 16 month Huggable Images doll juuuust fits. The seat is outgrown when the child is 32 inches tall or when there is less than an inch of the headrest over the baby’s head.
Important Information: Where to Find
The FAA approval label is clearly written and located on the back of the carrier. The base cannot be installed in an aircraft, but it can be stored in the overhead bin during travel, then installed into a vehicle at your destination.
The carrier has a pocket on the back for the manual. The pocket is labeled, and the manual clearly indicates where the storage area is. I’m a fan of storing the manual on the carrier, then it’s always handy even outside of the car.
The date of manufacture is clearly marked on a sticker on the base and the underside of the carrier. The seat and base expire 7 years after the date of manufacture.
On January 10 2017, 4moms announced a safety notice for their Self-Installing Car Seat manufactured between July 1, 2016 and October 31, 2016. According to the notice, the carrier portion may not lock into the base properly.
Information from 4Moms
At 4moms, the safety of our consumers and their children is our top priority. We take safety very seriously, and when we recently learned of a potential issue with our self-installing car seat, we took immediate steps to investigate.
During our investigation, we discovered a potential issue with the infant carrier’s coupling hooks – the hooks that lock the carrier into the base. In some carriers, the coupling hooks have been improperly riveted, potentially causing them to stick and fail to attach to the car seat base. This defect has only been observed after extended use and testing, and there have been no reported injuries.
4moms will replace the affected carriers. To find out if your Self-Installing Car Seat carrier is affected, look on the bottom for the serial number, and then follow the instructions 4moms has posted.
More information is available directly from 4moms. Questions regarding the recall can be directed to 4moms customer service department at 1-888-614-6667 during business hours.
Until a Replacement Arrives
Parents and caregivers may continue to use their carriers while waiting for a replacement, but must ensure the carrier is clicking into the base securely before each use. Check by lifting up on the carrier after it is connected to the base to double check that it is safely attached. Using the carrier without the base is also a safe option.
We applaud 4moms for addressing the issue of incorrectly installed car seats. The automatic installation for the base, while it had a few glitches, produced a tight and correct installation. The manual installation seemed more difficult than other rear facing only seats, however. The fit to children is exceptional; we have no hesitation in recommending this seat when the automatic installation method can be used
4moms generously provided the self-installing car seat used in this review. Normally, we are able to spend an extended time with the seats we’re reviewing. In this case, we were given a week with the seat. As always, the opinions shared here are our own!
Our friends at 4moms have generously provided one of these seats for a giveaway to one lucky reader! Please read our terms and conditions before entering. Enter below for your chance to win!