Car Seat Reviews: When the Seat Falls Short

Graco Tranzitions SnugLock

Graco Tranzitions SnugLock

Every time a new car seat arrives for review, we meet the box with excitement.  Often, we share pictures with our team and start chatting about how easy or hard it is to install, what the covers are like, how our kids fit in the seat, and a whole lot more.  We also look closely at how clearly the manual is written, how easy the labels on the seat itself are to understand, and how easy or difficult it is to install the seat.

Make no mistake.  Every time we open that box, we want an amazing car seat to emerge.  We want the seat in our hands to be the most stunningly easy-to-use, well-fitting car seat we’ve ever met.

That hasn’t happened yet.  But we approach each and every review with the hope that it will.

Who We Are

Seat check event: demonstrating harness adjustment

Seat check event: demonstrating harness adjustment

What we bring to these reviews is our collective experience as CPSTs.  We’re parents, most of us, but before that and after that, we’re experienced technicians.  We’ve spent countless hours in classrooms learning about car seats, and even more countless hours in caregivers’ vehicles teaching them how to install their children’s car seats.  We’ve spent time researching and finding the right car seats for our own children, we’ve advised caregivers on the right seats for their children, then helped those caregivers get their selected car seats installed correctly so they can be used correctly on every ride.

It’s this last part that guides our reviews.  If a car seat is easy to install and use properly on every ride, then the child who uses that car seat is as safe as possible.  Keeping children as safe as possible is our primary goal in all the things we do.

Most of the time, the car seats we review get pretty darn close to that ideal.  They’ll have some quirks but are by and large easy enough to install correctly and we feel confident asserting that most caregivers can install and use the seat properly.  This is a great thing.  The number of new seats on the market that meet these criteria is growing every day.


The Challenge

Once in a while, a car seat comes along that presents any number of insurmountable installation or use challenges.  When this happens, it’s as challenging for us to write about in an impartial way as it is for you to hear.  Our team of reviewers and editors works tirelessly to strike the balance between reporting and complaining when sharing these challenges.

I’ll say it again. We want every car seat that we review to be great.  We’d love to be like reviewers who can gush about every product they meet.  Not because we’re overly effervescent but because we genuinely want every car seat that’s on the market to be a safe option for any child who rides in that seat.

If a caregiver purchased a car seat after reading our review and found that seat to be significantly more difficult to install and use properly than we’ve explained, we have failed as authors, as CPSTs, and as reviewers.  So we work very hard to ensure that we’ve accurately represented the good and the bad for each car seat we meet.

Sometimes, that translates to a fairly short review because the seat just works well.  This is our favorite type of review to write.

But that’s not always the case.  We invariably encounter some unique (and usually small) challenges with every car seat we meet.  Most of the time, the manufacturer is open to our feedback on these challenges, and in almost every case they’ll work to resolve the issue in a variety of ways.  They’ll update the manual to clarify a restriction, they’ll add something to the seat itself, or change a label to be more clear.

All of these changes work toward our primary goal: car seats that are easy to install and use properly on every ride.

We are extremely grateful that our relationship with every major manufacturer allows us to have this kind of feedback be heard and addressed.

But sometimes, the review doesn’t go as planned.

Our Commitment

We’ve also encountered some car seats with such significant ease-of-use or installation issues that our reviews become very long as we walk through every issue that we’ve uncovered.  Because we won’t just tell you that we’ve struggled, we’ll list ALL of the things that we find challenging about a particular car seat.  You can count on that from us.

In rare cases, the manufacturers of the seats that present significant challenges don’t like what we have to say.  Let’s be honest — we don’t like saying we don’t recommend a particular seat.  We’d rather be able to recommend them all.

But when a car seat arrives and presents one long string of installation and use challenges, has unclear labels, or doesn’t fit our models well, we are going to tell you about it.  We’re going to describe each issue in as much detail as the issue requires and explain why we found that issue challenging.

You can count on that from us.   Every time.

In some cases, a manufacturer will provide us with additional information and ask us to clarify an issue or use their trademarked name for a particular part of a car seat.  We’re more than happy to work with them to do that.

What we won’t do, today, or ever, is change our wording to make a car seat seem easier to use than it is.  Yes, we’ve been asked.  And we’ve said no.  The manufacturers who have made these requests weren’t pleased with our assessment of their seats or with our unwillingness to do more than clarify a particular feature. But we won’t change our review or adjust our recommendation if the issue we’re describing hasn’t been resolved.  Because these issues we describe have a direct impact on children’s safety.

Ease of Use

Always read the manual!

We think of ease of use as a triangle: the car seat itself has clearly labeled belt paths and limits, the instructions are clear enough for any caregiver to understand, and the caregiver is able to follow those instructions to a secure installation.  If any piece of that triangle is broken in any car seat that we review, we will tell you about it.  We’ll tell the manufacturer, too.

Our role in this triangle is to help caregivers select the right seat for their child, then help them install and use that seat correctly on every ride.

I know we’ve said that a lot here but it’s important.  It’s why we do what we do.  And it’s why you can always, always, ALWAYS expect an honest and thorough review from us.