The KidsEmbrace slogan is “Making Safety Fun,” and they do! What could be more fun than riding in a Batman car seat? How about Cinderella? KidsEmbrace has a stunningly large number of car seats with characters on the cover, and they’re adding more all the time. A few years ago, we reviewed the original KidsEmbrace Combination Harness to Booster Car Seat. Since then, KidsEmbrace has made some important changes, so we wanted to take another look.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to the KidsEmbrace headquarters in Van Nuys, CA to learn about the changes to their car seats and see some of their other products. KidsEmbrace was nice enough to outfit the “Bat Family” (us) with some of their new products to try out. As you’ll see below, they were a hit!
CSFTL Quick Stats
- Forward facing weight range: 22-65 pounds
- Forward facing height range: 29-49 inches
- High back booster weight range: 30-100 pounds
- High back booster height range: 38-57 inches
- Lowest harness position: 13 inches
- Highest harness position: 17 inches (approximate due to the curvature of the seat)
- Highest booster belt guide position: 19.5 inches
- 7 year expiration
- Lower anchor weight limit: 45 pounds
- Harness slots: 13 inches, 16 inches, 17 inches (top slot is an approximate measurement due to the curvature of the seat)
- Crotch buckle slots: 5.5 inches and 7 inches from the back of the seat pan
- Width at widest point (cupholders): 19.5 inches
- Internal seat pan depth: 11.5 inches
- Internal seat pan width: 10 inches at the child’s hips, 11 inches at the child’s thighs
- Weight of the seat: 20 pounds
Orange lower anchor and tether webbing
We are HUGE fans of this feature! Both the lower anchor webbing and tether anchor connector webbing are now bright orange. The top tether is necessary for safety, but sadly it is often forgotten when caregivers install a forward facing car seat.
The seat ships with the lower anchor webbing somewhat hidden underneath, so the orange color will help caregivers locate and use it. We applaud KidsEmbrace for these changes!
Of course, this is the most unique feature of all! KidsEmbrace car seats and booster seats feature beautiful character illustrations. There is sure to be a character to meet every child’s taste. The artwork isn’t second-rate either; the seats are comfy to sit in (more on that below) and fascinating to look at!
The KidsEmbrace Combination Harness to Booster car seats need a bit of assembly out of the box. The headrest must be attached to the seat.
To attach the headrest, line up the bottom of the headrest with the slot in the seat’s shell, then make sure the tether anchor connector isn’t twisted. Once everything is lined up, press the button on the bottom of the headrest and push the whole thing down. I felt like I needed an extra hand to do all of these things at the same time.
Vehicle Seat Belt
To install the KidsEmbrace Combination Harness to Booster Car Seat with the vehicle seat belt, place the seat on the vehicle seat and engage the optional red recline if desired. I find that this type of recline is helpful to line up the back of the car seat with the vehicle seat back, although it does also help recline the seat a bit.
Hook the top tether (in orange, did we mention that?) onto the tether anchor loosely.
Put the seat belt through the belt path and buckle. The manual is missing the crucial next step, which is to lock the vehicle seat belt. We have confirmed with KidsEmbrace that this important step will be added to the manual. In most cars, the vehicle seat belt locks by pulling it out all the way.
After locking the seat belt, pull it tight and feed the slack back into the retractor. On many car seats, it helps to pull the shoulder portion of the vehicle seat belt tight from inside the belt path. On the KidsEmbrace Combination Harness to Booster Car Seats, there’s no direct way to access the belt path. KidsEmbrace told us that they will be adding slits in the cover for this reason! We look forward to this improvement.
I did, however, find a way to access the belt path. Under the “arm” of the seat, there’s a small hole in the plastic shell. I was able to grab the shoulder belt from this area and pull it tight while pressing down on the seat.
After tightening the seat belt enough so the seat doesn’t move more than an inch side to side or front to back, pull the top tether tight. I found the tether a bit difficult to pull at first, because the “tail” to pull is quite short.
The lower anchor webbing stores in a location under the seat which is very difficult to access. The fact that it’s now orange (have we mentioned this? Perhaps a few times?) helps considerably, but even so, it’s difficult to unhook the lower anchor connectors from the seat. These lower anchor connectors have red tabs to push rather than the red buttons we see on the premium lower anchors that are found on many other car seats. It’s quite difficult to wedge your hands in to press these red tabs.
Once the lower anchor connectors are released from their storage location, route the webbing through the belt path. This is not completely intuitive, as the short end, the end that does not go through the belt path, is very short, and looks like it’s attached incorrectly.
After ensuring that the webbing is through the belt path and not twisted, place the car seat on the vehicle seat and engage the car seat recline if desired. Hook on the top tether loosely. Attach the lower anchor connectors to the lower anchors in the vehicle.
Getting the webbing installed securely took a little ingenuity on my part, as mentioned above. I reached under the arm of the seat to access the hole in the plastic shell. I was able to grab the lower anchor webbing from this area and pull it tight while pressing down on the seat. After the lower anchor webbing is pulled tight, tighten the top tether and test for movement at the belt path.
Fit to Child
The crotch buckle on the KidsEmbrace Combination Harness to Booster car seat has a quirk that we’ve seen on a few convertible car seats.
When the crotch buckle position that’s closest to the child is used, the buckle’s strap must be shortened so that the metal anchor is threaded through the top of the farther slot. When the strap is in the farther slot, it’s at its regular length. While this likely helps the seat fit its smallest occupants, it’s frustrating to not have a longer length available in the crotch buckle slot that’s closer to the child. We asked KidsEmbrace about this rule, and we’re pleased to mention that because of our feedback, they’re currently testing the car seat with the crotch buckle on the longer length in the inner position. This change HAS NOT been approved yet, but we’re thrilled that they’ve considered our comments, and of course we’ll update you if the change is approved.
Twisty Harness Straps
Unfortunately, we found that the straps on the KidsEmbrace Combination Harness to Booster Car Seat tend to twist. This is made worse by the fact that the strap covers are fabric tubes which don’t open, which means twists in that area are often not detected. However, we have some good news! In response to comments about the harness straps twisting, KidsEmbrace has changed their seats over to a thicker black webbing. We’ll be evaluating a seat with these new straps soon!
Less Twisty Harness Straps!
Up, up and away! Buzz Lightyear has landed at my home, and he’s brought with him harness straps with the new thicker webbing. I found that these straps were a mixed bag. Though I did catch them twisting once or twice, it’s a huge improvement over the thinner webbing. However, I noticed that the crotch buckle, shown here in the longer setting, was about a half inch shorter than on the models with the thinner webbing.
While that may help the buckle fit better in the outer setting, it made it much too low and snug on my 4 year old in the inner setting. In addition, the thicker webbing is more difficult to hook onto the splitter plate on the back of the seat. A few times, I thought I’d hooked it on, only to see it slip off. It’s very important to always make sure the strap is completely hooked onto the splitter plate.
The manual does not have any rules about how to adjust the headrest. We asked KidsEmbrace, and they said the headrest can be in the lowest or middle position for harness mode. If the headrest is contacting the child’s shoulders in the lowest position, it should be moved up a click.
4 Years Old
This is my son. He’s 4.5 years old, weighs 40 pounds and is 40 inches tall. The crotch buckle was too tight on him in the inner position, but he wasn’t ready yet for the outer position. The straps and headrest fit him well, and he was thrilled to be in a Batman seat!
4 Years Old
Here we have another adorable 4 year old. She weighs 35 pounds and is 43 inches tall. She uses this seat more regularly than our other models do, so we asked her mother for some extra feedback!
Our model can unbuckle and buckle this seat on her own, which is very important to her. She can also use an UnbuckleMe to get the crotch buckle undone, and her siblings find it easy to help her use the seat.
The chest clip is a good size for her, and the seat is nicely padded for her slim frame. The inner slot for the crotch buckle was just under her. Per the manual, using the outer slot is the correct choice.
Spidey has accompanied her family on several long trips and not once has this kiddo complained about being uncomfortable. She loves that the cup holders are where she can reach them and are of a good size.
She loves Spider-Man in particular, and in fact, she has challenged caregivers to only use Spider-Man on every ride! She feels secure when she’s in her Spidey seat, and it makes her happy to get in the car and go for a ride.
6 Year Old
This is my daughter. She’s 6 years old, weighs 34 pounds (lighter than her younger brother!) and is 44 inches tall. The seat fits her well in harness mode, and she found it comfortable. She’s thin enough that the short crotch buckle wasn’t an issue for her.
The top slots are VERY easy to miss. They’re hiding on the “shoulders” of the characters. They’re not much higher than the second set of harness slots, and they offer about an inch more of torso room than the slots below them.
Conversion to Booster Mode
Converting the seat to booster mode was fairly easy. I unhooked the harness straps from the splitter plate in the back then pulled the harness straps through to the front of the seat. I removed the chest clip and buckles, then pulled out the straps from the back. The harness does not store on the car seat, so it’s important to keep track of all the small parts, including the white styrofoam blocks between the hip strap anchors and the back of the seat. A large labeled resealable plastic bag can be your friend!
Belt Routing, Adjustment, and Installation
The shoulder belt is routed through a belt guide which is attached to the bottom of the headrest.
The headrest should be adjusted so that the shoulder belt is “above and centered on the child’s shoulder.” We were happy to see a sticker on the back of the seat with this information.
The lower anchors and the top tether may be used in booster mode, and the recline may be used as well. The booster must be buckled if not in use, if the lower anchors are not connected.
Fit to Child
5 Years Old
This young man is 5 years old. He weighs 48 pounds and is 47 inches tall. His mom doesn’t think he’s ready for a booster seat, and based on the amount he squirmed during our photoshoot, she may be right! Nevertheless the vehicle seat belt fit him beautifully.
6 Years Old
Here we again see my daughter. She’s 6 years old, weighs 34 pounds, and is 44 inches tall. She doesn’t ride in a booster yet, but she was more than thrilled to model one for this review! Despite her small size, the vehicle seat belt fit her very well.
9 Years Old
This young lady is 9 years old, weighs 59 pounds, and is 49 inches tall. The KidsEmbrace Combination Harness to Booster Car Seat (another guest appearance in this review from Spider-Man!) provides an excellent vehicle seat belt fit for her when the headrest is in the highest position.
No Vehicle Seat Belt Retraction Issues
It’s essential that the vehicle seat belt be able to retract, meaning if the child leans forward in the booster then sits up (while the car is stopped of course!), the belt should be sucked back in. With some combination car seats, we see issues in this area due to the shape and positioning of the headrest. We did not see these issues at all with the KidsEmbrace Combination Harness to Booster Car Seat. The belt guide is wide and smooth, and the belt passed easily through it.
Because of the shape of the character arms, it’s difficult for many kids to reach under the arm and buckle the vehicle seat belt. Of course, this step can also be done by an adult.
Don’t be startled – as I was at first – to see a face in the rearview mirror!
Important Information: Where to Find
Expiration Date: The seat has a 7 year lifespan. The date of manufacture label is on the back of the seat’s shell. In addition, that information is embossed into the plastic on the back of the seat. We’d love to see the actual expiration date added to the label.
Manual Storage: I was excited to see a clearly marked manual storage pocket on the right side of the cover when looking at the back of the seat. However, I had a lot of trouble actually inserting the manual into this pocket. I detached the cover in that area, but I still was not able to fit the manual in.
FAA Approval: The KidsEmbrace Combination Harness to Booster car seat is approved for use on aircraft in harness mode only. This is clearly written in red on a sticker on the back of the seat. Due to the width of the seat, it may not be the best choice for aircraft use.
Not Only Car Seats!
During my visit to the KidsEmbrace Headquarters, I was amazed at the wide variety of products available. With very few exceptions, we don’t talk about products that are not car seats, but we wanted to mention their broad range of additional products for one key reason. Rather than introducing character fans to combination car seats before it’s safe to do so, KidsEmbrace has chosen to introduce other age-appropriate products for younger children so those kiddos know the brand when they’re ready for a forward facing car seat. We applaud this approach.
KidsEmbrace was nice enough to allow my family to try out two additional products (besides the Bat-seats!) – the deluxe Batman baby carrier with hood, and a Batman 4-in-1 Push and Ride Stroller Tricycle. Don’t tell anyone, but I think my husband was excited to have a Batman product of his own. He wore our youngest son in the Batman baby carrier. He reported back that it was very comfortable, and my younger son seemed comfortable in it as well. As for the tricycle, my son was thrilled with it, and we were able to safely grab the handle if we needed to.
We give KidsEmbrace a lot of credit for making car seats – and other products – that kids want to use! The KidsEmbrace Combination Harness to Booster Car Seats are colorful and fun. We wish the installation were a bit easier, but the orange tether and lower anchor webbing are winners in our book. Booster mode is straightforward and hassle free as well. We look forward to the installation improvements on the horizon, and we’d be comfortable recommending these seats for anyone with the width in the car to accommodate them and perhaps a bit of extra time to spend on the installation. We wish a safe and fun journey to all our little superheroes!