A Carseat Nerd's Blog

A Carseat Nerd's Adventures in Carseats

Evenflo Sympony 65 E3…I kinda like it! April 1, 2013

Filed under: Seat Reviews,Uncategorized — carseatnerd @ 6:18 pm
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Last weekend, I was asked to present Child Passenger Safety to a group of women training to transport foster children. Of course, I was happy to do so! Part of my presentation was letting them touch and oogle seats that might work for their varying needs. They would need to transport kids from newborns through 12 safely and lawfully, while purchasing as few seats as possible and with a tight budget.
I borrowed a few seats from friends to play with and let them explore, one of which was an Evenflo Symphony 65 E3.
Per Evenflo,

For Use Rear-Facing Child Must Meet All These Requirements

  • Weight: 5 – 40 lbs (2.3 – 18kg)
  • Height: 19 – 37 inches (48 – 94 cm)
  • Top of child’s head is at least 1 inch (25 mm) below the top of the child restraint seat back.

For Use Forward-Facing Child Must Meet All These Requirements

  • Weight: 22 – 65 lbs (10 – 29,4 kg)
  • Height: 28 – 50 inches (71 – 127 cm)
  • The tops of their ears are below the top of the child restraint headrest.
  • Age: At least one year of age

For Use as a Booster Child Must Meet All These Requirements

  • Weight: 40 – 110 lbs (18 – 49,8 kg)
  • Height: 43.3 – 57 inches (110 – 145 cm)
  • The tops of their ears are below the top of the child restraint headrest.
  • Age: At least four years of age

To me, this sounded like it might be a good fit. But I couldn’t help but wonder if it was really the wonder seat Evenflo advertises it as. I’ve met many a 3-in-1 seat that failed miserably.  So I got out my trusty measuring tape, my cooperative 6 year old, my extra cooperative newborn doll, and took a seat out of my Pilot.

First, let me talk to you about the fancy SureLATCH connectors. Holy moly, those are awesome! In my vehicle, I really did only have to click-click-press and the seat was tight! I do know that in some vehicles, the Sure LATCH doesn’t work as designed and isn’t as tight as it needs to be for a safe installation.  It’s very easy to change the LATCH strap from rear to forward facing too!

Rear facing LATCH strap

Rear facing LATCH strap. Very clear, right?

You just pull the big ol’ connectors up through the belt path holes, flip the whole assembly up, and stick the connectors back through the forward facing belt path.


Forward facing LATCH strap!

Ta-da! SO cool!

The other super spiffy thing about this seat is that the harness tightens at the hips instead of at the shoulders. This means that every time you tighten the harness on the child, it lowers the shoulder straps to meet the child’s shoulders and pulls the slack out at the hips. Thus, the shoulder straps are always at the appropriate harness height for each child, and YOU don’t have to move it!

I measured the lowest harness position between 7.5″ and 8″ This is better than some seats, but not as good as others. I think it could work for a good sized newborn, but certainly not for a petite baby or one with a shorter torso.


The harness comes out between 7.5″ and 8″ on the lowest setting.

You can see here that my doll would not be able to come home in this seat.


There is about an inch between the doll’s shoulders and the lowest harness position.

If my doll were a little bigger and closer to the size of an 8 lb baby than a 5 lb baby, he would have fit nicely.


If only he were a little bit taller!

There was a HUGE amount of crotch room for a newborn too. You would definitely need to put a rolled up washcloth between the baby and the crotch strap.


There’s a good 1.5″ between the baby and the strap. You would need to put a rolled up washcloth here to keep baby from slouching, which poses a safety hazard.

First, I installed it rear facing in my Pilot with the SureLATCH connectors. Like I said, it was super easy. Click, click, push. You do have to push it down pretty hard though to get it truly tight enough.


Rear facing installation, appropriate for a newborn.

It has handy stickers on the side with directions for which recline position to use for which type of installation too, so you don’t have to remember.


Handy sticker on the side of the seat showing you the recline options for each installation option.

It had about 13.5″ of legroom for a rear facing child in my vehicle.


Decent amount of legroom for a rear facing child.

I had plenty of room to install it rear facing in my Pilot. I don’t think it would be too big for a smaller car either.


Plenty of room for rear facing installation.

It’s super easy to adjust the height of the headrest without uninstalling the seat also, even if installed forward facing.


To adjust the head rest height, you squeeze the red handle on the back and move the head rest up or down. Super easy!

After I was done playing with the seat rear facing, I flipped it around, which was very easy with the spiffy SureLATCH strap. Click, click, push. If I were using this seat and following best practice ie, rear facing to the limit of the seat, I would not be able to install with the lower anchors in this car for a forward facing child. My lower anchor weight limit is 40 lbs. The seat belt installation was not difficult either, but I didn’t take pictures of it.


Click, click, push and it was installed tightly. You can see the booster mode shoulder belt guide in red on the head rest.

I had Mr Orange sit in it. He currently weighs 48 lbs and is 47 inches tall. By weight, he has 17 lbs before he outgrows the harness in this seat.   On the CDC height/weigh charts, he runs about 47th percentile.


6 year old, 47 lb, 47 inch child with the harness properly adjusted.

Unfortunately, he is not likely to make it to the full 65 lb weight limit. There is only about .75-1″ of harness height left above his shoulders.

He has about .75" of harness height left,

He has about .75″ of harness height left.

Since he was close to outgrowing the harness by height, I checked to see how the seat fit as a booster. I was actually pretty pleased on the fit for a 3-in-1 seat. I would like the belt lower on the hips, but over all, it wasn’t too bad. It looks higher in the pics than it was in reality. I don’t think it would actually fit a 57″ child well though. I didn’t have access to a child that big, so I didn’t get to try it.


Decent belt fit for a 3-in-1!

I have to say though, that I don’t think an average child would be able to buckle it by themselves in booster mode.  The buckle is WAY down there!


There is no way he can reach down there to buckle it without locking the shoulder belt.

My overall opinion of the seat is that it is very user-friendly, with a good useable period, but unlikely to be the only seat you’ll need to purchase. I would definitely recommend it for a grandparent/daycare provider/carpooler/etc who will be transporting several children of different sizes.

Oh, I almost forgot! You can take the cover off to wash it without taking the seat out of the car too! The cover also moves out of the way of seeing the belt paths easily. No more fumbling in the dark or scraping off your knuckles threading the belt through the belt path!



Chicco Keyfit 30 Overview January 27, 2013

Filed under: Seat Reviews — carseatnerd @ 9:20 pm
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Chicco Keyfit 30 installed in a (very messy) 2003 Honda Pilot

Chicco Keyfit 30 installed in a (very messy) 2003 Honda Pilot

As a CPST, I’m not supposed to have favorite seats. The best seats are the seats that fit your child, your vehicle and your budget and that you can use correctly every single time. The reason I admit to liking the Chicco Keyfit is because I can usually be pretty confident that the only part of that equation that may not work for every family is the budget part. I can be pretty safe in an assumption that the Keyfit will fit most newborns well.  I can be pretty safe assuming that it will fit in the majority of vehicles I will be in. And this has got to be one of the *most* user friendly infant seats I have ever touched. It retails for about $190 for the Key Fit 30, about $160 for the Key Fit 22, and $85 for an extra base.
Chicco produces two models- the Keyfit 22 and the Keyfit 30.  The 22 lb model is rated for babies from 4 to 22 lbs, and is compatible with Chicco Cortina, Cortina Together, Trevi and S3 strollers.  The 30 lb model is rated for babies from 4 to 30 lbs, and is compatible with the same four strollers. Other stroller manufacturers may have adapter kits to make their stroller compatible with both seats.

I have a Keyfit 30 to play with, so my measurements may be different than the 22 lb  model.

Preemie sized doll in a Keyfit30 with infant insert


Infant insert reduces lowest harness height to 6″.

First, the Keyfit’s newborn fit. My doll is somewhere between a preemie and a newborn size. The Keyfit comes with an infant insert, which places the baby in a better position to reduce reflux and provide better support for the spine.  The insert must be removed when the baby reaches 11 lbs. The insert reduces the height of the lowest harness position to 6″ and the crotch buckle depth to a tiny 3″.  My doll’s shoulders were almost level with the lowest harness position.


Infant Insert makes the crotch buckle depth 3″.


Closer view of the lowest harness height.


Doll’s shoulders are almost even with the lowest harness position.

Without the insert, the crotch buckle depth is about 4.75″.


Crotch depth without the infant insert is about 4.75″.

Baby gets about 13.5″ inches of legroom when the seat is installed in my Pilot. Your vehicle’s seat back contours may have different results.


Pilot seat back offers about 13.5″ of legroom with the Keyfit 30.

This picture isn’t particularly clear, but overall shell height is about 19.5″ inches, which means that a baby may have a seated torso height of about 18.5″ before they outgrow this seat.


Overall shell height is about 19.5″.

Without the infant insert, the harness positions are at roughly 7″, 9.5″, and 11.5″.


Harness position heights without the infant insert.

The only “complaint” I’ve had or received about this seat is that the canopy is fairly short, at 15″. Some of the newer models have longer canopies that will shield babies from the elements better.


Barely functional canopy measures only 15″.


Canopy doesn’t offer much protection from the elements.

The seat base is very lightweight and narrow. It fits three across pretty easily in many vehicles.


The level indicators are built in to the base. This is great for installations using the base. On other models, one must install the base, click the seat in to check the level, then removes the seat from the base to make adjustments and replace the seat to check. With the Key Fit, you can make the adjustments even if you left the seat in the house!


Built-in level indicators!

A brief installation process offers easy installs whether you’re installing with the LATCH connectors or the vehicle belt. To demonstrate how easy this seat is, I took pictures of the entire process using both installation methods. Keep in mind that you must choose one method or the other. Never install with the lower anchors and the vehicle belt.

First, LATCH. I’ve only captioned the photos instead of typing everything twice. I did not photograph the actual connecting of the LATCH connectors to the lower anchor bars in my seat. I have simplified things a bit, in that I don’t describe checking or adjusting the seat/base angle.


Step 1: Connect both LATCH anchor connectors to your vehicle’s lower anchors, which are typically located in your vehicle’s seat bight, or crack. Sometimes, they may be hidden behind a fabric flap or a plastic cap. Sometimes, they may be above the seat bight a few inches.


Step 2: Pull the center strap. This strap tightens both LATCH straps simultaneously.


Step 3: Roll up the excess center strap length and stuff it in the storage cavity. Check for less than 1″ of movement in any direction, by grasping the base at the belt path with your non-dominant hand and giving it a firm but polite handshake. The belt path is where the vehicle belt or LATCH straps go through the seat. In this base, you can grasp the pieces that look like handles on the sides.

And the almost as easy and straight forward vehicle belt installation.


Step 1: Thread the vehicle belt through the belt path and buckle. Pull the shoulder portion of the belt to snug the lap portion. I had a very hard time getting a decent photo while also installing the seat, but if you grasp the shoulder portion close to the buckle and PULL STRAIGHT UP, you get better leverage than if you pull across the seat where my hand is in the photo. My hand is here to show the two portions of the belt webbing.
Step 2: Guide the excess webbing across the seat, maintaining a snug lap/ lower portion.


Step 3: Guide the shoulder portion of the webbing into the opposite built in lock-off on the base. These are orange tabs on the bottom of the “handles” on the sides. Do not try to use the lock-off on the seat belt buckle side of the base. Slide the webbing as far into the slot as you can without damaging either the webbing or the base.


It should now look like this. You’re done!


Side view of the belt sections going through their respective spots.Remember to check for side to side and front to back movement by using the method described in the LATCH installation above.

See? You can’t get much easier and straightforward, can you? If I were in the market for an infant seat, I would definitely strongly consider a Key fit!


Ever wonder what a 3600 lb dog looks like?

It looks just like your 60 lb dog in a 60 mph collision.

As a Child Passenger Safety Technician, I often encounter parents with dogs who ride in the family vehicle.  Some people, parents or not, opt to use pressure mounted gates to contain their dogs in the car.  My experience with these products has been less than favorable as many will rattle loose and I have actually had the bars fall on my dog while the vehicle was moving!  I typically advise pet owners to purchase and use the Pet Buckle Restraint System by IMMI Outdoor to safely restrain their pet in the car or truck.  I feel this system provides adequate safety for all of the occupants of the vehicle-canine and human.  At the very least, it should prevent the dog from becoming a lethal projectile.  I doubt anyone wants to know what a 60 pound dog feels like when they are hurtling through the air at 60 mph.  It will also safely restrain your dog if emergency response crews need to approach your vehicle after a collision.

According to the manufacturer’s website (http://www.immioutdoors.com/petbuckle/), the PetBuckle restraint has been crash tested at their Center for Advanced Product Evaluation (CAPE).  I am reviewing both harness sizes-Small and Universal/Standard as well as the Truck Tether System. I am using my 2003 Honda Pilot for my review as it is our only vehicle with LATCH. Please pardon the mess!  Also note that the checkered Britax Marathon is NOT installed during these pictures.  It is normally installed in the seating position in which I was putting the dogs, so I just moved it over out of my way.  It should not be installed at the recline angle it is sitting in in these photos.

The newer models of the PetBuckle harness have push-button adjusters to make them more secure. Mine are older and have tilt adjusters that tend to loosen, so I have tied knots in the excess webbing to prevent loosening.  Another improvement with the newer harnesses is that IMMI has replaced the rigid plastic chest plate with a softer more rubbery piece.

The PetBuckle Package

When you purchase the Standard PetBuckle restraint, the package typically includes the harness, a LATCHable Kwik-Connect strap, a D-ring and a handy little storage bag.  When you purchase a Small PetBuckle restraint, you only get the harness without the connector strap.  The connector strap is available for purchase separately.

Pet Buckle Restraint System packaging contents

The connector strap can be adjusted in length from 15 to 20 inches.

When the D-ring is attached to the connector strap, you have a handy out-of-car temporary leash too!

For dogs weighing less than 40 lbs, you can connect the LATCH connector strap to your vehicle’s lower LATCH anchors.  For dogs over 40 lbs, use of the D-ring loop is required. You simply buckle the vehicle seatbelt through the loop and attach the connector strap to the d-ring.  If your vehicle has the type of buckle release button that is on the front as opposed to on the top like in my Pilot, I can see it becoming unbuckled if the dog steps on it.  In this situation, I would try pushing the buckle between the seatback and the seat bottom, or try another seating position.

I’ve lost the D-ring that came with one of my harnesses, so I just buckle the belt though the loop of the connector strap.

The Small Breed Harness

The Small Breed harness is designed for dogs under 20 lbs.  I am using my mother’s 6 lb Poodle as my model for demo purposes.

The Small harness fits the 6 lb dog pretty well, though with no opening buckles you have to pull the dog’s legs through the straps as though you were putting a shirt on the dog. I see no reason it wouldn’t also fit a cat that is used to wearing a harness.  Some cats like road trips too!



Graco SnugRide 22 Overview June 25, 2011

Filed under: Seat Reviews,Uncategorized — carseatnerd @ 5:44 am
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This is Part One of a series of infant seat comparisons.  Part Two will be a Chicco Keyfit 30 Overview.  These  are the most common infant seats I see at seat check events in my geographical area.

Since I lack a newborn baby, and very few have the patience to allow car seat shenanigans to take place for as long as one of my photo shoots  usually do, I used my teaching doll.  I take this doll with me to every car seat check or event to help demonstrate proper harness adjustment and fit etc. He was actually a gift to me from the organization I volunteer with as a thank you for my time. Perhaps at some point, I will show you how I carry him around at events.  He is always rear facing.

Up first: The Graco SnugRide 22 (SR22) .  An identical SnugRide 22, with the rear adjust harness can be purchased for around $80.  For an extra $10, you can get the front adjust harness, which is absolutely worth that Andrew Jackson! More about that in just a moment. I’m personally not a big fan of the SR22 for a few reasons, which are demonstrated in the pictures and explained.  I’m not sure what newborns they designed this seat around, but I certainly haven’t met them!

Here’s a pic of Baby Boy in the SR22. You can kind of see that the baby is swimming in the seat.

“Newborn” in SnugRide 22

A closer view demonstrates that there is a 3.5″ gap between the baby’s crotch and the buckle.  While this can be remedied with a tightly rolled washcloth shaped into a “U” around the crotch buckle strap, I’m not sure why Graco made the crotch depth so large in a seat made for newborns.  I believe that the fewer modifications a parent has to make, the better.   One could  make the argument that my doll lacks a pelvis and a diaper and a real baby wouldn’t fit so poorly.  I assure you that real newborns do not actually fit much better.

Rather deep crotch buckleIn normal daily driving, a real newborn would slide down until their bum met the webbing. This would leave their vulnerable spine completely unsupported by the seat.  It could also cause breathing problems and reflux.

The seat has a 6″ crotch depth for a newborn!

Moving up the seat, you will notice that the lowest harness position is also not making contact with the baby. You may remember that for a rear facing seat, the harness must be AT OR BELOW the baby’s shoulders. Having the harness above the shoulders could allow the baby to ramp up the seatback in a collision before the harness stops him.

Lowest harness position

Again, one could say that my baby is a doll and a real newborn would fit better. Again, I would assure you that most do not.  You can also see that the chest clip is touching the harness buckle (slid all the way down), and is very close to the baby’s neck.  The buckle assembly and chest clip are HUGE!

With only two harness positions and a fairly short shell, not many babies will fit this seat well for very long.  The harness slots measure 8 and 10″ from the seat bottom.  Harness positions are 8" and 10" from the seat bight

The shell height measures 19″.And now the back of the seat. You can see the harness adjusters, which are the metal clips on the harness webbing.   Especially with a newborn, when there isn’t much harness length being used, it can be easier to adjust the harness each time you use the seat.   On the SR22, each side of the harness adjusts individually.

It can be tricky to get each side adjusted the same so the webbing lengths are identical.

It’s just not particularly user friendly.

But it has a nice useful 19″ sunshade!

Here’s the whole seat, with my mismatched base and seat.

So, how does it fit in a vehicle?

Fairly well, but again, not particularly user friendly.  If you happen to have LATCh in the seating position you intend on using, it works great.  If you have a lapbelt, it works well. But if you have to install with a shoulder belt, it’s not user-friendly for the average parent. Which, if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you aren’t. You’re likely above average!

First, the level indicator is located only on one side of the seat itself. So when you install the base, you have to put it in, then click the seat onto the base to check the angle.  If the angle is wrong, you have to take the seat out to reinstall the base, and so on and so forth.

A LATCH install in my Pilot is pretty straight forward.

With a lap-shoulder belt, it looks straight forward. Route it through just like the LATCH strap, buckle it and lock the belt, right?

Not so much. With that approach, you are likely to end up with a lopsided seat over time.

To fix that little issue, I usually recommend using the locking clip (LC) that comes with every car seat instead of locking the belt at the retractor.  It must be within 1″ of the buckle and you ONLY use them on lap shoulder belts.  I took some pictures to demonstrate how to put an LC on a seatbelt, but due to formatting issues,it will have to be a post of it’s very own. Another day…

Anyway, with the SnugRide 22 installed with the base, I measured about 16″ from the car seat “bight” to the vehicle seat back, which means there is 16″ of legroom for the baby. I measured 31″ from seatback to seatback with my driver’s seat where I normally have it to drive.  It was just barely touching the back of the driver’s seat, but not bracing against it.

So, in short, I think that for someone who truly feels like they NEED an infant seat, this one is inexpensive and will do the job, though not particularly well for most babies. I did borrow one from my sister in law to use when I brought Little Man home. And I hated it. She used it for her younger son until I procured from a friend a front adjust SR20, which she used through it’s expiration date. I don’t recommend this seat unless a parent has a real need for an infant seat.  I feel that there are convertibles for less money that will last a child longer and actually fit newborns better.


I’m a Rebel. Meet the not-legal (in the US) Britax Two Way Elite. January 12, 2011

Britax makes a seat in Sweden called the Two Way Elite. It rear faces from 20 to 50 lbs, and can be used forward facing from 33 to 50 lbs.   I think it’s a very sweet seat.  Unfortunately for me (and many others), it’s not technically legal to use here in the US. It hasn’t been tested to NHTSA’s criteria.  For about $500, I could import one, but that’s a A LOT of money for one child seat.  A fellow tech in my area happens to have one and was willing to let me borrow it for a week.  I didn’t get measurements, unfortunately. And I forgot to take pictures until I was waiting to meet her to return it to her, so all I have is cell pics. And Mr Orange was quite grumpy.  But here they are!

Here’s the seat uninstalled sitting in the back of my Pilot:

I didn’t get an English language manual, but it has installation pictures printed on the back of the pillow!

I never installed it forward facing, with the assumption that if I were to import this seat, I would only be using it rear facing. With a 50 lb rearfacing limit and a 50 lb forward facing limit, I saw no reason I would use it forward facing.

The cover goes all the way around and zips down the back. Totally awesome!

It has a little flippy foot that you either leave tucked under the seat (like above) or flip out to change the recline angle.  There’s a locking adjuster with a strap on it so you can lock it in any position in the range of tucked and fully flipped.  It also has two rear facing tether straps, which are totally different than the tethers we use on US seats.

When installed, they look like this. (Who made such a mess in my car?!)

I know it’s hard to see, but the female end of the tether strap wraps around the leg of the front seat just like the Britax and Sunshine Kids rearfacing tether D-ring on US seats does.

The US Britax seats have velcro tabs on the harness to keep it out from under your child’s bum while you put them in.  The Swedish seats have spiffy little rubbery tabs with holes!

The harness is a little different also.  First, you’ll notice it doesn’t have a chest clip. At all. The European regulations require that their seats have only one mechanism to unlatch to remove a child from their seat.

It also buckles the opposite direction as our US seats. Our lap portion comes from behind the buckle part and our shoulder straps come from in front.  This seat is not threaded incorrectly-this is how it is from the manufacturer. I didn’t get a good picture of it, but it has a puzzle buckle. That means that you put the two metal buckle tongues together before plugging them into the buckle.

The apparently gigantic harness pads supposedly keep the harness straps in the correct position.

They are connected to each other via a strap that threads through the back of the seat.

So, on with the installations.  Keep in mind these installations are going entirely by the directions of the owner of the seat-who also lacked an English manual.

The “long belt bath” went over the “arm”, under the seat, and back over the “arm”.

From the top:And the “short belt path”. Up from under, over the seat, and down through again.

From the top:

And occupied:

Close up of the growth room with a funny mid-yawn face:

Overall, I really liked this seat. I mean REALLY liked it.  But for $500 for a 50 lb seat, I just couldn’t justify importing when I can get a $300 US seat with a 45 lbs rear facing limit. Even if the Two Way does install easier and takes up less front to back room than the Radian.


I made it. Barely. October 29, 2010

Filed under: Seat Reviews,Uncategorized — carseatnerd @ 4:35 am
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I’ve been home from my trip for almost a week now.  I haven’t quite fully recovered. I don’t think I’ll do that again. Flying solo with two small kids is no walk in the park! I don’t need to bore you with a lot of details, but I’ll sum it up for you just for kicks.

Highlights: Snacks smooshed all over the floor where we sat at the terminal, Mr Orange licking the bathroom sink at the airport, Little Dude throwing an all-out fit waiting to board the plane, Little Dude kicking the seat the whole flight both directions, Mr Orange licking the bottom of his SHOE in flight after visiting the bathroom on the plane, Little Dude throwing an all out fit when I took his shoes off for security and again waiting to board the plane, both kids dropping everything in their laps on the floor so my seatbelt was almost never actually on, and Mr Orange had to pee RIGHT NOW before the seatbelt sign was turned off so I got lectured by a flight attendant.

On the way out, my mom helped me. Thank goodness!  I had Mom roll my suitcase to the baggage check counter, while I wore my (30 lb!) backpack and rolled the boys in their car seats.  Then I put their backpacks on the GoGo Kidz handles.

Here’s the setup I was working with:

Marathon with attached GoGo Kidz Travelmate

Radian with backpack straps

Radian folded with rearfacing boot stored in straps

I also obviously had wheels on the Radian which are not in the pics above.  Here is a crappy cell phone pic of me walking through the parking garage with both seats in tow.

Trekking through the airport garage

Now this worked great except going through security.  The seats don’t fit in the scanner with the wheels on and have to be hand-screened which of course takes longer.  But it was worth it to not have to carry them, check them or rent some upon arrival.

I installed both seats forward facing on the plane mostly to make it easier for me to entertain the boys and be interactive with them. FAA regulations state that they could not impede access to the aisle, so the Radian was installed in the window seat and the Marathon went in the center.  This left me in the aisle.  You know, in case I wanted to leave them behind in an emergency situation.

Also worth noting is that the Radian DOES NOT INSTALL WELL on the plane with the wheels on. Because the Radian is such a straight seat, the wheels pushed it out from the seat bight (crack) enough that when we landed, the whole seat leaned forward quite a bit. On the return trip, I opted to take the wheels off and carry it backpack style once we got to our terminal. I got a much more secure installation that way!

The nice features of the Radian are 1) It sits low enough that the child in the seat is able to use the tray table, and 2) It’s narrow enough that it fits down the aisle of the plane so you don’t have to lift it up over the seats. I rolled it on the wheels right to our seats on the way down and walked down the aisle with it on my back on the way home. Fabulous! (pics soon!)

The Marathon installs beautifully with the wheels on, though you do need a seatbelt extender. You can get them from the flight attendant. If you don’t use an extender or flip the female end of the buckle 180 degrees, your seat will be stuck and the pilot will not be happy about having to call a mechanic to come get your seat out by removing screws in the belt attachment.  (pics coming soon!)

I am hoping to make this trek again in March, but with two not-so-minor changes. I will have another adult with me and I am buying a Ride Safer Travel Vest for Mr Orange to wear instead of using a car seat in the rental car. I plan on using the Radian for Little Dude both on the plane and in the rental car and Mr Orange will use just the plane belt during the flight and the RSTV in the rental car.


Britax Marathon, Safety 1st Complete Air, and Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL September 15, 2010

Yesterday I went to visit a friend and borrow her Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL for a few days to play with.  I had an original Radian 65 a few years ago, but didn’t love it so I sold it.  I really wanted to find the love because it has the highest rear facing weight limit in the US. So thank you Miss CS (by the way, had you noticed that your initials are the same as Car Seat?!)

Having my two boys’ normal everyday seats (rear facing Marathon and rear facing Complete Air) already installed in my 2003 Honda Pilot, I simply added the Radian XTSL in the third seating position, also rear facing.  Today I got a wild hair to measure and compare them. In case you might be wondering which one would fit your needs the best. At some point, I’ll do this with my Britax Frontier and my Graco Nautilus also.

Without further ado, here are my results.

The seats, from driver’s side to passenger side are a Britax Marathon  with a mid-2007 DOM and a 33 lb rear facing weight limit in the Speedway cover, a Safety 1st Complete Air with an early 2010 DOM and a 40 lb rear facing weight limit in Harvest orange, and a Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL with a 2009 DOM and a 45 lb rear facing weight limit in Flora.

Marathon, Complete Air, Radian XTSL

Britax Marathon, Safety 1st Complete Air, Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL

Yes, those are harness pads on my Complete Air. No, it does not come with harness pads. I took them off an expired Marathon. I’m fired. Non-regulated product! AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH

I made sure the car was level. It was pretty close, though I’m sure my surveyor husband would not be happy until it was perfectly level in all directions. But he wasn’t home and this is close enough for me. Four tenths of a degree from being level is good.

The Digital Level Santa brought me is FABULOUS!

We’ll travel across the car starting on the driver’s side, with the Marathon. Can I first tell you how much I LOVE this cover?!  I absolutely adore the Speedway and wish I could get it for every seat I own! Anyway, on with the show.

The Marathon.

The Marathon and it’s cousins the Boulevard and Decathalon are quite probably some of the most common seats I see at check events.  Everyone loves the Britax convertibles.  They are pretty darn easy to install in most vehicles, they have addictively (I can make up words if I want!) cute cover options for boys and girls, they claim to fit from 5 lbs, and many people think they are the “safest” seats available. I personally think that this is partly due to advertising, and partly due to the “Expensive things must be better” mentality.  At roughly $280 a seat, they are on the higher end of the convertible seat spectrum.  But the thing is that these seats don’t necessarily FIT a child as long as the box states they will.  Or it won’t be very comfy for the child at any rate. I’ll show you why.

For my rear facing installation here in my Pilot, I have not used any pool noodles or rolled towels. The seat is in reclined mode (required for rear facing installations), and I have approximately a 40 degree recline.  For my recline angle pics, subtract the number on the level from 90).  This is not reclined enough for a young baby without head control, but quite acceptable for an older child.  Britax has an acceptable range of 30 to 45 degrees from upright.

This seat is installed at about a 40* recline.

I measured the shell height, which dictates the height limit of the occupant (except on the CA, but I’ll get to that).  I came up with 24.5 inches. Following manufacturer’s specifications, this means that a child’s seated height cannot be greater than 23.5 inches when using this seat.  Elitecarseats.com has the shell height listed as 22.5 inches….Not sure what to say about that.

Marathon shell height is 24.5″

I also measured the shoulder harness height in each of the four slots available on this seat.  I came up with 10″, 12.5″, 15″ and 17″.

You can see the four harness slots measure at 10, 12.5, 15 and 17 inches.

The 10″ bottom slot is what makes the Marathon (and other Britax convertibles) not an option for newborns and small, young babies.  Since the harness must come through the seatback AT or below the shoulders for a rear facing child, and very few if any newborns have a seated torso height of TEN inches, this seat is just not suitable for the 5 lb babies it claims to fit.  It just isn’t.  I will say that my younger son did fit in it by about three and a half months, which is considerably sooner than most babies will fit in it.  I’ll get to my side by side comparison another day.

With 6″ between the back of the seat and the crotch buckle strap, little babies may have too much room, and older kids may not have enough.  If you use cloth diapers, you may find you just don’t have much room there

The 17″ top slots prevent most kids from making it to the 65 lb forward facing weight limit.  I really don’t understand why Britax released the Marathon 70’s with the higher weight limit and only increased the harness height by about a haf inch.  But that’s not what this post is about.

I also measured leg room and seat dimensions, but it was hard to get pictures of those measurements.  I measured leg room from the bight of the car seat (where the bum is) to the vehicle seat back. Your measurements may be different depending on how the seat backs are contoured in your vehicle.  I measured the leg room at a whopping 12.5″.  That’s right folks, once your kid’s legs area foot long, they will touch the vehicle seat. That’s not a big deal, as kids will make themselves comfy, and broken legs in a collision are better than broken necks. But if your goal is extended rear facing to the absolute limit, you kiddo might start to complain about the squished up-ness of Britax convertibles.

“No problem,” you say, “I plan on turning forward at one and twenty, so rear facing leg room isn’t a big deal to me.”  Let me say “Do your research.”  Then let me tell you what Mr Orange said to me.  Mr. Orange is my 3.5 year old, and one day he said to me, “Mommy, facing backwards is better because I can sleep easier, and my legs don’t hurt. And I can eat more easier too because my food doesn’t fall. But I want a cup holder on my backwards seats like I have on my forward seats.” Have you ever sat on a stool where your feet don’t touch and they just hang there? That’s how a forward facing kid feels without leg support.

The Marathon has a 10 inch seat depth. TEN inches!  I know my kids’ legs are longer than ten inches.  That isn’t much leg support at all.  That leaves your forward facer just hanging out.   The seat width is about 11.5″, which is a little narrower than some seats and wider than some.

The shoulder area of the Marathon measured about 11″ for me.  If you have a particularly wide child, this may not be the seat for you.

The widest part of the shell is at the shoulder area, and I measured 18″ there.  Across the shell at the child’s hips, I measured 19.5″.  Those are typically the measurements that will determine how well you can fit seats side by side.  It’s a little hard to see in my first picture because it’s a bit blurry, but the Marathon sits higher than the other two seats in the car so it puzzles well with them.  I’m lucky in  that my vehicle seat is fairly wide, and I can actually fit three Marathons facing the same direction across my second row seat.

The beauty of the Marathon and other “Big Britax Convertibles” is that they are typically easy to install and usually don’t take up much room from front to back for rear facing installations.  I measured 28″ from seatback to seatback for my Marathon.

The Complete Air.

Ah, the “CA”.  The seat I hate to love.  Dorel, the parent company for Safety 1st, in their infinite genius has a stated rear facing limit of 40″.  They are quite adamant about it too.  They absolutely insist that no child over 40″ can use this seat rear facing. I personally think that’s silly. An average 40″ tall child will have about five inches of shell above their head, while the industry standard is one inch.  Here you see Mr Orange in his orange seat (the Harvest CA). He measures at just over 41″. Pardon the poor cell phone picture, but you can see that he has more than an inch of shell above his head, and the head rest still has two higher positions.

Mr Orange in the Complete Air, Little Dude in the XTSL

On with the measurements. I measured the actual seat shell and the height with the headrest or wings all the way up.  I got 24.5″ and 27″ respectively.

Here’s the CA’s shell height of 24.5″

Here is the CA with the wings all the way up at 27″

The lowest harness position measured at 9.5″.  The highest was at 17″.  The other three were at about 12″, 13.5″, and 15″.  I measured a comfy 16.5″ of leg room.  You can see Mr Orange is comfy enough here. It’s another cell pic, but you get the idea.  You probably also see why I call him Mr Orange. Self dressed in the seat he picked out…  The seat depth, or leg support measured 11.5″.

Mr Oranger makes himself comfy in the CA while Little Dude chills in the XTSL.

I measured the actual seat shell with at 17″ at the widest part near the shoulders and 18″ across the hips.  The shoulder room in the seating area measured 12.5″, and the seat width was  a roomy 12″.  This seat has three crotch strap positions, but only two are useable rear facing. They measure at 4″ and 5″. The third is at 6.25″ for forward facing.

I measured it as needing 29″ front to back for a roughly 35* recline angle.  This is another thing I don’t like about Dorel.  They insist that this seat be installed with a line molded into the shell parallel to the ground. I have heard that in some vehicles this creates a whopping 55* recline!  I have made the parental decision to go against manufacturer instructions and install at the 35* angle, though I cannot advise you to do the same.  You must make your own decision.

Roughly 35* recline angle

And finally the Radian XTSL.

The Radian line was for a while, my enemy. I had an original Radian 65 with the 33 lb rear facing weight limit. I could not for the life of me install it in the Pilot or our Altima forward facing. I asked one of my class instructors to help me do it and she did it effortlessly.  I am finally able to do it too! Whoopee! No really, I am actually excited about it!  I have wanted to have the Radian love.  It is a great seat for three across situations, even in small sedans and it fits newbies and older kids pretty well.  It has a steel frame for structural integrity and it folds for storage or transport! It’s a heavy son of a monkey though, so while Sunshine Kids does make a carry strap for it, I doubt you’d really want to carry it though the airport!

For overall shell height, I came up with 25″. I don’t find that terribly impressive, frankly. That’s only half an inch taller than the other two seats in the car.

Radian shell height of 25″

I measured harness slots at 8″ (without the infant insert that comes with the seat), 9.5″, 11.5″, 13.5″ and 16.25″.  That looks shorter than the Marathon’s 17″ top slot except that Sunshine Kids allows the child’s shoulders to be one inch above the tallest harness slot provided the ears are still within the shell. Still, that is only a quarter of an inch taller than the Marathon or Complete Air.

The Radians have five harness positions, ranging from 8″ to 16.25″

The seat depth measures at a comfy 12″, with crotch buckle slots at a tiny 3″ for newbies, 5″ and 7″. I measured about 16″ of leg room, which is comparable to that of the CA.

You can see the leg room, seat depth and crotch buckle positions

My poor blurry three across shot doesn’t really do justice to the slim profile of the Radians.  The exterior shell measures a slim 17″ at the shoulders and a scant 14.5″ across the hips.  They accomplish this by using a steel frame instead of a hulking plastic shell.  The interior seat measured at 13″ at the shoulders and 11″ for the bum.  Only slightly narrower in the bum than the Marathon, and considerably wider at the shoulders!

The Radian does need about 30″ of front to back space though for a recline of about 37 *.

Radian recline angle is about 37* in my Pilot.

This is by no means the extent of convertible seats; these are just the seats I have on hand at the moment.

None is better than another. The best seat is the one that fits your child and your vehicle the best and you can use correctly every single time.

I personally really like the Marathons for ease of installation.  I own two and I use them as the seats that get moved from one car to another depending on who will be caring for my kids. With the built-in lock off, I don’t have to worry about someone using a locking clip incorrectly.  I don’t need noodles for a decent recline for my child in a Marathon.  The Britax convertibles have quite a bit of padding and seem quite comfy. I don’t think I’ve touched a seat with more padding without an infant insert.  I definitely think there is room for improvement, and I think Britax made an attempt at some of the issues with the new Marathon 70. It isn’t a perfect seat though.

I really like the Complete Air because it’s an affordable option for caregivers who want to rear face their child to the max for the boost in safety.  With similar shell height to the Radians at a much lower price point, it makes rear facing a heavier child more “do-able” for more parents. And it comes in orange, which the Radian does not.  Again, there is room for improvement.  An easier installation that didn’t require a pyramid of noodles would be a good start; doing away with the ridiculous 40″ and crazy recline rules would be an awesome start!  Some padding for the bum and some energy absorbing foam would be appreciated. I like to try to protect ALL of my kids, not just their heads, you know? I do appreciate that the new CA has a 65 lb forward facing limit.

What do I like best about the Radians?  I’m not really sure. I only have two kids and on the occasion I add someone else’s as a third, my vehicle fits three wide seats so I don’t really care about the three across slimness.  I have another seat with similar shell and harness heights, so those don’t do much for me. I don’t know that I’m going to need the 45 lb rear facing limit either since it’s taken Mr Orange over two years to gain a pound and a half to get to 36.5.    I suppose that I could need it with Little Dude who has gained three pounds in less than two months.  By the time he’s close to 45 lbs, there could be newer  more awesome seats with higher limits though, so that’s kind of a moot point.

I can tell you that I think Sunshine Kids would do well to make it easier for older kids to be more upright, as a lot of vehicles make this particular seat very reclined.  I know there are more than a few incompatibilities with vehicles also, whether it’s rear or forward facing. Sunshine Kids tried to address this issue by implementing the SL part of the seat name. SL stands for SuperLATCH, which enables LATCH to be used to 80 lbs (coincidentally the forward facing weight limit for the Radian 80SL and XTSL). But it only applies to vehicles with a manufacture date on or after September 1st, 2005.  For those of us with older vehicles, that doesn’t help.

So that’s the three convertibles in my car right now in a very large nutshell.  I’m hoping to borrow a small baby and some more seats to do a comparison with different sized kids in a variety of seats soon to demonstrate the fit for different builds and sizes of babies/toddlers/kids.

I’m going to beg and plead my sisters in law to let me torture…I mean borrow my nieces and nephews. If I can get them all to cooperate, that’s a DOZEN kids between the ages of 7 years and 6 months rotated through the seats I can come up with, plus the additional seats they own.  I know between them I can wrangle some infant seats including the Chicco KeyFit 30, the SnugRide 35, a SnugRide 22, a Britax Diplomat (fancy version of the Roundabout), a Recaro Vivo (booster), and a Sunshine Kids Monterey (booster).

Oh, the wheels are turning now….Beware!


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