Posts Tagged ‘Car Seat

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Add a kid, add a car seat.  Contemplate a minivan.  Which parent *hasn’t* been there?  Some families are okay with the minivan step, considering it a welcome rite of passage – essential gear for a well-equipped family.  Others stop at two, solely out of concern for their locomotive style.

Good news: Parents can fearlessly go for three and still drive a Prius with a little help from Diono’s superb Radian SL line of car seats.  Radian is slim enough to fit three across the back seat of most 4-door vehicles, using a padded steel alloy frame for strength and safety instead of typical bulky foam and plastic.

The “SL” in the moniker refers to Diono’s SuperLATCH technology – the beefiest lower latch tethers on the market.  There are seats in the Radian line rated to 65 and 80 lbs – all simply installed with the SuperLATCH tethers.  We have the Radian XTSL, and found the tether system both simple to install and convincingly strong and stable.

Of note, Radian is a convertible car seat, with impressive rear-facing weight limits for children 5-45 lbs, and forward-facing from 20-80 lbs (or 65 lbs for the base model).  While many parents prefer the convenience of a bucket seat, there is infant padding provided to ensure a cushy ride for baby #3! tested the 2008 Radian 80SL with a low toxicity result of just 0.2 – a superb score, especially compared with the popular Britax Marathon (1.4 – medium – lead!) and Graco Nautilus (2.2 – medium – bromine),

Radian 65SL is currently available for $229.99 online through Diono; Radian 80SL for $269.99; and Radian XTSL for $299.99.  We recommend either 80SL or XTSL – the main difference is a more prominent headrest on XTSL.  Both are rated all the way up to 80 lbs, and have a similarly sporty look.


UPDATE:  On Thursday, September 1, 2011, Sunshine Kids officially changed its name in the U.S. and Canada to Diono – pronounced (dee-ohh-noe).  We have updated the name in the text above, but alt text and links may still refer to Sunshine Kids for some time.  If you happen to find any links broken and not automatically redirected due to naming, please let us know.



Along with first teeth, losing and regrowing hair, the army crawl and pulling up to standing, it’s one of baby’s earliest physical milestones: outgrowing the portable baby bucket.  If one bicep has grown to 2x the other, and you’re just starting to get some sleep, chances are it’s time to shop for a convertible car seat.

A “convertible” car seat is one that can be installed in either rear- or forward-facing positions.  It is strongly recommended that children be kept rear-facing as long as possible given height and weight guidelines assigned to a seat by its manufacturer (usually, *at least* one year in age and 20 pounds in weight). explains the crash physics behind safety guildelines well – among other benefits, rear-facing car seats spread frontal crash forces over the whole area of a child’s back, head and neck; they also prevent the head from snapping relative to the body in a frontal crash.  With frontal or frontal-offset crashes making up 70-75% of severe crashes, it’s important to seek out a top-rated convertible model that fits well into your vehicle facing both directions.

Here are GaGaGear’s top-line convertible considerations:

1.  Reputable make/model with no recent recall activity

Maxi-Cosi Priori | Photo Credit:

Many parents stick with the same brand as they make this transition – a reasonable choice, since most the quality names from the infant category are equally proven with convertibles.  Fans of aesthetic and functional European styling might move from the Maxi-Cosi Mico into Maxi-Cosi Priori, looking ahead to a Rodi booster, or perhaps a Recaro.  Others fish within a certain price tier, or consistently pick the year’s “top” product from a reputable list.  Top-scoring Graco SnugRide or Metropolitan owners might pick the Britax Marathon or Boulevard (Graco’s convertible MyRide is nothing special).

Still others eek out the bucket seat as long as possible and transition directly to the functional yet forward-only-facing Graco Nautilus, which boasts 3:1 convertibility from a 5-point harness all the way to a backless booster.

A quick Google search will bring up any number of sites that compile car seat rankings, but we’ve had good luck with  Also check Amazon for reviews once you’ve narrowed your list. has a no-frills recall info page that’s kept up to date as recalls are announced.

2.  Where will you install the car seat?  Review 360-degree impact features.

Many cars have dedicated LATCH bars just for the side seats and not for the middle.  Although most convertible car seats can still be installed using a car’s seat belts, LATCH gives parents greater confidence and flexibility if installing/re-installing frequently without outside assistance.  While the middle of the back seat is still considered safest given the range of possible impacts, the sides are often most practical, and inevitable for growing families.

We discussed front- and frontal-offset crashes earlier.  A 5-point harness is “standard” front-impact protection for the category, and a clip that’s stiff or tricky to open is actually a good thing.  (Think child safety caps on medication.)

Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL

Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL | Photo Credit:

Side impact protection is just as important to review, and is accomplished in different ways at different price levels.  Less expensive seats rely on large quantities of dense foam padding to absorb and transfer energy in a crash, and can be bulky as a result, especially side-to-side.  The upper eschelon of convertibles (and infant buckets too) look more race car than padded pillow, and are engineered similarly with rigid internal structures designed to absorb and transfer impact back into the body of the car itself.  New seats with steel construction and deep side impact protection like Sunshine Kids’ Radian XTSL aim to boost side-impact safety within a more streamlined profile.  The Radian XTSL can run close to $300, but it also rates up to 85 pounds and has a slim enough profile so you could probably skip getting a booster.

3.  If installing behind the passenger, does sufficient legroom remain?  If installing driver-side, is there sufficient legroom for the tallest driver in your family?

This is the point at which some parents start to panic about buying a large sedan or minivan.  Our advice is to postpone that decision until you try a few seats in your current car – there is quite a range re: depth in the rear-facing position – if you could fit the infant seat, there’s likely to be a convertible sized just right for you.  It’s also not a time for self-sacrifice – if the driver can’t steer, brake, shift, or otherwise control the car comfortably and safely due to lack of leg or shoulder room, keep looking.

4.  Car seat width and rear seat real estate.

For some, this won’t matter – but for families looking to stretch (gasp) three seats across the back seat, it’s something to consider far in advance of that third trip to the hospital.  This is where Sunshine Kids shines, with the narrowest-yet-safest convertibles on the market today.  You’ll be lucky to squeeze a diaper bag between some of the other models, so if you’ll be sticking with your sedan, take it to the store and ask to test one seat on either side simultaneously to get an idea.  If you can’t get three across forward-facing, try to at least fit two puzzled together with an infant bucket, rear-facing in the middle – especially if you are a one-car family (since visiting relatives or friends don’t always rent a car).

5.  Child’s Comfort / Room to Grow

Lastly, do consider the comfort of your passenger long term.  Convertible seats are meant to last through a period of considerable growth for your child – in all directions.  This is where Amazon customer reviews can be particularly helpful, since you might find feedback from parents with children at different ages.  Especially look at the head/neck padding of the seat – some are adjustable, and others are fixed.  If fixed, be sure the padding is fairly flush with the seat and doesn’t force a shorter child’s head to tilt forward uncomfortably.  Some seats like the Maxi-Cosi Priori can recline, which is helpful for smaller children and those who still fall asleep frequently in the car.

“Car seats!”
[shakes fist]

Nobody ever knows what to get for a car seat.  There are a surprising number of options from mainstream and specialty manufacturers.  The car has become, after all, an extension of our homes, and the infant car seat in particular, an extension of baby’s crib, in itself an extension of mother’s womb.

Graco Baby Nautilus 3-in-1 Car Seat

The Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 Forward-facing Car Seat | Photo Credit:

It’s unfortunately also not a decision you get to just make once.  Every year in your new family’s life, it seems, there’s something – – the infant bucket, the convertible seat (many of which can support infants, just not outside the car), the booster seat…  God forbid you add to the family while still using the convertible…do you get another for a matching set?  Or re-evaluate the market once more based on a new decision set?  Chances are you have beefs with the current seat – everybody does…  Want to fit even a waif-like adult in the back middle seat?  Good luck…

In the past decade, we’ve seen the landscape change quite a bit, with car seats becoming both functionally simpler, and more technologically complex.  Government and the private sector came together in 2002 to implement the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system across subsequently manufactured car seats and automobiles.  This universal latch and bar system takes some of the skill and stress out of installing or removing seats, although many parents still choose to work with local agencies or accredited retail stores for installation assistance.  Regulatory and Consumer Advocacy groups (and States) continue to raise the bar on required and recommended height/weight/age of children in boosters and car seats, driving technical specs into new territory as engineers stretch to accommodate bigger passengers.  Bulky plastic shells are being downsized in favor of alternate structures drawn from sectors like aerospace that afford a smaller footprint with equivalent (or better) protection.

Orbit Baby G2 Stroller System

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Truly, it’s not just about the seat any more.  Some stroller manufacturers like Orbit Baby are designing new systems for baby transportation, including car seats in their line-up.  Others are designing-in exclusive stroller compatibility with a few other brands.  Locking in some of these variables has enabled some interesting new features – for example, Orbit’s ability to rotate 360 degrees on the car seat base, vastly improving back-seat ergonomics at loading/unloading time.  Orbit’s car seat meets or exceeds safety standards, and also boasts environmentally-friendly fabrics and materials – but it has other limitations, being notoriously heavy, not to mention expensive.

Car seats, like cribs, strollers, high chairs, and even play yards, have become a lifestyle choice.  Everyone wants a safe car seat – it’s what you want next (and how much you have to spend) that drives the ultimate purchase.

We’ll go in-depth with some product reviews and recommendations in another installment (interestingly, our top picks are not those pictured above).  But for now, take heart that we won’t ask you to choose between chartreuse or vermillion – because with a Maxi-Cosi Mico in Breen by GAP, you *can* have both.

  • JHeff: I have read a good number of comments about most users of the boba not really ever using the foot rests. Looking at the videos I've seen, the back on
  • Mama GaGa: Oh, boo! Thanks for the manufacturing update - I will make note in the post. Cheers - MG
  • Cathy: I know this is a couple years old but I ran across this post and was so excited when you said the Boba was made in America - a big selling point for m

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