How We Tested Infant Car Seats

How We Test
By:
Juliet Spurrier, MD, Wendy Schmitz, and the BabyGearLab Review Team

Last Updated:
Saturday

We contracted with the same national testing facility used by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for crash tests  and also obtained NHTSA's crash test data for analysis. Above you see the Phil and Teds Alpha seat on the test sled with a 12 month old crash test dummy strapped in.
We contracted with the same national testing facility used by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for crash tests, and also obtained NHTSA's crash test data for analysis. Above you see the Phil and Teds Alpha seat on the test sled with a 12 month old crash test dummy strapped in.

All 15 infant seats were tested over a 5 month period side-by-side to fairly evaluate their performance in each rating metric. Each seat was used extensively by multiple testers and in multiple vehicles. We utilized four very different vehicle makes and models in our primary testing of installation and ease-of-use in an effort to get a general overall feel of functionality and features for installation purposes. Each seat was used according to the manufacturer manual.

At the outset of testing, we engaged with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician to help us develop a set of comprehensive tests on infant car seats. As with all of our reviews, the car seat test plan and testing process was reviewed and overseen by Dr. Juliet Spurrier, our founder, mother of two, and a board-certified Pediatrician.

Crash Test


We researched and analyzed the crash test data in professionally prepared reports based on sled crash tests. BabyGearLab contracted with the same crash test facility used by NHTSA to perform crash tests on car seats in compliance with the same testing protocol used by NHTSA and under the FMVSS 213 standard. We combined our test data with crash test data obtained from NHTSA's own tests to create a comprehensive analysis of each seat.

This chart shows the crash test data for the head sensor on the test dummy. The Chicco had the best crash test results with regard to Head Injury Criteria in this review.
This chart shows the crash test data for the head sensor on the test dummy. The Chicco had the best crash test results with regard to Head Injury Criteria in this review.

Crash tests utilize a test dummy with G force sensors located at various points in the body. We analyzed the data and rated the seats in comparison with one another apples to apples. The more a seat exceeded the Federal safety standards, the better it scored in our analysis. It is important to keep in mind that all of the seats comply with Federal safety guidelines, but each seat responded differently in sled testing and resulted in scores that we believe can help differentiate one seat from another for the purposes of comparison.

Below is a video of one of our crash tests conducted on the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40.



Ease of Install


The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air installed using the LATCH system
Phil and Teds Alpha is shown above installed in the center seat in a vehicle that lacks LATCH support in the center  by using the belt on the base. The Phil and Teds Alpha and the Peg Perego both earned top scores of 9 of 10 in ease-of-installation with the seat belt.
The UPPAbaby Mesa uses the European belt path and offers a color coded belt path
 
We installed each seat in 4 different vehicles of varying size and manufacturers ranging from a compact car to a passenger pick-up truck. Each seat was installed by at least 2 different testers according to the instructions in the manual that came with the seat. Each installation was audited by a certified Child Passenger Safety technician to determine if they were installed properly. The testers ranked each seat for ease of install compared to the other seats in the group and the scores were averaged across testers for a final score for the metric. These tests were repeated for installation using the LATCH system, the vehicle seat belt, and without the base.

Ease of Use


The Recaro Performance Coupe tied for the highest ease of use score with the Evenflo Embrace LX  but unlike the Evenflo  it also scored relatively well for comfort and quality
The Recaro Performance Coupe tied for the highest ease of use score with the Evenflo Embrace LX, but unlike the Evenflo, it also scored relatively well for comfort and quality
For ease of use the seats were used in a way they would be under normal circumstances and then ranked compared to the other eats in the group. We looked at the buckles and chest clips, tightening and loosening the harness, harness height adjustment methods, ease of attaching the carrier to the base, LATCH storage options, and handle and canopy functionality. Each seat was used multiple times to help determine how easy or difficult it really is to use.

Comfort/Quality


The Nuna has some of the thickest dense foam in the review
The Nuna has some of the thickest dense foam in the review
For comfort and quality we compared each seat side-by-side and ranked them as they compared to the other products in the group. We considered padding, fabric, additional positioning inserts, canopy size and durability, and the overall fit and finish of the seat. Feedback from testers were averaged to determine final score for the metric.

Weight


The Orbit Baby G3 is the heaviest seat out of the 15 in our review with a carrier weight of 12.5 pounds
The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air is close to the average weight of the 15 car seats we tested with a weight of 9.46 pounds
Weighing in under 7 pounds  the Cosco Light 'n Comfy is the lightest seat in this review
 
Each seat base and carrier were weighed separately using the same scale by the same tester. The carrier weights were ranked from the lightest to the heaviest and scores were assigned appropriately.