When shopping for a family vehicle remember there are approximately 684 models of motor vehicles and 238 models of child restraint systems (car seats) manufactured in the United States, and model designs can change every year. While vehicles and car seats are required to meet Federal standards, depending on specific criteria, not all car seats are compatible to every vehicle. Add to the fact that vehicles are becoming smaller can make compatibility even more of a problem, affecting installation and safety even among the largest of SUV's. Pro Consumer Safety has established 12-factors for parents to consider when shopping for a new family vehicle.
According to Consumer Affairs, because of new fuel economy standards, automakers are designing SUV’s smaller to improve fuel economy. This is not a problem, if you are not a tall driver or passenger (generally 5’10” or taller), only have one child, do not mind riding in the back seat with your child, just go to dinner, the movies, get groceries, or maybe take a beach chair and a small cooler to the beach, a smaller SUV is likely fine. However, with SUV’s becoming smaller this can be a problem. A smaller sized SUV can severely affect whether you can safely transport a child or numerous children in these smaller SUV's, and even in some sedans. Add to the fact that if you have an active outdoor lifestyle, you need space for carrying equipment such as for kayaking, snowboarding/skiing, camping, biking, child carriers, bike trailers, etc. But even more important is having enough space and capability to properly install a car seat in the safest location in the vehicle. Depending on the factors below, these contribute to a 30-35% risk that a specific car seat might not be compatible to a specific vehicle. This is why Pro Consumer Safety recommends having a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) make sure the vehicle you are considering can accommodate the seats necessary to safely and properly transport your child in the vehicle before you purchase it.
12-Factors to consider when shopping for a new family vehicle
Pro Consumer Safety has already provided consultation to automotive design engineers on some of these issues. It is also currently assessing top selling car seats that are most compatible to the top selling family vehicles, including SUV’s and minivans. Meanwhile the following are factors that have been shown to contribute to car seat (rear-facing, forward-facing combination, all-in-one and booster seats) compatibility problems. Consumers can use this as a guide when shopping for a new vehicle. Then once you have your vehicles narrowed down Pro Consumer Safety recommends having a CPST assist you to ensure the vehicle is compatible to the car seats necessary for your child.
- Number of children (obviously more than one child can increase difficulty).
- Number of car seats (rear-facing, forward-facing, booster)
- Height/weight of children (contributes to the type of car seat i.e. rear-facing, forward-facing, booster)
- Height of driver and front passenger. Heights of 5’10” or taller are more problematic for some vehicles when using rear-facing car seats. The driver and passenger need at least 3” of space between their knees and dashboard, and for the driver no less than 10” to the steering wheel and for the passenger no less than 20” to the front airbag)
- Second row vehicle seat is fixed or does not slide back. This is necessary for proper space necessary between the back of the child's rear-facing car seat and the back of the front vehicle seats. Whereas rear-facing car seats need at least 1.5-2 inches of space between the back of the car seat and back of front vehicle seats. This can impact the driver and passenger as just discussed above.
- Contours of vehicle seats. Whereas the sides and back of the vehicle seat angles can affect installation of a car seat or even booster seat.
- Location of LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) - height of LATCH and contours of vehicle seat can affect proper use of LATCH, depending on design of car seat.
- Location of vehicle reseat belts - seat belts that are not close between the vehicle seat bench and seat back such as being 3-4" away from the back of the vehicle seat becomes a problem when using a seat belt to install a car seat, causing inability to pull the car seat back against the rear of the back seat to be installed properly
- Fixed seat belts - when the seat belt receptacle is attached to the bench of the vehicle seat, instead of being on a short belt makes it difficult to place a car seat in the correct location and/or position. This can make is difficult to install a car seat properly as well as can affect the number of car seats placed in the back seat.
- Center vehicle seating position where the seat belts are offset or too close together such as being 8-inches or less apart or further away from the center.
- Rounded, highly contoured center hump of back vehicle seat.
- Number of top tethers (for forward-facing seats that have a top tether - not all vehicles have a top tether at all seat location. Especially in some larger SUV's
Safety ratings for new vehicles
Pro Consumer Safety receives numerous inquiries from new and expectant parents on what is the best type and safest vehicle to transport their children in. While every vehicle manufacturer has their own criteria and safety specifications, we generally refer them to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization that helps to reduce death, injury and property from crashes. The IIHS offers an excellent resource for consumers on vehicle ratings.