When I told my 4-year old that both her and her sister were getting new car seats, her response was – “Do they have 5 cup holders or something?” Happy with her current car seat, she couldn’t possibly imagine needing anything else. And neither did I… until I heard about:
The statistics are staggering – 1 in 4 car crashes involving children are side impact collisions. These types of collisions account for 1 in 3 child fatalities, almost always caused my head trauma. Because side impact collisions are not as common and are more challenging to set up for testing purposes, there are no regulations stating that car seats have to have side impact protection. And that’s a shame.
In the interest of full disclosure, Safety 1st sent us two Complete Air Convertible Car Seats with Air Protect at no charge, to try out and keep, but this review will cover both the pros and cons of the product.
So what is Air Protect?
Over the past two years, Dorel (the company that manufactures the car seat) has been working with researchers at Kettering University’s renowned Crash Safety Center. Using next generation testing methods that simulate the most violent types of side impact crashes, they engineered Air Protect Technology. See those “wings” around my daughters head in the photo to the right? That is Air Protect. On either side of the headrest is an air-filled pad that, if a side impact collision were to occur, would release just the right amount of air to shield her from severe head trauma. That precise release of air extends the ride-down – the amount of time it takes to slow a child’s movement in a crash – thus creating a softer landing.
For the sake of this review, I tried the car seats in 3 different cars – an SUV, a minivan, and a coupe – with vehicle seat belts and LATCH (separately, of course!), and because I have both a toddler and a preschooler, was also able to try it rear-facing. So I think that covers just about everything!
My first impression of the car seat after inspecting it over, sideways, and under, is that it’s very well constructed. It can be used rear-facing for children from 5 – 40 pounds and 19-40 inches in height. This is only one of two car seats available at this point in time that has that 40-pound limit. Forward-facing, it can be used for children from 22-50 pounds and 34-45 inches. Taking the car seat out of the box, I thought to myself – “Man, this is heavy!” And sure, it may take a little more effort to move it from one car to another, but in case of an accident, I’d imagine a heavier car seat would be less likely to be tossed around.
When you’re ready to install the car seat, you have to start by deciding on a position for your child, then decide whether you want to use LATCH, if it’s available in your car, or the vehicle seat belt. I find that the LATCH system is easier and more secure.
I first installed it in the SUV, front-facing for my 4-year old.
I found the LATCH strap to be a little tough to adjust at first, but when using a latch strap for the first time it is always a good idea to move the adjuster up and down the strap a few times to loosen it up a bit. The LATCH attachment hooks are very nice. They have a button that you push that makes it so easy to connect and disconnect from the anchors in the car. After I got used to adjusting the straps for each of our cars, switching it from one to the other now takes less than a minute!
Time to strap her in!
I loosened the harness straps by pulling on them while pressing down on the harness release lever that’s under a small flap on the front of the car seat. Then Maya climbed in so I could see which of the 3 buckle positions would be most comfortable for her. The QuickFit Harness System is so easy to use. Let’s say my 3-year old niece is going for a ride with us – I don’t have to remove the car seat from the car to adjust the harness! I can do it from the front in about 2 seconds. I just loosen the straps a little, press the adjustment levers inward, move the headrest to the proper height and lock it into place. Then tighten the straps as needed.
The headrest/harness adjustment has 5 settings. In the photo below right, it’s at the highest setting. Do you see just how much room she has to grow into? And since she only weighs 42 pounds, I can see her using this for a while. The rule is that if the middle of your child’s head is above the headrest while forward-facing, then your child is too big for the car seat. For toddlers, if the top of your child’s head is above the top of the headrest, you can’t use it rear-facing. As for the harness, the slot should be even with or just above the shoulders in forward-facing position, and even with or just below the shoulders in rear-facing position.
I see photos of kids in their car seats all across the many blogs I visit. The majority have their kids’ chest clips in the wrong position. Either too high or way too low. The chest clip should be at mid-chest, even with the armpits. So now you know!
Lastly, I installed the cup holder. Unfortunately this can only go on one side of the car seat, so if you have two Complete Air car seats only one child will get the cup holder. In our case, seniority won! 😉
Next came my impatient two-year old. She’s within the rear-facing height and weight limits, so I decided to try the car seat that way, since it’s been proven to be much safer. To install it with LATCH, I had to pull up the bottom part of the car seat pad and reroute the straps. I like that she has plenty of legroom!
I did have to place a rolled-up towel underneath the car seat to level it to 45 degrees. The indicator is just a line on the side of the car seat that you compare against the ground to gauge if it’s level or not. I’ve seen some people use those pool noodles to level car seats, which might work even better than a towel. I’ve done this with every car seat I’ve owned, so it’s not unusual.
I had both my girls in infant car seats until they were around 4 months old, but I know some parents would prefer to buy a convertible car seat that they can use from birth until preschool. Though this seat is safe for children as little as 5 pounds, it is a bit upright, so some parents might not feel comfortable with their newborn sleeping in the the Complete Air, since their little head will undoubtedly flop over if they can’t support their head yet.
The Complete Air seems to be very well-padded and comfortable for both my girls. It doesn’t get unbearably hot after sitting in the sun for hours. The Air Protect pads are perfect little pillows for them to lean their heads against; my four-year old loves that feature the most, as do I. I almost wish I had some for the front seat!
This is the part that I dread most about car seats! In the past, I’ve had such a hard time replacing the cover after I’ve washed it. I always have to pull out the instructions and figure it out step by step. I’m happy to say that the pad that covers the plastic shell of the Complete Air can be removed easily and hand-washed. The harness can also be removed for cleaning, and is very simple to reinstall. On the other hand… the pad that protects the headrest isn’t removable, but can be spot cleaned. I was told by a Consumer Relations representative for Dorel that the cover is specifically designed so that it cannot be removed. This is to protect the Air-Protect pads, which makes sense.
The Complete Air car seat is made in the USA, which gives me an extra sense of security. On the back of the plastic shell there is an expiration date – December 2017 – so I still have many more good years with these car seats!
The Complete Air Convertible Car Seat with Air Protect is available in two color combinations – McKenna, a cool black and grey that matches the interior of basically any car, and Harvest, a warm brown and orange. You can find it at Babies “R” Us and online at Babiesrus.com for a retail price of $249.99, and it’ll be available at other retailers in the coming months. Sign up for BRU’s mailing list and you can get great coupons to help with your purchase. (Sometimes they’ll even let you use two for the same product – just ask!)
So to summarize, these are the pros and cons of this car seat, in my opinion.
- Rear-facing to 40 pounds! Whoa!
- Air Protect cushions add an extra level of safety.
- LATCH hooks have nifty push-button.
- Easy to adjust harness height.
- Buckle has 3 positions.
- Car seat is well-padded for comfort.
- Two beautiful color options.
- Made in the USA!
- Price. At $249 it’s more than I’ve ever paid for a car seat.
- No height-insert for infants.
- Head rest pad can’t be removed for cleaning.
- Cup holder only fits on one side of the seat.
- LATCH straps have to be rerouted if you’d like to switch from rear to front-facing, or vice versa.
If you have any questions about the Complete Air Convertible Car Seats with Air Protect, please ask away! I’ll do my best to get back to you in a timely manner. You can also post your questions on Safety 1st’s Facebook page and a Dorel rep may answer it directly. If you’re having issues with installation, please watch the installation videos on Safety 1st’s YouTube channel. They are SO thorough and provide really great tips that aren’t found in the instruction manual.
Here’s a video that describes what Air Protect Technology is all about:
To learn more about it, please visit www.safety1st.com/airprotect. You can also see Safety 1st’s full line of crash tested accessories at www.safety1st.com.