A New Spin on Safety: The Evenflo Platinum SafeMax All-In-One Car Seat

IMG_9163Evenflo has been a leader in child passenger safety for decades, creating products that continue to move the industry forward. They have raised the bar yet again with their latest all-in-one car seat, the Platinum SafeMax. This seat is an industry first – it has been rollover tested! We are very excited to check out this new product and look forward to seeing the many improvements Evenflo has included in this latest addition to their impressive car seat line up.


The Platinum SafeMax may look familiar to some, owing much of its structure and design to the existing Evenflo Symphony. This much-loved predecessor has won over many in the car seat world with its ability to provide a good fit-to-child in all three modes.


Quick Specs: 

  • Highest harness position: 17 in
  • Lowest harness position: 6 in
  • Seat weight: 20.2 lbs
  • Width of seat at widest point: 21.1 in
  • Crotch buckle position (only one): 7 in
  • Depth of seat pan: 14 in


  •  5-40 lbs (2.3-18 kg)
  • 19-40 in (48 – 102 cm) and child’s head is at least one inch below top of child restraint headrest in either of its two lowest positions

Forward-facing (harness mode): 

  • 22-65 lbs (10-29.4 kg)
  • 28-50 in (71-127 cm) and tops of child’s ears are below top of child restraint headrest
  • Child must be at least one year old (though they should not ride forward-facing until a minimum of two years old, read why rear facing is best and how to make it work here)

Booster mode:

  • 40-120 lbs (18-54.4 kg)
  • 44-57 in (112-145 cm) and tops of child’s ears are below top of child restraint headrest
  • Child must be at least four years old (read more about when to move your child to a booster seat here)


  • All-in-One (Rear-Facing/Forward-Facing/Booster)image
  • Three recline positions (position 1 – rear facing only, positions 2 & 3 – forward facing only)
  • Infinite Slide harness system easily adjusts to perfectly fit your growing child
  • 5-position adjustable headrest (bottom 2 positions only for rear facing)
  • SureSafe™ Installation – Quick Connector™ UAS and guides increase instance of proper installation
  • UAS attachments can be used in booster mode
  • “e3” Side-Impact Protection – thick, energy-absorbing EPS foam lines the deep head wings
  • Buckle Pockets to hold the buckle tongues to the side for easy loading
  • Seat padding withOutlast® temperature-regulating fabric, which keeps your child comfortable in hot or cold weather
  • Dual integrated cup holders that are removable and dishwasher safe
  • FAA approved for use in aircraft, in harness mode (as are all seats in Canada)
  • Upfront harness adjust and recline
  • Lower anchor weight limit: 45 lbs
  • Ten year lifespan
  • Available in four fashions: red, blue, purple, and grey
  • Available at Babies ”R” Us (MSRP $399.99)



Initial thoughts: 

The Platinum SafeMax is a large seat, but its size allows it to incorporate some pretty neat features! As mentioned earlier, the Platinum SafeMax is a first of its kind, having undergone dynamic rollover testing. This testing is unique to Evenflo, and is beyond that required by national standards. You can see features that are specifically designed to manage and dissipate the forces associated with that type of collision. Though this seat is quite wide and would not be a wise choice if you intend to have 3-across in your back seat, it is one to consider for all of the safety and ease-of-use features it includes if you have ample space in your vehicle!


Overview of features: 

The Platinum SafeMax features handy buckle tongue holders, which make loading and unloading much easier.


The seat features Outlast® temperature-regulating fabric, which is also designed to be simple to remove. The fabric is machine washable, separately in cold water, delicate cycle. Tumble dry 10 to 15 minutes on low heat.


The seat pad also includes a magnetized fabric panel that covers the harness adjuster, keeping it hidden from curious little hands.


Belt guides and recline positions are colour-coded and correspond to rear facing (light green), forward facing (aqua) and belt-positioning booster mode (purple).


SureSafe™ Installation – Quick Connector™ UAS and guides make installation with a child under 45 lbs a breeze. The guides effectively create a “channel” to the lower anchor bar in your vehicle seat. These guides are especially helpful if you have buried lower anchor bars like I do! To release the lower anchor connector (Quick Connector™), simply pull the red loop.

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Harness pads at the hips and shoulders ensure a comfortable and snug fit on your child. Both pads are fixed to the seat and cannot be removed, and the pads at the shoulders feature a rubber backing that enhances the performance of the seat in a collision.


The Platinum SafeMax features Evenflo’s “e3” side impact protection system surrounds your child in layers of thick, energy-absorbing foam.

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Setting it up: 

The seat comes out of the box with the lower anchors threaded for forward facing, but switching them is quite simple. Just flip to page 23 and 35 of your handy dandy manual and you’ll see these images, showing how to properly route the lower anchor strap for rear facing, or back to forward facing:

safemax moving UAS strapsafemax moving uas forward facing


Take note – as it mentions in the above manual excerpts, you will have to swivel the white plastic strap that attaches the lower anchor strap to the seat in order to have the lower anchor strap sit flat on the seat, so ensure that step is complete as well!


Installation and Use – Rear-facing:

The Platinum SafeMax can be used rear facing from 5-40 lbs and 19-40 inches and while the child’s head is at least one inch below top of child restraint headrest in either of its two lowest positions.

The seat is quite simple to install rear facing for a variety of children. The seat must be in recline position 1 (most reclined position) when used rear facing, but this does not mean that the seat takes up a whole heap of space! The seat is actually more compact than you’d think – it only takes up a very reasonable 31.5 in of space front-to-back, by my measurements. The Platinum SafeMax has a single recline line which must be level to ground (I have placed a piece of green painters tape on the line in the photo below so that it is more visible), but even with this requirement, the seat still allowed for ample space for the front seat passenger, which is certainly a plus in our books!

The following photos show the Platinum SafeMax installed in a 2009 Honda Accord:

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The passenger seat is in a position that is more than comfortable for myself (at a hair over 5 ft 9 in tall), and leaves me ample space between my torso and the airbag, which is important for my own safety.

In order to make installation as sweat-free as possible, Evenflo recommends that you unzip the cover at the cup holders and pull back the padding to expose the rear facing belt path, as shown below. This will allow you to get better leverage when pulling the tail of the lower anchor strap or vehicle belt, whichever you choose for installation. Once you’ve finished tightening, step to the side of the restraint and, using the force of a firm handshake with your non-dominant hand, attempt to move the seat back-and-fourth and side-to-side at the place where the belt passes through the shell of the seat. If there is less than 1 inch of movement in any direction, and the recline line discussed above is level to ground, you’re good to go!

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As you can see below, our petite doll Sara, who measures very similarly to a newborn infant, fits very well in the seat. The infant padding is optional, meaning you can judge whether or not your child needs it (click here to see how to get a snug fit on your rear facing child). Take note, however, that the padding cannot be used at all when the seat is in forward facing mode. The portion of the insert behind her head seemed to force her head forward just slightly, so had this been a real infant she likely would have fit a little better without the head insert. It is separate from the bottom portion of the padding, which would still be used for a proper fit. The fit on a real baby may vary, and ensuring their airway is unobstructed (i.e they are not chin-to-chest) is very important. You may find the head pad (optional) improves fit, or not, depending on your baby’s shape and size.

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Here is Presley, who turned 6 months old just a few days ago. She fit very nicely in the seat at 17 lbs and 26 in. She had no complaints! The harness adjusted snugly around her body and the bottom portion of the insert provided ample support for her. She did not need the head portion of the insert. The adjustable head restraint was in its lowest position.


Here is Luke, who just celebrated his second birthday! He claimed the seat was very “squishy” and quite enjoyed being our little model. He even requested the seat be brought into the living room so that he could watch cartoons while using the seat as his recliner! Note: car seats are for cars and kids should always be buckled properly when in their seat.


The harness fit wonderfully on Luke. It was smooth and easy to tighten using the centrally-located adjuster strap. He seemed to really like the soft, smooth material, and he didn’t seem to notice the rubberized backing on the shoulder pads at all, which was one of my concerns for him. He is using the second-from-bottom headrest position, which is also the highest one permitted for rear facing. At this point, he would likely have another 6-8 months of growth left before he would hit the rear facing limits listed at the beginning of the review. Rear facing use of this seat is limited in comparison to others, but it does the job well for the time it lasts and will allow most children to reach age 2 before being outgrown rear facing.

As you can see, the seat provides an extreme amount of side impact protection to the child.


(Yes, Luke is still in the seat in this photo!).



Installation and Use – Forward facing:

The Platinum SafeMax can be used forward facing from 22-65 lbs and 28-50 inches and while the tops of child’s ears are below top of child restraint headrest. The child must be at least one year of age to use the seat forward facing.

Installation was a piece of cake forward facing. The seat padding has a convenient velcro-open space where the child’s lower back would rest that allows complete access to the forward facing belt path with ease. After opening up the velcro space, you will see the space in which the lower anchor strap or vehicle belt will pass through. This makes tightening the strap/belt much easier. After you’ve finished tightening, simply close the velcro space and step to the side of the child restraint, once again grasping it at the belt path in use and checking for movement (same as rear facing, using the force of a firm handshake with your non-dominant hand at the place where the belt passes through the shell of the seat).

The seat can be in recline position 2 with a forward facing child weighing between 22 and 40 lbs, and in recline position 3 with a child weighing between 22 and 65 lbs (i.e a child weighing over 40 lbs must use recline position 3).



Here is the seat installed forward facing with the vehicle belt in the 2009 Honda Accord:


Here is Jemma. She is 4 years old, weighs 32 lbs and wears a size 4 top. She really enjoyed the cupholders (they were lots of fun to take out and put back in, and also provided her a place to store her many hair clips and Barbie shoes!)


Here is Daniel, he is 2 weeks away from turning 7, wears a size 6-7 top and weighs 62 lbs. He quite liked the cup holders and was a huge fan of the soft seat material!



And here is the seat installed with the vehicle belt in a 2016 Chevy Equinox:



Remember that for ALL forward facing harnessed car seats in Canada, the top tether anchor must always be connected and properly used!

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Installation and Use – Belt-positioning Booster Mode:

The Platinum SafeMax can be used in booster mode with a child 4 years and older from 40-120 lbs and 44-57 inches. It can also be anchored to the vehicle using the lower anchors to prevent the seat from becoming a projectile in a collision when unoccupied, which also eliminates the need to re-buckle the vehicle seat belt over the child seat when the child gets out. One less thing to remember is always a plus!

The Platinum SafeMax must be in recline number 3 (most upright position) when used in booster mode.

The harness on the Platinum SafeMax is not removable, so in order to switch the seat to belt-positioning booster mode, you need to store the harness. To do so, loosen the harness all the way and thread the harness through the forward facing belt path, and buckle the chest clip behind the seat. Then, looking at the seat from the front, you slip the shoulder pads into the harness adjustment slot, as shown, ensuring they are flat.

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The crotch buckle also must be flipped upside down for booster mode. To do this, unzip the cover at the cup holders, pull back to cover and put the car seat in recline number 1 (most reclined position). Slide the black metal retaining plate out of its holder. After the buckle has been removed, pass the black metal retaining plate back up through the shell of the seat so that it lays flat in the seat pan, as so. The crotch buckle will now be hanging upside down under the seat. You can put the seat back into recline number 3 (only one permissible for booster mode, as previously mentioned) and put the cover back into place.

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Here is Daniel again! He found the seat to be very comfortable in booster mode and requested that this seat be his everyday ride! Another feature he talked about after riding in the seat a few times was that his legs felt much more comfortable because of how “long” the seat was (he was referring to the deep, supportive seat pan). Keeping those legs supported certainly makes for a more comfortable ride!


The vehicle belt was able to retract through the belt guide freely in my Honda Accord, which is very important. Children who are mature enough to ride in a booster should stay in position the entire ride, without leaning to pick things up or interact with their siblings, but if they do happen to move about in the seat, the vehicle belt must be able to retract in the belt guide without getting caught up and remaining slack.

Something to note: The Platinum SafeMax requires the level line to be level to ground in booster mode. As such, Evenflo permits a tightly rolled towel or small blanket to be used to achieve this, as shown below.

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The top booster belt guide comes in at 19 inches, which means that it will serve the function of a high back booster for an adequate period of time for most children, after which they will need a backless booster seat until they pass the 5-step test.


Overall thoughts: 

The Platinum SafeMax is a large seat, but its size does not stop it from being a versatile, comfortable and functional car seat. It takes you from infant all the way to school-aged child. The seat is outgrown rear facing more quickly than other convertibles on the market, but it will get most children to at least age 2 rear facing, which is wonderful. Overall, this seat is a great choice, provided you have the space to accommodate it!


Thank you to Evenflo for providing the seat used in this review! As usual, all opinions are our own. Thank you again to Evenflo for giving one lucky (Canadian) reader a SafeMax of their own in Shiloh fashion! To be eligible to win please post your response to this question as a comment on this post: what is the age and size of the child this seat would be for (if you won), and what mode would it be used in? Use the Rafflecopter widget below to confirm your entry, and good luck! Your comment won’t show up right away (we manually approve them) but use the widget anyway, it will soon enough!

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Big Value: Harmony Wows Again with the Big Boost Deluxe

imageWell this is eye-catching eh? Harmony set out to redesign the concept of a booster seat, and visually speaking they sure nailed it.

Known for providing champagne features on a soda water budget Harmony Juvenile has delivered again with the brand new Big Boost Deluxe, a backless (…or dare we say, low back?) belt positioning booster that has ample padding, a detachable cupholder, and…wait for it…LOWER ANCHORS. All for the amazing price of $29. The seat is starting to appear in select Walmart stores, and should show up online soon. It is available now by contacting Harmony directly.

The Big Boost Deluxe is for children who are between 40-110lbs, 40-57″ tall, and who have the developmental maturity to sit properly in a booster seat at all times. For most kids that’s at least age 6. We prefer not to see kids start off their booster experience in a backless booster, but for those who have outgrown a high back or otherwise have excellent belt fit in a backless, this is an outstanding option to take them through to adult seat belt readiness around age 11ish.

It’s roomy internally without being wide externally, it’s cushy, it’s easy to buckle, works really well with buckles that are recessed and low, and did you catch that it’s latchable?

The seat belt fit of the Big Boost Deluxe will vary from child to child, and from vehicle to vehicle, as is the case with all booster seats. In general we found the lap belt fit to be good on most kids, tending toward low. If you have a vehicle where the seat belt geometry tends to position the lap belt overly high on the belly (not good) then this is a good go-to seat to try out. Below is a selection of kids who are 7-10 years old, and of varying builds.

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The Big Boost Deluxe is easy to buckle, even with short or recessed seat belt buckles, because of the way the booster swoops away from the arm rest.



Seat pan depth was reported comfortable even by the older, taller testers, and most kids liked the back rest, offering slight lumbar support. It will absolutely feel different for kids used to sitting in conventional boosters so may take some getting used to.



Premium features include:

  • A well padded seat cushion (removable and machine washable)



  • Cup holder, that when not in use, stores cleverly on the underside of the booster seat so it doesn’t get lost.

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  • Lower anchors to prevent the seat from becoming a projectile when unoccupied. If you do not have lower anchors in the seating position you are using simply stow the hooks, and remember to have your child re-buckle the empty seat when they exit the vehicle.



The Big Boost Deluxe is medium width, fitting easily on the “40” side of a 60/40 split in two test vehicles (2012 Ford F-150, and 3rd row outboard Honda Odyssey). For size reference here it’s shown beside a pink Harmony Youth Booster, a tried and true favourite.

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Boosters are deceptively simple, but do important work by properly positioning the seat belt on the strong bones of a child who is both 40+lbs, and ready to sit properly at all times. Harmony has crammed an impressive number of features into one tidy package, with an even more impressive price tag.

The seats shown in this review were provided to us for the purpose of review, but all opinions are our own. To celebrate this innovative new booster seat design at a spectacular price, Harmony is giving away one Big Boost Deluxe to one of you! To enter use the Rafflecopter widget below, and good luck! Contest is open until 11:59pm Pacific time on Wednesday, May 11th.

Please make sure to comment on the blog answering the question: Pick one word to sum up the Big Boost Deluxe – what comes to mind for you? Blog comments are moderated and will not appear immediately, so don’t fret if your comment doesn’t show right away, it will as soon as one of us pops in to approve them.

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Logo Design Contest

VICST has been around for 4.5 years now…and we’ve never really gotten around to branding ourselves. We think it’s high time!

Sadly, we lack both imagination and creative design skills. That’s where you come in. A logo contest! Or a trade, or barter, if you’d prefer. 

To the winner: your choice of a Graco Dimensions, Evenflo SureRide, Graco MyRide, or possibly something else that you need. If you win we’ll chat.

The rules:

You design and create an original logo or set of logos for our use. If you are the winner you agree to give us complete ownership of the images so we can use them as we see fit. If you submit a design it must be your original design.

The logo must be proportioned to fit in standard Facebook or Twitter profile pictures (square), and ideally would also be able to be used in header format. Perhaps there are some basic design elements that can be creatively combined in different ways! We don’t know…you see why we haven’t done this before?

One day maybe we’ll print it on a banner so a high res file would be good. Ideally it would also print well in black and white for those times when we photocopy stuff. We would prefer if it could be produced as a vector file but don’t require it.

We are under no obligation to choose any winner. We may extend the deadline if we haven’t received sufficient entries. Open to Canadian residents of any age, void where prohibited.

Please submit to info@vicarseattechs.com by 11:59pm Pacific time on Sunday May 15th. We look forward to seeing what you come up with!

A Peek at the Nuna Pipa: review and giveaway!

imageNuna what? Say it with us, it’s fun! Nuna Pipa (NEW-nuh PIP-uh). See? You’re smiling, aren’t you!

Nuna is a Dutch company making their debut in the Canadian car seat market but are already well established with other sleek and attractive Euro-styled baby items, so the name may be familiar.

The Pipa advertises a five-second installation and in many vehicles that is in fact true. “Yeah right,” you say! Watch here for a video tour and see it in action.

Seat Specs:

  • Rear-facing only seat to accommodate children 4-35lbs and up to 32″ tall and whose head is at least 1″ below the top of the carrier
  • Three harness positions:
    • Lowest harness position with low birth weight insert: ~5.5″
    • Highest harness position with all inserts removed: ~8.5″
  • Two crotch buckle slots with multiple positioning options. Note: measurement indicates approximate depth to crotch buckle location: ~3″ (with ability to shorten for small babies and both inserts in place) / 4.5″ with single insert in place / 6.5″ / 7.5″
  • Flexible seat padding options:
    • low birth weight under-bum pillow that tucks tidily away; reduces space between baby’s crotch and crotch buckle for an excellent newborn/preemie fit
    • full-body insert in plush fabric; machine washable
    • optional harness pads
    • optional crotch buckle pad

Seat Features:

The Pipa features a long list of premium ease of use features that are sure to delight the most imagediscerning parent. Look for photos below this list of highlights.

  • True Lock™ installation with rigid UAS makes for a quick and easy installation with lower anchors (note – vehicle must have lower anchors in the seating position of choice)
  • Included funnel guides for UAS installation (photo below)
  • Dream Drape™ for privacy and protection from the elements (and touchy feely strangers)
  • Well-placed mesh ventilation and peep holes to keep an eye on babe from any direction
  • Elegant fabrics in sophisticated colours and textures that are well-fitted, snugly sewn, and machine washable. Currently available in two fashions: Graphite (shown here) and Night (black).
  • Allows a European belt routing when installed baseless (more on that later in the “fit to vehicle” section)
  • Lightweight carrier with comfortable handle
  • Compatible with many strollers with either Nuna or Maxi Cosi adapters
  • Seven year useful life period from date of manufacture, or date of purchase with original receipt
  • Available online and in store at boutiques across Canada for $399.99; extra bases also available

True Lock™ installation with rigid UAS is truly lightning fast in many vehicles. A red/green indicator button makes it clear whether the installation is complete. The included optional funnel guides (black plastic casing on split image) make a UAS installation easier for vehicles with buried lower anchors by exposing them. They work particularly well on flatter vehicle seats.

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The Dream Drape™ tucks away ingeniously into the seat’s canopy and when zipped up looks tidy and neat. Best used for the smaller occupants who don’t have the ability or awareness to kick it out of place, or for an older child who is sleeping. It might also be handy to keep curious older siblings out of baby’s space when seated next to each other in the car. The lower tabs are magnetic and attach easily and snugly to the outer edge of the carrier with no velcro or buckles to fuss with.

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Well-placed mesh ventilation in the canopy and Dream Drape allows one to keep an eye on sleeping babe from all angles.

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Elegant fabric in attractive colours and textures make for a stylish ride. Featured throughout this review is Graphite (grey), also available in Night (black).

image Pipa-Night


Ergonomic handle makes for an easier time carrying baby. There is sufficient clearance between the raised canopy and the handle to easily fit a hand. If you prefer to carry in the crook of your elbow lowering the canopy is likely necessary.


Easy carrier release located on the base (not the carrier like many other seats). Not a pro or a con per se, just different.




Fit to Child:

The Pipa fits a broad range of children, providing a customizable fit with flexibility in crotch buckle positioning, included inserts, harness pads, and crotch buckle pad. As always consult the manual to know when and how to adjust these features. The Pipa fit my newborn/preemie doll (approximately a 5-6lb, 18″ baby) beautifully. At the other end of the fit spectrum a 24lb 11 month old was nearing both the standing height and clearance above his head. Like most seats the Pipa will be outgrown first by height, but with the 32″ limit and tall shell it’s a market leader for longevity.

The largest child I tested at 24lbs and 31″ tall, this 11 month old had ample harness length left (sometimes a concern at the top end of a seat), and no issues at all with crotch buckle length or ease of buckling. If this was his seat I’d be advising his parents to get shopping for the next seat to continue to rear face him in. Shorter-torsoed kids will last to the full standing height but it’s important not to exceed any stated limit for a car seat.

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At 3 months and 14lbs, 5 months and 18lbs, and 9 months and 20lbs these cuties demonstrate nicely just how great the fit is in the Pipa for differently shaped babies. The parent testers liked the feel and fit, and huge thanks to them and their offspring for giving the Pipa a go. Use of cloth or disposable diapers will affect whether any inserts are needed at smaller sizes but you can see with the youngest baby that she already fits without it. That bodes extremely well for the teeny tinies who sometimes don’t fit well in seats.

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Fit to Vehicle:

Fit to vehicle varied widely. I loved the Pipa very much in vehicles with lower anchors (anything 2003 or newer), and with vehicle seats that are not extremely sloped. In most of the test vehicles I tried it installed really well, sometimes in as little as seconds. In others I needed to adjust the recline angle but was still relatively simple. If you are considering the Pipa it should be for its strength for use with rigid UAS. It is light weight (9.4lbs fully decked out with canopy and all infant padding), and really compact front-to-back.

If you do not have lower anchors in the seating position where you want to use it, if your vehicle seat is extremely sloped, or if you have a tight three-across seating situation I would strongly urge you to try this seat before you purchase it. Take the time to visit a boutique store and install it. The seat belt installation is challenging, and can not be used at all with seat belts “forward of the bight,” meaning seat belts that anchor forward of the natural crease between seat back and seat bottom.

Despite the seat belt challenges, the successes were many. In all vehicles the front seat was either all the way back, or sufficiently back that my 5’8″ self could very comfortably sit in the passenger seat. If you are significantly taller or like to lean your seat way back (not safe for you – don’t do that!) you might not find it quite as roomy as I did.

Huge thanks to Acura of Barrie, Barrie Mitsubishi, Moffatt’s Mazda, and Georgian BMW for allowing me to test fit in your showrooms on a cold and blizzardy day!

2012 Honda Civic



2016 Mazda 3 sedan (red) and Mazda CX-5 (black)

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2016 Acura MDX behind the passenger and centre (this vehicle has centre UAS).

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2016 Mitsubishi Lancer


2016 Mitsubishi RVR (white) and Outlander (black)

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2016 BMW X5 was ultimately successful but required some effort and technique to achieve the correct recline (yellow noodle is there for that purpose). Initially the base ‘hovered’ as shown in the first picture. Don’t despair – it weights down once the carrier (and baby) are in place, and is simply an artifact of the rigid UAS.

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A similar “hover” was experienced in a 2012 Ford F-150 extended cab but again, with the weight of the carrier in place it settled down and was an excellent fit, leaving lots of room in the passenger seat AND being narrow enough to tumble the 60 side of the 40/60 split. The amount of overhang shown here is permitted, just. Be wary if you have very shallow back seats.

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Fit in a 2012 Odyssey was terrific, both in the 2nd row captain’s seats and the 3rd row outboard seats. The UAS installation is demonstrated in the video tour here. Pictured below is a baseless installation with Euro routing. This routes the shoulder belt around the back of the carrier, tucking into the bracket made just for this purpose, and enables a snug installation even baseless. While extra bases can be purchased, a baseless installation is a handy skill to learn.

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If you have a lap belt only, or your lap/shoulder belt isn’t long enough to route as shown don’t fret – traditional routing is also approved. Already a compact seat, a baseless installation means the Pipa will fit in even the smallest of spaces, and makes this 2012 Civic look enormous!



Should you find yourself wanting to do a seat belt installation there is a large, easy to open and close lock-off for this purpose. It clamps the belt and holds it tightly. I had difficulty achieving a tight installation at the appropriate recline, while keeping the seat belt flat in the lock-off in the vehicles I tested. While doable, it’s not easy to accomplish, and is not where the Pipa shines. If you must use a seat belt in your vehicle it would be worthwhile to consider other options unless you can try in advance and know the Pipa will work for you.



Final thoughts:

We first laid eyes on the Pipa at a trade show last year…and we’re so glad to see it finally here! It’s aimage
very good option in many vehicles and features some lovely finishing touches that we like a lot.


  • lickety split UAS installation that truly couldn’t be easier — provided the seating location has lower anchors and the vehicle seat isn’t crazily sloped
  • beautiful finishing details on fabric and inserts
  • long lasting for height and weight
  • fabulous fit to child


  • challenging seat belt installation may result in it being incompatible in seating positions without UAS

If I knew for certain that this seat worked where I wanted it to in my vehicle (and a baby was in my future…alas, I am done!) this seat would absolutely top my list. It’s lovely in many circumstances but where it isn’t…it really isn’t. Consider it for your family if you can be sure ahead of time that it works in your vehicle, or better yet, try it for yourself. It will be well worth the time and effort to do so because if it is an option for you…it’s dreamy.

Big thanks to Nuna Canada (here on Facebook) for providing the seat used in this review, but as always, all opinions are our own.

HUGE thanks to Nuna Canada for offering up another one for YOU! Enter to win a Nuna Pipa in Night (black) by using the Rafflecopter widget below. Please note that comments are moderated, meaning yours won’t show up immediately.

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Collision Dynamics: what happens when a moving car is rear-ended?

Physics2Collision Dynamics: Dissecting Impact, by Angela Stacey

(Physics disclaimer: Assuming ideal conditions, friction out of scope, assuming no loses to H/L/S, decel/accel out of scope).


It’s the moment we CPST’s fear most. Impact from a vehicular collision. And rightfully so! A lot goes on in the milliseconds leading up to, during and after an impact. But by growing our understanding of how these timeframes play out, we can help to better protect the occupants of our vehicles and those of the families we help. And hey, physics is fun! (Don’t believe me? You’ll see).

First, let’s start with some basic physics: Newton’s Laws of Motion. Not a math lover? Never been one for complex equations? Well, you’re in luck, Newton’s Laws are simple to interpret and apply to everyday situations. These three laws govern the motion of anything and everything, including your vehicle. These laws will be the main tool in our impact dissection kit, so let’s take a look at them.

Laws of PhysicsFirst law: Every object in a state of uniform motion or at rest will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an external force.

Second law: The relationship between an object’s mass m, its acceleration a, and the applied force F is F = ma. Acceleration and force are vectors (meaning they have both a magnitude and a direction).

Third law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That is, when one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.

Not so bad, right?

Let’s put ourselves at the scene of a rear-end collision. For simplicity, we’ll say that they are both the same model of vehicle, with the same mass*. We have been told that the vehicle traveling behind (a silver vehicle) has impacted the vehicle in front (a blue vehicle) as the pair were coming to a stop at a red light. No one is badly injured, but both drivers seek to better understand why their necks hurt.

In order to better understand what happens in a collision at the moment of impact, we must first look at what happens before that moment. Our bodies, our children and our trunk full of groceries are all traveling at the same speed as the vehicle. Now would be an excellent time to read Newton’s First law of motion again. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The objects in your vehicle are traveling in a state of (relatively) uniform motion in the moments before the impact. They will carry on that way until…something acts to stop them or change their course. The silver vehicle impacting the blue vehicle serves this function. As the vehicles impact one another, the contents of the vehicles impact the surfaces adjacent to them. The force with which objects contact one another is equal to the product of the mass of the object (in kilograms) and the acceleration of the object (in m/s2 ), which is Newton’s second law: F = ma. I will point out that units are very, very important!

So that bottle of windshield wash in the foot well of your vehicle? It’s time to put that in the trunk to make sure it doesn’t continue in uniform motion and impact someone in the event of a collision!

At the moment of impact, everything (and everyone) moves toward the point of impact. Give Newton’s third law another read. In a collision between two objects, both objects experience forces that are equal in magnitude but opposite in direction. The person in the silver vehicle will feel a force “coming back” to them that is equal to the force they hit the blue vehicle with, but again, in the opposite direction. This is why the person in the rear vehicle will move forward in their primary post-impact movement, and the person in the front vehicle will move backward, pressing into their seat. Occupants of both vehicles will move toward the point of impact because of the equal and opposite forces described by Newton’s third law. Take silver vehicle’s force to be directed –> this way, then the blue vehicle’s force would be equal and oppositely directed <– this way. Giving you: S–> <–B

Rear end collisions also involve the consideration that both vehicles are moving in the same direction, though one has unfortunately “caught up” with the other. This affects the outcome such that both vehicles will continue to move along that path until they come to a stop, their original direction of travel being the same means that their force vectors (think of these as arrows that represent the direction the vehicle is moving, with a length proportional to the mass multiplied by the acceleration of the vehicle) will add. Yet another reason why rear end collisions do not represent a large amount of overall collision injuries.

A video may help, see above: (silver vehicle = silver bottle, blue vehicle = blue bottle)

I hope that this short explanation has helped to increase your understanding of the basic physics of a collision, and will serve as a motivation to learn more about physics!

*Something to note: In accordance with Newton’s second law of motion, the acceleration of an object is dependent upon both force and mass. Thus, if the colliding objects have unequal mass, they will have unequal accelerations (or rather, decelerations) as a result of the contact force that results during the collision. This is why you will see a small car slide across the road when hit by a Hummer. Mass is (sometimes unfortunately) directly related to force.


Get to Know the Grow & Go! Review and Giveaway

Introducing the Grow & Go, Safety 1st’s new 3-in-1 fresh to the market. The Grow & Go can accommodate children rear-facing, forward-facing, and as a booster. We’ve tried it here in all modes and given it our usual thorough treatment!


Safety 1st’s manual, and matching colour coded labeling on the seat, is an excellent first glimpse at what the seat can do. Very clear, very easy to follow along, and a super way to get an overview of the seat and understand how it might work for your family.

GnG chart


Seat Specs:

  • Rear facing: 5-40lbs AND between 19-40″ tall AND at least 1″ of head rest above the head
  • Forward facing: 22-65lbs AND between 29-49″ AND harness coming from at or above the shoulders AND at least two years old
  • Booster: 40-100lbs AND 43-52″ AND at least four years old
  • Lowest harness height on infant harness routing (with required body padding): approximately 5.25″
  • Lowest harness height on no-rethread harness routing (with optional body padding): approximately 9.5″
  • Highest harness height (without optional body padding): approximately 17″
  • Maximum seated height while rear-facing: approximately 26″ (chances are the 40″ standing height limit will be reached first however)
  • Three crotch buckle positions: approximately 4.75″, 6″, 7.25″
  • Highest booster belt guide position: approximately 18.5″
  • Ten year expiry period
  • Available at Babies R Us for $279.99

Seat features:

  • Premium push on UAS connectors
  • No-rethread “Quick-Fit” harness (except for when the infant routing is used – babies grow fast, don’t worry!)
  • Dual cup holders
  • Sleek styling with a grey herringbone fabric
  • Lots of leg room rear facing
  • Easy to convert between modes of use
  • More – see photos below!

Really handy harness holders so you don’t have to dig the buckles out from under your child. Two ways to use them: hook the harness over top (we found this easiest) or pop the buckle tongue into the slot made especially for it.


Colour coded, easy to read labeling on the side of the seat. Blue for rear-facing, red for forward-facing and booster (there is some overlap in instructions with these two modes hence the doubling up of colour). One handed, super-smooth recline adjustment for rear- and forward-facing, and large visible indicator of position.

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Easily removable soft goods and seat cover (not an iPod plug-in as I thought when I first glanced at it). The fabric is nice and feels like it would not pill or snag. The padding provides ample body and head support. Most is optional so customize fit to your liking. Harness pads are a new design and are longer on the underside and shorter on the outside. They were easy to position, and removed quickly with velcro.

image GnG harness pad


Rear Facing:

imageGreat news – this seat will fit from birth, and quite easily. The harness tightens fully, the harness is slightly below the doll’s shoulders, and the fit is good. Setting the seat up for newborn use requires re-routing of the harness to both shorten and lower it. Safety 1st has found an ingenious way to make the seat actually fit a newborn through a school-age child. Pay careful attention to the steps in the manual to set the seat up for newborn use (and the reverse when ready to move to the no-rethread “Quick-Fit” harness system). It’s not difficult nor time consuming, but does require manual reading and following the steps as indicated.

Modeling the seat we have a newborn doll, a ten month old, a 25 month old, and just turned 3 year old (the 3 year old in the green sweater is 38″ tall for reference).

Kids liked the dual cup holders, ample leg room, and squishy padding. Parents liked the harness covers, attractive fabric, nicely positioned headwings that provide head support but don’t block the view, and low profile of the seat shell itself that enabled easier loading. One parent noticed that the harness release button is discreetly tucked away to make it just a little bit harder for those Houdini kids to wriggle out.

image image

Grow&Go RF laughing image

Forward Facing:

The features that appealed rear-facing also appeal forward! Dual cup holders, easy to adjust no-rethread harness, and squishy comfortable fabric. The crotch buckle pad is optional, as is the body padding and extra head pad. All are easily removable. This seat can not be used forward facing until age two, and should fit most kids in harness mode through at least age five. Shown here is aged 2.5-5, approximately 30lbs through 42lbs, all of whom declared it comfy. Of course all kids come in different sizes and proportions so shorter torsoed kids will fit in harness mode for longer (blond girl in summer attire has always been long in the torso for example).

image image 20150831_081514


Booster Mode:image

The Grow & Go may be used as a booster once a child reaches the minimums for this mode but we’d recommend you keep kids harnessed as long as they fit, and then ensure they’re mature enough for a booster. If that describes your child, then carry on! Belt fit is quite good on the kids we tried it in but there isn’t much time for booster use (by torso height) beyond when it’s outgrown in harness mode.

At 5.5, 46lbs, and 45″ tall (pink sweater) and 7.75, 55lbs, and 50″ (blue tartan) these two both fit in booster mode. The older child is just squeaking in (her shoulder is grazing the head wing). Lap belt fit on both is excellent. Use of the upper shoulder belt guide is optional if needed to properly position the shoulder belt centered on the shoulder, and on the buckle side both lap and shoulder belt should tuck under the harness storage tab as shown above. The booster weight limit of 100lbs is hugely overstated in our opinion – as you can see height is much more of a limiting factor than weight.

image image

UAS and tether are not to be used while the seat is in booster mode – follow storage instructions, and teach your child to rebuckle the empty booster when it’s not occupied so it doesn’t become a projectile in a crash. It is a very simple process, however, to switch between harness and booster mode. No unthreading of the harness necessary – tuck it behind the red plate as shown in the photo. Then a quick removal of the crotch buckle, tuck the tail of the harness adjuster under the seat pad, and remove all padding and accessories. Our tip: stow it all together in a labeled Ziploc bag so you don’t forget what seat it belongs to.

GnG harness stowed GnG in booster mode


Fit to Vehicle:

The Grow & Go installed quite nicely in our test vehicles. Two important aspects to note for rear-facing however: the red bracket shown below, and the rear facing level line. Both of these elements are shown in the following installation pictures but they are important enough to highlight here so they aren’t missed later on.

image image


Our representative small sedan is a 2012 Honda Civic. A centre installation allows a decent amount of leg room up front – enough for an average driver – but those requiring the seat all the way back are going to want to use an outboard position (more on that shortly). Installing centre means a seat belt must be used (most vehicles do not allow the use of UAS in the centre, check your vehicle manual to know if yours does).


The single recline line rear-facing means that this is how it will fit for the entire time spent rear facing. Make sure this setup suits your family; there will be ample room in medium-large vehicle interiors. If your vehicle seat is too sloped to achieve the needed recline a small tightly rolled towel or chunk of foam pool noodle cut to length can be placed at the seat bight to further recline the Grow & Go. The base of this seat is nice and slim, and at 9″ wide should fit easily between the plastic hinges present in many vehicle interiors.

Note the proper belt routing here relative to the red brackets. Slide only the lap portion through – it’s easily accessible and the webbing slides freely to tighten, but must be routed through the red guides for proper installation.

image image

For comparison here is an outboard installation with UAS. Driver’s seat is all the way back, with dazzling pink running tights showing off the resulting front passenger room for a leggy 5’8″ person when the seat is properly installed behind it. It is important to note that the UAS strap (when used) also routes through the red guides on both sides.

image image

Forward facing installation is very straightforward – quick and easy whether you are using UAS or seat belt. The adjustable head rest sits slightly forward of the seat shell and will limit interference with forward-leaning head restraints in vehicles. Always check your vehicle owner’s manual for proper tether routing (under, over, or around a vehicle head restraint). The belt path is high enough that installation should be simple in most vehicles.

Grow&Go FF Ody Grow&Go FF Ody side view

Overall Impressions:image

For families wanting to buy one seat for use from birth through to the high back booster stage this is a very attractive option. Those of you with medium-large vehicle interiors should have no trouble attaining the required recline rear-facing through that use of the seat. High five to Safety 1st for blazing the trail to require a minimum age of two to use the seat forward-facing. This seat should reasonably last for most kids through age 6 if not longer, depending on proportions. If you have one of those immensely long torsoed children — something you won’t obviously know if you are shopping while still pregnant! — you can always cross that bridge when you come to it. At a minimum you will need a backless booster to last your child through age 10-12 when their boostering days are over and they pass the Five Step Test for seat belt fit.

The finishing is nice, the features are easy to use and clearly labeled, and kids and parents alike find it comfortable and user-friendly. It has to be rather difficult to design a seat that truly will fit a newborn AND a 6 year old well – but Safety 1st has done it.

To celebrate this accomplishment our generous friends at Safety 1st are giving away one Grow & Go to you, lucky readers! To enter please use the Rafflecopter widget below. Thank you to Safety 1st for providing the seats used in this review, but all opinions are our own.

Contest now closed, congrats to the lucky winner!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Layers and Blankets and Toques - Oh My!

imageWinter is here…brrr! No matter what part of Canada you live in we want to help the whole family be safe and warm in the car. With a few tips, some explanation around why it matters, and no need for fancy or expensive gear, your whole family can be riding safely no matter what Mother Nature has in store.

Keep the harness (or seat belt) close to the body

By close we mean close…super close! When car seats are crash tested there are strict rules around exactly what the test dummies wear, and it’s not much. Remove bulky layers that interfere with the harness being close to the body. With bulky layers removed make sure the harness passes the pinch test, and for booster riders and adults ensure the lap belt is under any coat or sweater, and then snug up the shoulder belt and place it against the chest.

What defines “bulky?” That’s a bit tricky. Anything big, lumpy, thick, oversized…will it interfere with proper harness placement or positioning? That’s the ultimate question. At the end of the day it’s a judgment call and requires some common sense and critical thinking. It’s notoriously difficult to gauge simply from a photo whether something is “too bulky” or “poorly fitting.” It can help to buckle a child in regular clothing, undo the harness without loosening it, dress in whatever layer is in question, and attempt to rebuckle. If you can – carry on! If you have to loosen a hair – probably also carry on, because that layer doesn’t disappear like magic in a crash! If you have to loosen quite a bit then it’s not a good choice because the looser the harness, the further away it is from the body. Make sense?

How to keep the harness (or seat belt) close? Thin, insulating, well-fitting layers

We don’t want anyone half naked, or under-dressed, because that would be…well, cold. You can be smart with your layers and here’s how: choose items that retain heat, such as fleece, down, wool, and other performance synthetics. Cotton does not keep you warm if it gets damp (if you’re sweating for example) but wool and fleece will keep on doing their thing. They’re also quite dense so if they fit well and aren’t overly thick, they won’t get in the way of how the harness (or seat belt) sits against the body, and they won’t disappear or compress much in a crash.

Do you prefer the convenience of a full body suit?

  • Many brands now make thin, warm fleece suits (typically avoid the lined ones, and certainly avoid any with filling or padding).
  • Look for something that is trim in cut (avoid the wide boxy ones).
  • Don’t size up because you don’t want it to be lumpy and bumpy and get in the way of the harness.
  • Try your child in it to make sure you can still get an excellent harness fit! What works for one child in a particular seat may not work for another. Babies and kids come in different shapes and sizes.

Same goes for “car seat safe” coats. These are not parkas, rather they are paper-thin compressible down jackets or suits that are handy for in and out of the car while running errands but won’t likely cut it for serious winter play. More brands than ever are making it affordable to go this route – look for something labelled “packable.” If you shop at Costco (in August!) look for packable down coats  for around $35 (available is kids’ sizes 4 to adult XL). Other options include the Cozywoggle coat, or a car seat poncho that you can make yourself without any sewing skills.

After a child is buckled, put their coat on backward, or a blanket over top for added warmth.

A visual demo because we like pictures.

Thin, packable coat (in blue on the left) or a fleece jacket (in pink on the right), fleece pants, mitts and a toque – safe and warm. Layer up with a blanket or bring along the winter coat. Note: five year olds make awesome fashion choices.

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NOT okay. With a bulky parka and snow pants the harness can not be properly positioned or tightened. Furthermore this child would overheat very quickly and can’t remove layers as the car warms up. Note: grumpy face was not at our direction. She really did not like this one bit.



How about boostered kids (or adults too)? Same principles apply. Always put the lap belt under any top layers. Dress in thin, well-fitting layers such as the blue packable jacket, open bulkier coats so the lap and shoulder belt can touch the body without interference, or remove bulky coats and cinch the belt tight over thin-to-medium weight snow pants.

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NOT okay – the belt is sitting much too far off the body. Note: self-inflicted grumpy face here too. “Mom, I’m squished, let me out!”



Why does it matter? What’s the big deal?

Air is the enemy here! Avoid puffy, bulky items that are warm because they’re full of air. Great for the toboggan hill, not for the car or booster seat. You know those vacuum pack bags to store clothing or extra bedding — how you can make a previously gigantic piece of clothing quite tiny by sucking all the air out? That’s basically what is going on in a crash. Crash forces are extreme and compress the bulk and air so much so that suddenly your child’s harness is really loose, no matter how much you tighten the harness to begin with. Loose enough to cause injuries, or allow partial or complete ejection. Bad stuff you don’t want to experience.

Parents worry that if they are in a crash and their child is dressed only in a fleece they’ll die of hypothermia before help arrives. Remember that your child is not dressed only in a fleece, but rather thin, warm layers, and that the first goal is to survive the crash. Injury from ejection is immediate — hypothermia is not. Survive the crash, and then worry about the rest.


Keep Warm Stuff in the Car

Keep a fleece or wool blanket in the car, permanently. Thrift shops are great places for really warm stuff for cheap as chances are you’ll get snow, winter slush, and other assorted kid detritus on the blankets so they don’t need to be fancy — just warm. Kids will toss them off once they warm up.

If you are going somewhere to play outside bring the bulky layers with you! Is it a pain to try to dress a squirmy kid anxious to get sledding? Why yes, yes it is….such is life with a toddler (dang, someone should have told us that before we had kids!).

What if you break down and have to walk? Have an emergency kit that stays in your car, and  includes spare layers. While half of us are based on Vancouver Island, we have all lived, or live, in places where -40C° happens. We are not supermoms, just regular parents like you. We can do it,  and so can you.

A sample outfit for any age: tights or leggings, topped by fleece pants. Wool socks. Undershirt or tank top, long sleeve thermal shirt, thin fleece sweater, topped by a trim fleece jacket. Or a super thin down jacket (compresses to basically nothing, often called “packable”). Toque, mitts, and a blanket in the car? Presto chango, warm and comfy.


Help other parents! How do you keep your family warm and safe in the car? Any tips for success? Share them here! Please note that comments are moderated so yours might not appear right away. Thanks for reading!

2015 VICST Awards

A fun way to recap some products new to market, and highlight our tried-and-true favourites! And did we mention a contest? YEAH! We will offer up giveaways for some of the below listed seats…but the window for entry will be short so you’ll have to check back often! See below for complete rules.

Is your child’s seat not on this list? Don’t despair – it’s just a quick, fun recap. We have LOTS of favourites and you can check them all out here! If you’re shopping for a new one and plan to buy through Amazon please start here so a small portion gets referred back to us at no cost to you. It helps funds our seat donations throughout the year.

1. Best new convertible under $150

NEXT redThe Cosco Scenera NEXT wowed and amazed us with its small size and amazing abilities. $99 at Walmart and in six cute colours it fits in places we never thought a rear-facing seat could go. Dorel is making some waves in the industry with a minimum age of two for forward-facing. Fist bump Dorel – carry on.

CONTEST #1: Congrats to the winner, Charlene C. from B.C., who won a Cosco Scenera NEXT.


2. Best new convertible under $300

DimensionsGraco Dimensions (with its slightly less well-dressed sister the Contender) came onto the market in late summer at $269 and available most places Graco seats are sold (Contender is a Canadian Tire exclusive). Despite the 35lb rear-facing weight limit it’s crazy tall and super compact, making it a top notch choice for rear-facing a l-o-n-g time for those slim but tall kids, even in small cars. The Dimensions has nice features like premium push on UAS and harness pads. Video tour here.

CONTEST #4: Congrats to the winner, Stephanie H., from Ontario, winner of a Graco Dimensions.


3. Gold star for consistent awesomeness

TurboboosterBooster fit is ALL about belt fit, and that is completely dependent on the specific seating position in a vehicle (3rd row bench versus 2nd row captain’s seats for example) and the child who will occupy the seat. The Graco TurboBooster, the high back version specifically, is such a tried and true performer that if we know nothing about the vehicle-kid combo this seat is a pretty safe bet. Found most places for around $70-80 and frequently on sale for less it is easy to use, lightweight, and provides consistently good belt fit on most kids. Is your child booster-ready? This will help you decide.

CONTEST #2: Congrats to our three winners, Tennille, Sheena & Jill, all from Ontario. We gave away one each of a high back Graco Turbo, a high back Evenflo Amp, and a backless Harmony Youth Booster. 


4. Best booster we don’t talk about enough

Evenflo AMPAnother seat that is a good bet in many circumstances is the high back Evenflo Amp. Readily available at many retailers for around $70 its particular claim to fame is being a good bet in vehicles with long buckle stalks, as well as being one of the very few that work in the 3rd row outboard of current body style Dodge Grand Caravan (and clones Chrysler Town & Country and VW Routan), or 3rd row of the Mazda 5.

CONTEST #2 now closed – congrats to the winners!



5. Best infant seat we don’t talk about enough

embrace stock photoSmall but mighty the Evenflo Embrace is amazingly long lasting, pretty compact, and well-priced. It’s $140 at Walmart, and accommodates kids 4-35lbs or 17-30″ tall. It’s lightweight, fits tiny humans beautifully, and is a breeze to install.



6. Best new combo seat

Harmony Defender Pirate GoldA much anticipated addition to the combination (forward-facing harness-to-booster) seat lineup is the Harmony Defender. With a cool cover name of Pirate Gold we had high expectations – and were not disappointed. Exceptionally long lasting with a lot of features we’ve come to expect from pricier seats and on the shelves at most Walmarts for $159 it has a lot going for it.

CONTEST #5: Congrats to the winner, Amelia I. from Nova Scotia. Enjoy!


7. If we had another baby and skipped the infant seat we’d use…

20150412_090314_resizedClek Infant Thingy plus Foonf or Fllo. Clek released their “Infant Thingy” last spring and like their other products it was well thought out, well-executed, and just beautiful. It allows a truly magnificent fit for a newborn in a seat that can otherwise accommodate most kids to age four rear-facing, and to six+ forward-facing. None of us are expecting – but if we were the Infant Thingy would be at the top of our list for the newest VICST CPST-in-training.


8. If we had another baby and used an infant seat we’d use…

keyfit30Chicco KeyFit 30 (pronounced KEE-ko, for real). Smooth, simple, compact front to back yet long lasting for height and weight (4-30lbs or 30″ tall), and just all ’round easy to install and use, the KeyFit 30 is a super choice for many families. It’s also three-across friendly, meaning the straight edges of the base make it a good option when trying to fit three seats in a tight space.

CONTEST #3: Congrats to the winner, Sarah D. from B.C., who won a Chicco KeyFit 30!



9. We can’t believe this is less than $20

pink HarmonyDid you know that most kids get out of a booster seat far too soon? Despite provincial laws that allow a child to ride in only a seat belt at age 8 or 9 the provincial law ALSO requires the seat belt to fit properly. For the vast majority of kids that won’t happen until at least age 11. For a mere $18 the Harmony Youth Booster (and any other booster that provides good belt fit) can dramatically decrease horrible life-altering injuries to the 6-11 year old crowd. We really like the Youth Booster.

CONTEST #2 now closed – congrats to the winners!


10. What we’re excited to get our hands on in 2016

IMG_0330What fun stuff will 2016 bring us? Already on the market but not yet in our hot little hands is the Nuna Pipa, an infant seat with some neat features that we previewed in the fall at a Toronto Trade Show. We hope to have more info about it soon. Also at that show was the Recaro Performance Booster and Performance Sport combo seat, and we liked the looks of them. We’ve also heard rumours of the Graco 4Ever coming to Canada but no info on it yet. What else will come to market in the next year?



And huge thanks to you for reading and sharing and getting good quality child passenger safety info out there in the world! Here’s hoping that 2016 is a good one for us all.

Contest rules: open to residents of Canada age 18 or older except where prohibited. Not open to the four admins of VICST or their immediate family members, nor to anyone who won something from us in 2015 or their immediate family members. One entry per household please. Entries must be completed in full, and winners must respond within 48hours to claim their prize. Entry time period varies by seat/day so check back often. Winners will be chosen randomly with the help of random.org. 

The product offered for the giveaway is free of charge, no purchase necessary. By providing your information in the contest form, you are providing your information to VICarSeatTechs alone. We do not share or sell information and will use any information only for the purpose of verifying and contacting the winner.

If you have any additional questions – feel free to send us an email! (info@vicarseattechs.com)

Consumer Reports Testing - A Canadian Perspective


Consumer Reports just released their newest test results on a long list of convertible (infant/child) seats. There is a lot of chatter about it and we want to help you to wade through the information and make sense of it. A great US read on this issue is here by our friends at Carseatblog. Also very thorough is the Car Seat Lady’s take on it.

In case this is as far as you read here are our Take Home Messages:

  1. The BEST seat for you is the one that fits your child, fits your vehicle, fits your budget, and that you can use properly EVERY TIME. That “use properly” bit is key as misuse piled on top of misuse is going to increase the risk of injury to your child.
  2. Take extra care to ensure the car seat is installed tightly with 1″ or less of movement at the belt path, and that your child is buckled in without bulky clothing so that the harness passes the pinch test.
  3. Rear face as long as possible — in fact don’t rush ANY of the transitions. Remain in a harness until 5-6+, booster until 11ish, and then always wear your seat belt properly.

Please remember that Consumer Reports is testing American car seats. Up here in the Great White North our seats are often a little different as our testing requirements are different. Even seats that appear to be identical often aren’t. Canadian seats tend to have more padding in the head area, have some form of anti-rebound control when rear-facing (most commonly anti-rebound bars, or a modified shape to the front edge of the car seat compared to US seats), and always require the use of the tether when forward-facing. Our weight limits are lower, and sometimes height limits too. We also have much less selection…but really, tons more than we used to! US seats are cheaper but Canadian seats are made for Canadian requirements and it’s illegal for Canadians to use foreign seats here.

It is really important to understand that ALL of the seats tested are SAFE. Let us repeat that – if they’re for sale on the shelf they are safe.

Furthermore the final ratings given to the seats are an amalgamated score combining CR’s idea of “ease of use” and “fit to vehicle” with the crash testing.

Why did Consumer Reports (CR) change the testing method for crashworthiness evaluation? According to them it was because they wanted to provide comparative information to consumers to aid in the buying process, and to develop a test protocol that was more representative of modern vehicles. Great ideas, but no need to panic at the results if your child’s seat isn’t on the top five list.

Good news! 2 of the top 5 seats are excellent budget options. What if you have a seat that isn’t on that list? Don’t freak out. Between the four of us we own…um…a lot of car seats and have absolutely no intention of swapping them out for seats on the Top 5. None. Because first and foremost we know we are using them correctly and THAT is far and away the most important element when it comes to our children’s safety.

Want to double check that you are using your seats properly? Meet with a CPSAC-certified CPST near you. Some charge a fee for their time and others volunteer but either way it’s time well spent.

RIDE with Recaro: Performance RIDE Review

IMG_0516After years of the rumour mill churning with stories of Recaro coming to Canada….wait no longer! They have arrived with the Performance RIDE, an infant/child (convertible) seat that accommodates children rear facing and then forward facing in a five point harness.


  • 5-35lbs
  • 22.5″ seated height (floor to top of head when sitting)
  • head within 1″ of the top of the shell
  • back and bottom of infant insert required for children 5-12lbs; bottom of infant insert required for children 5-22lbs
  • harness at or just below shoulders


  • 22-65lbs
  • at least one year old
  • harness coming from at or just above child’s shoulders
  • 49″ standing height limit

Other specs:

  • available in four fashions: Midnight (Babies R Us exclusive; black, pictured here), Knight (black and grey/silver), Vibe (Canadian Tire exclusive; black with grey and red trim), and Redd (red with black and grey trim)
  • available at Canadian Tire, Babies R Us, and specialty retailers
  • $299.99 price point
  • expires 6 years from date of manufacture
  • no-rethread harness
  • lock-offs for use forward-facing with a seat belt installation
  • premium push-on UAS connectors
  • seat weight: ~20lbs
  • lowest harness slot with infant insert in place: ~8.5″
  • lowest harness slot with infant insert removed: ~11″
  • highest harness slot: ~18.5″
  • HERO harness pad system where the harness pads are integrated into the head wing unit
  • well-sewn and finished fabric and cover

Seat Features

Recaro included some nice finishing details on the Performance RIDE including:

Handy storage pockets for the chest clip to keep the harness out of the way while loading the child. They’re easy to use and the harness stays put.



Vents in the shell to improve air flow to the child.



LOTS of padding. Foam padding behind the child’s back, a thick and squishy removable (optional) bum pad, and pictured below is the padding in the headwings (cover removed for informational purposes). Also shown in the 3rd picture is the HERO harness pad system where the harness pads are integrated into the headwing unit; they don’t shift or bunch when adjusting the harness and prevent any discomfort for the child caused by the harness rubbing on the neck.

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Included with the seat is a two-piece infant insert. The back wedge-shaped piece is for use with infants weighing 5-12lbs and provides extra recline inside the seat without requiring the frame of the seat itself to be any more reclined…and this saves space in the vehicle.

The thick bottom piece goes under a child’s bum when they weigh between 5-22lbs. It props them up so their shoulders reach the harness in its lowest position. The two pieces attach together with velcro.



The harness adjuster tail snaps on to keep things tidy.



Labels on the seat are clear, and colour coded for rear-facing and forward-facing. The colours correspond to matching sections in the manual.

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Two level lines are present to guide in installation when rear-facing; more reclined for 5-12lbs, and more upright for 13-35lbs.



The forward-facing lock-off is easy to use – route the lap/shoulder seat belt through the forward-facing belt path, buckle, tighten, and clamp the high side of the shoulder belt in the lock-off. Quick and easy.



Two easily removable and dishwasher safe cupholders. The shape of the cupholders relative to the front edge of the seat means no frustrating digging for the harness adjuster.

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A white stripe on the non-twisty harness provides a visual for a parent or caregiver. It’s really important in all car seats that the harness is flat to best spread out crash forces. The white stripe on the outside edge of the Performance RIDE’s harness is a nice feature on a sleek all-black seat like this one.



Fit to Child:


imageMy small newborn car seat doll Lucy was a bit too short in the torso to fit this seat – but she’s small, and the harness did tighten sufficiently. Recaro approved this fit (provided the harness can tighten to pass the pinch test, and the child is over 5lbs), and I was very pleased to see how nicely reclined she was with the two piece infant insert in place. The shape of the seat will aid in keeping a newborn’s airway open.

The thickness of the bum pad effectively shortens the crotch buckle on a small baby, contributing to a better fit for a small child.



This cutie is 19lbs, 31.5″ tall, and 8 months old. He is still using the under-bum pad as he’s less than 22lbs. The fit was good and clearly he’s a happy camper! His head is nicely contained within the headwings and the HERO harness pad system ensured no abrasions or rubbing on the neck.



Nearing the top end of the rear-facing limits this 2.75 year old is 37″ tall and 32lbs. His seated height is about 22″. He has a bit of time left by seated height and by weight before he maxes out the seat rear-facing. We always recommend to rear face to the limits of the seat.



Forward-facing this seat will accommodate most kids until they are booster ready (6+). This race fan at almost 4, 35lbs, and 38.5″ found it comfortable, and he liked the cup holders. The seat pan is deep enough that kids will likely find it to have plenty of upper leg support.



Turns out almost 8 year olds don’t really like to have their pictures taken in harnessed seats (who knew?) but because she’s a future CPST and a generally helpful kid she let me take this one. She’s tall but still just squeaks in by harness height. There was just enough harness length left to tighten her properly too. The vast majority of kids aren’t going to be harnessed at this age but it’s a good measure that the seat is likely usable to the height limit. Another tester at age 6 and 56lbs was right at the limit for harness length and height. As for all seats the build of your child will absolutely affect fit.

image image


Fit to Vehicle:

At first glance the Performance RIDE is a big seat. It is…yet it’s also quite compact. It sits up high, which may or may not be a good thing for you depending on your preference. The rear-facing belt path is quite narrow so take your time and fish the UAS strap or seat belt through properly to ensure it is routed correctly and lays flat in the belt path. If needed you can remove the cover on one side to aid in this process.

Vehicle #1: 2012 Honda Civic. Here the RIDE is installed at the more reclined newborn angle and…the front seat is ALL the way back with a bit to spare.

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Vehicle #2: 2012 GMC Terrain: more upright angle (after baby is 13lbs+) and lots of room for the passenger. More than the (short) driver of this vehicle needs, by far!

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Forward-facing installation can be accomplished using UAS or seat belt, and like all seat+vehicle combinations, will depend on the specific geometry of your vehicle. Important to note that the base must be flat on the vehicle seat. In many current model vehicles this means that the head restraint is going to jut out a bit, and create a gap behind the seat. Provided the installation is solid, with 1″ or less of movement at the belt path front to back and side to side, a gap might be okay but aim to minimize it where possible. Both of these shown have been approved by Recaro. If you can recline the vehicle seat and/or remove the vehicle head restraint (check your vehicle manual for permission) you might achieve a better fit. Up to 20% overhang of the base is permitted. Vehicles pictured: (left) 2012 GMC Terrain, (right) 2003 Honda Odyssey.

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In vehicles with shallow back seats parents may find it a challenge to load and unload children unless the front seat is easily moved forward. Vehicle pictured: 2007 Honda Ridgeline; photo credit Angela Stacey.

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Final impressions image

Recaro’s debut to the Canadian market was much anticipated and we are grateful to Recaro for providing a seat for review (however all opinions are our own).

The Performance RIDE will appeal to those who have larger vehicles to accommodate the height and depth of this seat, who appreciate the sleek race styling Recaro is known for, and who don’t have off-the-charts children by height/weight. Fit to vehicle with the RIDE is going to be a bit unpredictable; while it is compact front-to-back and the cupholder/bolsters provide more leg room for children, that added depth may be a challenge once forward-facing. Fit-to-child is quite nice although it remains to be seen how babies of different sizes (and pudginess!) will find the fit with the bum pad in place. The fabric and harness are lovely and well-made, and height-wise the seat is long lasting forward-facing (less so rear-facing).


_MG_9083-copyIt’s been just over four years since we started providing online help via Facebook and this website. FOUR YEARS of good stuff! It’s been awesome. Four busy moms with ten kids between us we hope our passion for child passenger safety has shone through with kindness, knowledge, and no judgment. Maybe you’ve enjoyed our silliness, or nabbed a seat on a super sale. Maybe one of our posts helped you to make an important decision for your family’s safety?

We’ve enjoyed fantastic relationships with manufacturers as we bring real, useful reviews to Canadian readers and have written about and given away more than 22 seats to lucky winners in our weird and wonderful contests.

What we also do, and could not do without your support, is provide seats to families who need them. Families who want to make sure their children are safely seated in the vehicle and need a little help to be able to do that. Over the years we’ve given away many seats to grandparents and parents. Other kids have received booster seats or harnessed seats at roadside stops. Sometimes we hear of a family by referral, or sometimes a seat is given out at a roadside stop in cooperation with local law enforcement. We are so fortunate to work with community partners who seek to educate and connect families with the resources they need!

We purchase seats with referral funds that don’t cost you anything extra when you shop at Amazon.ca (for anything, not just car seats), or when you sign up for and make a purchase from shop.ca or via an ebates.ca account. Alternately, if you’re feeling extra generous, we’d love to ensure that a new-in-box car seat or booster seat that you want to purchase for a family gets to someone who needs it. Be in touch if that’s the case, we can make it happen.

We post sales every Friday morning — more often if there’s a super car seat deal — and shopping via those links contributes too.

Do you know of someone who could use our help? We’d like to be a resource for local Vancouver Island families. A few conditions apply:

  • The family, ideally the whole family or everyone involved in child transport, needs to meet with a tech to learn how to use and install the seat. This means you need to be near a technician, or willing to travel to a technician.
  • The family needs to be open to the idea of best practice, meaning exceed the bare minimums. What that means will depend on the child, the vehicle, and the family’s needs but we’d like to have that conversation, and provide a seat(s) to allow best practice to happen with ease! Of course we can’t make anyone do anything, nor do we want to. Our style is gentle education while providing the tools and knowledge to make it work for the family.
  • In consultation with a family we will help to choose an appropriate seat. Where choice exists we’ll provide it as best we can. Often this means we need to know who else rides in the vehicle, including the children’s ages, weights, and heights. A family’s privacy is important so this information is used only to enable the selection of a suitable seat.

Are you in need of a little help? Do you know of a family who would appreciate a new seat but can’t quite swing it on their own? Please tell us via this form. Info we collect is used solely for the purpose of doing our best to get seats to kids who need them, and we will absolutely respect the privacy of any information you submit. Please understand that we can’t possibly fulfill every request but we sure will try our best.

New products and updates - a sneak peek!

20151107_104903_resizedAlainna and Jen (and their future CPST helpers, plied with food, play dough, and cameo appearances with My Little Ponies Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle) spent yesterday wandering the Toronto Baby Time Show looking at products, chatting with sales people and manufacturer reps, and ogling new stuff.

We matched, of course. That’s how we roll.

Recaro was an exciting first stop for us. Brand new to Canada they’ve brought their convertible (infant/child) seat to market. So far Canadian Tire is carrying the Performance Ride for $299, and we got to explore it while chatting with their experts. We will have more info on the Performance Ride, the combination forward-facing child/booster seat Performance Sport, and high back booster Performance Booster really soon.

5 years old and tall in the Performance Ride – still plenty of room left by torso height. She proclaimed it super comfy and we agreed. Lots of padding, really nice finishing details.

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Happy to oblige by sitting in the high back Performance Booster (not quite on the market yet) we were pretty impressed with the height in this seat. No comparison shots yet but it’s a tall, cushy option that does not require a vehicle head restraint behind it. It does have lower anchors to secure it to the vehicle when unoccupied.


We visited Clek as well, spotting the gorgeous new “capri” colour from afar. The 2016 Foonf and Fllo come with extra padding in the head rest and seat pad areas, as well as a new style of harness cover that is longer, soft and cushy with snap closures. Capri will also be available on Oobr and we forgot to ask if it will be on the backless Olli as well. We hope so – it’s beautiful.

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Clek has also updated the design of the rear-facing lock-offs. Compared to a ski boot closure or my own favourite, a Grolsch bottle, it’s easy to use and should make a seat belt installation even smoother.



Tokidoki fans rejoice – a new space-themed print. My 5 year old spotted the unicorn straightaway.


A stop by the Nuna booth saw Alainna lounging on the job, and then getting to it with her helper. We’re interested to see the Nuna Pipa in action. It comes with a lot of nice features including lovely fabric, rigid UAS, a super easy to use lock-off for seat belt installations, high height and weight limits (4-35lbs, up to 32″ tall), and really quite a lot of flexibility when it comes to usage rules. For those familiar with the Pipa in the US the Canadian version does not have a load leg. Don’t let that stop you though – it’s got a lot going for it. For those who want an infant seat in the $400 price range this won’t disappoint.

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Our kids ran out of steam and we drove home…but not before spotting this through the ceiling of the convention centre. Until next time!

~Jen & Alainna, the Ontario half of VICST



#ChildPassengerSafetyWeek Awesomeness!

kid helper

Be safe people!

We are pumped to announce a fun contest in honour of child passenger safety week…but you have work at it a bit to earn an entry! And work fast…contest closes Saturday night at midnight Pacific (Sept 20th at 12:01 am).

Up for grabs: a seat of your choice!

The conditions:

  • it is from our favourites lists, unless there is a good reason for something else
  • it is available to order online from a Canadian retailer, and for free shipping
  • is in stock
  • $400 cap pre-tax but should you choose something pricier you can pay the difference
  • your choice of colour within reason…for example if another colour of the same seat is significantly less than others we have the final say
  • other fine print in the terms on the Rafflecopter
  • you MUST leave a blog post comment on this post to qualify, and you MUST record your entries on the Rafflecopter widget. Comments are moderated which means they won’t appear immediately, but proceed with the Rafflecopter anyway once you’ve left your comment.

To qualify:

Craft a haiku or a limerick that is car seat, booster seat, or otherwise child passenger safety related. We aren’t judging on creativity or poetry-writing skills but making one is your ticket to entry and you MUST submit it as your “blog entry” and then record it on the Rafflecopter below! Submissions must be original, suitable for a general audience (no PG-13 or more adult submissions please, leave those Nantucket references for elsewhere!), and may be shared on our Facebook page.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Graco Adds Dimension With New Convertible: Dimensions 65 Review

20150912_092706_resizedSeeing a new car seat come into the Canadian market is always exciting. Many of us can’t wait to get our hands on something new and see if it lives up to our (high) expectations or falls short. Sometimes we cringe when we see something that isn’t user friendly, has limited height and weight limits or is just too BIG to be useful in many of today’s smaller cars.

One seat we are excited to finally see in the flesh is Graco’s Dimensions 65. We had heard rumours that this seat was coming for some time and we are excited to see it added to the Graco lineup. Graco has many tried and true favourites: the Snugride Click Connect line, Nautilus & Argos combination (harness to booster) seats, as well as the TurboBooster and Affix belt positioning boosters. Until now the only convertible option we had from Graco was the MyRide 65. The MyRide is often recommended for small cars since it is relatively compact front-to-back, but it is also quite wide and not the longest lasting seat overall. This new convertible model takes all the things we love about the MyRide and makes them longer lasting and user friendly!

Graco Dimensions 65 Specs:

  • Rear-Facing:
    5lbs/2.2kg to 35lbs/16kg
    18”/46cm to 43”/109cm, with at least 1″ between top of child’s head and red adjuster handle
  • Forward-Facing:
    22lbs/10kg to 65lbs/30kg
    27”/69cm to 49”/125cm
    Must be at least 1 year old (Best practice is a min. of 2 years or the top limits of RF)
    Must be able to walk unassisted
  • Expires 7 years from date of manufacture
  • $310 at Babies R Us, Amazon.ca, Sears

General Features – video tour here

No-rethread Harness
One of the standout features for this seat is the no-rethread harness. It is designed so that you don’t have to pull the harness loose before adjusting the head rest up. The harness could be at the newborn setting, and you just pull the handle at the top and slide it up without any resistance. Click here for a demo to properly appreciate this feature! The no-rethread is fantastic for anyone that has different age/size children that ride in their vehicle. Grandparents, social workers, day care providers, car poolers or just someone with several kids that may use different seats depending on who is riding in the vehicle at the time. 

Smooth Harness Adjustment
The harness tightens and loosens easily and smoothly. There is no struggling or tugging when tightening this harness. 

Blue for rear-facing instructions, orange for forward-facing. Simple and clear!

Blue for rear-facing instructions, orange for forward-facing. Simple and clear!

Quick Direction Change
The ability to change this seat from rear-facing mode to forward-facing mode is simple and quick. This is
another great feature for the list of people that benefit from the no-rethread harness. The colour coded stickers are easy to read and understand. The recline foot easily flips from back to front, under the seat, and if using a seat belt install, that’s it except for stowing or connecting your top tether hook as required. If using the lower anchor hooks the strap slides along a bar on the right side of the seat and thread through the appropriate belt path. This seat is relatively lightweight so easy to move from vehicle to vehicle and will make a nice travel seat.

Detachable cup holders
I have a love/hate relationship with many cup holders. This one is easy to attach, can be used on either side of the seat and is at the perfect location for both rear and forward accessibility. It easily removes when that space is needed to install another car seat or have a person seated next to it. I ran it through my dishwasher when one of my kids put an unfinished ice cream cone in it, and it came out great. I think the most shocking thing is that I have a kid that doesn’t finish their ice cream!

Easy To Read Manual
The manual is easy to read, well organized and has lots of great visual instructions. Always read the manual before using a child restraint. This is a life saving device! It was designed and tested to be used as indicated in the manual!

Fit to Child

Rear Facing (5-35lbs and 18-43″)20150912_092820_resized
Originally the rear-facing height limit on these seats was 36”/91cm, but Graco has since amended the height limit to 43”, which is fantastic news! Some early models in store may still have the old limits, so contact Graco for new stickers and manual with the updated info. Most kids will be able to use this seat rear facing well past their 2nd birthday, much longer if they are tall and slim.

There are other seats on the market for kids who are heavier than average for continued rear-facing to 40-50lbs.  The average boy (50th percentile) reaches 35lbs around age 3.75 and 43″ around age 5 while the average girl is 4 when she hits 35lbs and just over 5 when she is 43″. (Click the links to see Canadian WHO growth charts to see where your child falls). Even those long-torsoed kiddos will be able to rear face a good long while in the Dimensions as the shell+head rest is plenty tall.


At age two, 36″ tall, and ~28lbs this kiddo has oodles of space still rear-facing.

The minimum child size for this seat is 2.2kg/5lbs and 46cm/18”. There are two crotch buckle positions. Newborn fit can vary, and the difference can be in torso length. Although a newborn may be within the lower limits of the seat, if the harness is above the child’s shoulders, they are too small for the seat. The Dimensions fit our small newborn doll quite nicely. The head pad is optional, but the body pad must be used until the baby’s torso is tall enough to fit the seat without it.

Rear-facing there is ample leg room, even for kids at the top end of the height/weight limits!



Forward Facing (22-65lbs and 27-49”)

The first thing I did when I received this seat was extend the harness to its full height. And I was very impressed! The harness height is around 18.5”, rivaling a short list of convertible seats with tall harnesses on the market. This is also around the height of some combination (child/booster) seat harnesses, so this seat could be used until booster readiness for most kids. In addition to being tall, the harness also has a lot of length to it so even a heavier child would be able to have ample harness space. My oldest turns 7 next week, and is 48” tall and well under the max weight limit, so has 1” of standing height left before outgrowing this seat. She sits comfortably with harness room to grow. It is possible she outgrows this seat in standing height before her shoulders are above the top harness slot. This is interesting because she has outgrown several other harnessed seats with 49” limits due to her shoulders being above the top harness slot, as well as a seat that claims a 57” standing height limit!  Always a good reminder that kids fit seats differently and it’s so important to try them in it rather than simply relying on listed numbers.

Pictured left to right: Age 7.5 and still harness height left; age 5 and she reports that it is quite comfortable; age 2 and usually rides rear facing but happily obliges her auntie with her “camera smile” for this forward-facing photo.

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The seat’s shape naturally makes it reclined when forward-facing. My second child turned 5 last week. He loves it and looks like he’s lounging in his favorite recliner when using it. Prior to the Dimensions arriving I’ve had several other harnessed convertibles and combination seats installed in our van, and he would oblige me with a single courtesy ride in them and then return to his primary, preferred seat. Not this time! I’ve had a hard time convincing him that other kids need to test it out. He has had to move back to his other seat a couple of times when we were carpooling and the other child was outgrown his abandoned seat, but fit in the Dimensions. Another 5 year old tester easily fell asleep in it on a long drive and was able to comfortably keep her head back. There was no forward flop and she reported that she liked it for sleeping (yet denied that she’d fallen asleep at all – do your kids do this?!).  

Fit to Vehicle20150910_184049_resized

Rear Facing:

The rear-facing install has been great in many different styles of vehicles. One of the great things about the shape of the seat is that it creates a space ideal for using in vehicles with odd shaped seat bights, raised seat bights or with plastic hinges. One vehicle that often has compatibility issues is the Dodge Journey’s centre seat. The large plastic hinges often interfere with proper installs of some seats, but the Dimensions works around this and installs nicely.

Both belt paths are quite high and seat belt installs work well with many different styles of seat belt buckles, including those with long buckle stalks that can interfere with a good installation. The rear-facing belt path has a nice wide opening and is easy to route the belt through. You can also access the belt path by moving the cover out of the way to get better leverage when tightening the seat belt or lower anchors.

The natural slope of the seat will work well behind vehicle seats with forward leaning head restraints.  It is also a good bet for a centre install, leaving ample room for front seat occupants even at a newborn recline. Most vehicles prohibit use of lower anchors in the centre so unless you have a dedicated set of centre lower anchors you must use the seat belt.

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2012 Honda Civic – a great bet for tall drivers with the seats all the way back!

Rear-facing the seat fits very compactly front to back and works well in small vehicles. This seat is also very narrow, especially at the base and child’s foot area and has worked really well in several 3-across situations I’ve tried it in, both rear- and forward-facing. It is an ideal choice next to booster seats due to its relatively high shell, and narrow base, leaving room not only for boosters to fit beside it but for young hands to reach down and buckle.

2012 VW Golf Wagon - Dimensions, Contender, Diono Radian RTX. 20150912_104630_resized



We were easily able to install the Dimensions in several vehicles at the newborn recline level without any added rolled towels to increase the angle, but doing so is an option if necessary. The recline indicator on this seat is a roller ball that can be anywhere in the blue range for 3+ months, and within the light blue range for 0+ months (newborns).  Make sure to park on level ground when installing, and recline as much as allowed for newborns to protect their airway.





2012 F-150 extended cab – Dimensions installs easily in the centre with lots of leg room for driver and passenger.


2003 Honda Civic (with an upright MyRide in the background).


2013 Ford Focus sedan at a newborn recline, with lots of leg room remaining.


Forward Facing:

One issue I can see is in vehicles with fixed head restraints, forward leaning head restraints and head restraints that may not be removed when installed forward-facing (always check your vehicle manual to know whether the head restraint may be removed when installing a seat). Since the Dimensions has a natural recline the headrest moves up and back, not simply straight up. When extended past the shell of the seat the headrest of the child’s seat may be impeded by the vehicle’s head restraint. See photos below for a comparison with and without head restraint in place.

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The naturally reclined shape when forward-facing is a great comfort feature for kids with low muscle tone, for kids who are forward-facing earlier than we’d recommend, or for those who sleep a lot in the car and are otherwise inclined to flop their head forward. Those who like to sit more upright will not enjoy the recline.

The forward facing belt path is closed, which makes it a great option for air travel since the aircraft seat belt buckle won’t be running behind the cover along the child’s back they way it does in many other seats.  It weighs 16lbs, so not overly heavy. The narrowness of the seat’s base should also fit well in an airline seat.



Overall Impressions:


  • Narrow base and slim shell will fit 3-across in many vehicles
  • No-rethread harness adjusts up and down without loosening the harness with the same butter-smooth harness adjuster we have come to know and love on the Graco Argos
  • All parts attached except infant insert – nothing to store or lose track of
  • Quick and easy switch from rear- to forward-facing
  • Range of install angles for rear-facing
  • IMMI buckle and non-twisty harness
  • UAS connector system is simple to change from rear- to forward-facing
  • Detachable cup holder works on either side of seat
  • Easy to read manual and seat stickers are clear, and are colour coded rear- and forward-facing
  • Rear/forward-facing flip foot is easy to use and is clearly labeled
  • TALL harness! Top Harness height ~18.5” from bum to shoulder
  • LOW harness! Adjusts small enough, ~7.75″, to fit the average newborn well
  • Small tether strap adjuster fits easily through truck tether loops and other small spaces
  • Shape when rear-facing makes a good fit for vehicles with plastic hinges and awkward seat bights
  • Naturally reclined when forward-facing (may be a “con” for you depending on your preference!); this may be a great seat for kids with low muscle tone


  • Lower (35lb) rear-facing weight limit
  • Naturally reclined when forward-facing (may be a “pro” for you depending on your preference!); kids who prefer to sit more upright will not enjoy this positioning
  • Not compatible forward-facing with fixed and/or forward leaning vehicle head restraints
  • Little choice in fabric colours – I’d love to see some teal, green, orange, purple, pink…

Thank you to Graco Baby Canada for providing the seat used in this review; all opinions are our own!

Are you in the Edmonton AB, Langley BC, London or Burlington ON areas? Graco and Walmart are offering free car seat clinics no matter what brand of seat you have! Space is limited so register for your appointment time now!

Graco Clinics

Cosco Scenera NEXT: Small Seat, Big Value!

AC RF vehicleLightweight, colour options, inexpensive ($85), narrow, and long-lasting? YES PLEASE! What’s not to love?!

Dorel, parent company of Cosco, has brought the Cosco Scenera NEXT to the Canadian market and it is a fantastic addition to our line-up. They are also bringing some interesting features that are unique, so like always, you must read your manual.  Available online at Walmart.ca or possibly in store from time to time we think you’ll like what you get for the price.

Seat Specs:

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Rear-facing 5-40lbs, 19-40″, head level with the top of the shell.
Forward-facing 22-40lbs, 29-43″, at least two years old, top of the ears level with the top of the shell.

We very much like the layout in the NEXT manual – clear, concise, easy to follow. And to highlight an important minimum a child MUST be at least 2 years old to forward-face. Go Dorel! This a trend we expect to see on more and more seats in the Canadian market.

  • Machine washable and dryable cover
  • Removable cup holder
  • Weighs less than 8lbs
  • Use of lower anchors (UAS, LATCH) for the full harness weight of the seat
  • Large range of install angles when rear-facing
  • 8 years until expiry

It is also extremely important to note that if you use this seat to the max rear-facing, as we encourage you to do, it will not be usable at all forward-facing. You may not know this looking at the specs and so it’s important to understand why. When rear-facing the harness comes from at or BELOW a child’s shoulders, keeping him down and contained within the seat during a crash. When forward-facing the harness comes from at or ABOVE a child’s shoulders. The design of the NEXT is such that a child will fit longer rear-facing than forward…and that’s okay. It does it extremely well, so read on!

Here is the same child rear- and forward-facing: At age just-turned-two (the minimum to use it forward-facing), 35″ tall, and 28lbs it is outgrown already forward-facing as the harness is no longer at or above his shoulders…but LOTS of room left rear-facing.

AC RF vehicle AC FF vehicle AC FF harness height

Take home message here? Consider the NEXT a rear-facing only seat, something it does with ease. Kind of like an infant seat with no handle. It is highly functional in rear-facing mode so that is what we will focus on.

Fit To Vehicle…NEXT weight

…is spectacular. Truly. It fits in small spaces. It’s on the narrow side. It’s lightweight and easy to install. When mine arrived I dangled it from a digital fish scale (everyone has one of these, right? maybe it’s for luggage…) and it came in a 7lbs 10oz. Amazing!


RF level lineThe NEXT has a line on the side that must be parallel to the ground for children who can not sit up unassisted – this is to protect the child’s airway and enables them to keep their heads properly tilted back.  For children who can sit up unassisted the NEXT can be installed more upright, and this is where its amazingness comes out. It can fit in extremely small spaces front to back, leaving ample room for front seat passengers.

Those of you who had a second child and felt the only way to have room to drive was to turn your child forward? Rejoice! Chances are excellent that the NEXT can enable rear-facing a good long while yet. Pretty awesome eh? Some visual examples of just how much room it gives; even more front to back space can be gained installing with this body positioning technique (a different seat is shown but the pelvic brace + peeling the cover back is what you’re after).  We also like that the harness adjuster mechanism (that button you push to loosen the harness) isn’t buried when rear-facing.

2012 Ford F-150 extended cab with suicide doors – my tallish self can sit in the passenger seat no problem even with the NEXT at the fully reclined newborn angle.

20150822_103047_resized 20150822_102958_resized

2012 Ford Focus hatchback. With the NEXT at the newborn angle behind the passenger I had more room in the passenger seat in this car than I have had with any other rear-facing seat. Install it more upright in the middle and both driver’s and passenger’s seats can be all the way back.

20150704_132031_resized 20150704_132543_resized

NEXT also makes a 3-across pretty doable. This is of course dependent entirely on the vehicle and what seats it is beside but the compactness plus narrow shape at the bight (the part that makes contact with the vehicle seat back and bottom) is very 3-across friendly. Furthermore it leaves room to buckle a booster next to it.


3-across in a 2012 Ford Focus hatchback.

3 across in a VW Jetta - NEXT is the blue one in the middle.

3 across in a VW Jetta – NEXT is the blue one in the middle.

Bottom line is it installed everywhere we tried it. While I’m sure it is possible to have an incompatibility out there somewhere we haven’t yet discovered one rear-facing.

Truth be told…we didn’t much bother with forward-facing. If you’re going to forward-face an under-two then you can’t use this seat to do it, and if your child is average-to-large in height or torso length chances are it’s nearly outgrown forward-facing so again, not the seat for you! Plenty of other rear- and forward-facing options on the market though.

Fit to Child

Like all things car seat, reading your manual is SUPER important. The NEXT has very specific, very unique harness routing and crotch buckle routing for use with a newborn. If you use the lowest harness position you MUST route as directed. This is to shorten the harness sufficiently for a newborn, enabling proper tightening.  With the 5lb minimum weight, and low harness height, combined with ability to properly shorten the harness, we expect it will fit the average newborn quite well.

2 weeks old, 7.5lbs, 20.5" long this wee one is already on the second-lowest harness slot!

2 weeks old, 7.5lbs, 20.5″ long this wee one is already on the second-lowest harness slot!

NEXT does not come with infant padding but please do use rolled receiving blankets, such as pictured here, for side support if needed. Don’t put anything behind or around baby’s head — no aftermarket head positioners as they’re not approved for use with this seat.

AL infant routing

6 weeks old; 11.5lbs, 22.5″ long.



15 months, 22lbs, and 31″ tall.

SK RF big kid

2.5 years old, 25lbs, 34″ tall.


This evenly proportioned child is right near the height limit at 39.5″ tall and 35lbs…but at 3 years, 9 months he fit for a long time, with ample leg room.



Longevity and fit also depends, of course, on child proportions. In the green shirt: 2.5, 30lbs, 37″ with a long torso. In the purple shirt: 4 years old, 31lbs, 38.5″ tall. Loads of leg room too! Although these kids are similarly sized the long torso on the younger child means he won’t fit in the seat quite as long as his older sister. Most seats require at least 1″ of shell above the head (in addition to being within height and weight limits); the NEXT allows a child’s head to be even with the top. Both of these kids have lots of room left by shell height and weight but are coming close by standing height.  The seat is outgrown whenever ONE limit has been met, so keep an eye on all three!

AL RF legroom AL RF 4yo

Other points to note:

We quite like the new look of the manual. Easy to follow and hopefully easy for parents to use properly. Please read your manual – car seat and vehicle – before installing!

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 9.57.54 AM

NEXT is a super option for airplane travel. Remember it weighs less than 8lbs so not only will it be easy to transport through the airport, it will be easy to carry on to the aircraft. The compact size and no limit to how upright it can be is a handy feature. If you’ve never traveled with a car seat before please consider it for your next trip; your child can sleep in a familiar place, and s/he can be safely restrained in case of turbulence, rough landing, or aborted take-off. Bonus? Rear face that kiddo and no worrying about stopping him from kicking the seat in front of him.

AC RF plane


The seat padding is pretty comfy, and the cover is machine washable and dryable. You have to remove the harness to remove the pad but that’s quick and easy. We love that it’s available in six different cover options !


Do you love colour? Patterns? Prefer for your car seat to match your upholstery? Want something to best camouflage kid dirt and detritus?  You have lots of choice with the NEXT! We love choice.

NEXT Moon Mist Grey NEXT River Run Blue NEXT red NEXT Lime Punch NEXT Broadway dots NEXT Otto


Overall Impressions:

Superb value and longevity in this seat provided you use it as a rear-facing only option. That is its true use, and it will easily get most kids rear-facing past age 3. If your child is long-torsoed and hugely tall then you might want to explore other options. The NEXT will enable those of you with small cars to keep on rear-facing your kids even behind a tall adult. Remember that 2 year minimum to forward-face…we’re going to see that on more and more seats in the future and huge props to Dorel for bringing the NEXT to market with that limit. Easily removable cover, detachable cup holder to store treasures, cute covers, and lightweight shell make the NEXT a winner in our books.

Now…want to win one?  Thank you to Dorel Juvenile Group for providing one Scenera NEXT in the colour of your choice (based on availability) to one lucky person in Canada! Giveaway is over – thanks to all who entered, and congrats to our lucky winner!

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Ode to the Harmony Youth Booster

pink Harmony black Harmony purple harmony

Harmony once made a seat20150822_114256_resized
Simple, lightweight, pretty neat
It came in pink and tan and grey
Purple, black, more on the way?

It fits in really tiny spots,
Pick up one, or buy lots.
For carpooling, or every day
Quite important, you might say.

Route the belt, remove the slack,
Remind them always to sit back.
It makes the seat belt fit just so,
Snug on the hips, nice and low.

It’s comfy, padded, sleek and slim,
Fits really well on her and him!
Sit up tall, nice and straight,George
Maturity matters, there’s no debate.

Boosters aren’t for everyone,
Although they might seem kind of fun.
Wiggly kiddos? Under five?
Consider a harness for the drive.

Boosters for 40lb+ kids who are
Able to sit well in the car.
Use the booster, we do request,
Until they pass the Five Step Test.

VF Booster


Are we silly? Yes. Did we get your attention? We hope so, even if it took some lame rhymes to do so! Is the Harmony Youth Booster (aka Lite Rider, its old name) the only booster we like? Of course not! Belt fit is what matters :) 

Harmony Defender: Whole Lotta Love! Review and Giveaway

Defender1It’s not very often that a new seat blows me away…but that honour goes to to Harmony‘s new forward-facing only harness-to-booster seat: the Defender.  It appeared in the US quite a while before hitting the Canadian market and we could.not.wait for it to show up here. Our patience, or lack thereof, was rewarded with an exceptional product at a superb price point.

Available online and in store at Walmart, or direct from Harmony, the Defender is $160, and with that comes a tremendous number of features often found only on higher priced seats.

Defender Specs:

  • With harness:
    • For children who weigh between 22-65lbs AND are between 27-57″ tall AND whose shoulders are at or below the top harness position of about 18″ (18.75″ if you remove the foam in the seat area with a child over 50lbs)
  • As a booster:
    • For children who weigh between 40-110lbs AND are between 34″-57″ tall AND whose ears are below the top of the high back booster seat in high back mode, or the top of the vehicle head restraint in backless mode.  The seat belt must fit properly on the lap and shoulder. Highest high back belt guide is about 20″ (20.75″ if you remove the foam in the seat area with a child over 50lbs).

The Highlights

  • Lightweight. Move your seat often? Save your back!
  • Use of UAS to a child weight of 46lbs (unless your vehicle indicates a lower limit)
  • Long-lasting by torso height, often the measure by which a seat is outgrown
  • No-rethread harness – adjust on the fly for multiple children
  • Excellent price point of $160
  • Harness pads for added comfort at the child’s neck
  • Lots of bum padding
  • Two crotch buckle positions
  • Easily adjustable up-front recline adjustment to mesh with vehicle seat
  • Smooth harness adjuster – no fighting to tighten adequately
  • IMMI buckles, and non-twisty harness
  • Narrow and ideal for tight seating situations
  • Ten year expiry period
  • Award for cover name. Whoever named the debut fashion deserves a high five and a plate of cookies (for real, whoever you are, I can bake like nobody’s business, and I will put some in the mail). “Pirate Gold” might be my most favourite cover name ever.

The Lowlight (singular)


  • Comes partially assembled (scroll down for a picture tutorial) and requires two Phillips screwdrivers (the X shaped ones) at the same time to put it together. Because of that you MUST read the directions and FOLLOW them. Carefully. It is not IKEA furniture. It’s a lifesaving piece of equipment. Take 10 minutes and read the steps and do it properly. It’s not hard, nor time consuming, just important that it is done properly and with care. If you have difficulty following step by step instructions and assembling things…find a friend who can help.



Let’s get the potentially scary part over with first, shall we? Assembly. Harmony has worked hard to bring a high-featured seat to the Canadian market at a very good price. To do so the Defender ships partially assembled which saves on shipping. But don’t worry, you can do this. Get yourself two Phillips screwdrivers (the X-shaped ones) and a spot on the floor to spread out and work.

Make sure you have all of the washers and screws and bolts, and the long metal rod.

Defender parts

Follow the step by step instructions in YOUR manual to orient the loose parts, and line up the seat bottom with the seat back.  You are installing a screw set into each hip area, and a long metal rod through the lower back area. Make sure to use all of the parts in the order as indicated!

Hip area: make sure the sticking out bit of the black plastic screw is pointing DOWN and nestled into the space intended for it.

Defender hip screw


Lower back area: long metal rod goes here, and is secured with a washer and screw. Tighten both ends simultaneously with a screwdriver in each end.



And that’s it. Not so bad eh? Even while pausing for photos it only took a few minutes. Now on to the good stuff.


Fit to child:

The Defender fits a broad range of kids. Really broad. The littlest here is just big enough to use this seat at 24lbs and 13 months old…and to be honest it’s hard for us to even put a child this little in a forward-facing seat (rear face as long as you can!). The largest child (green jersey) is 7.5, 53lbs, and 54″ tall, pretty close to the top end by height and weight.

The Defender is a nice fit on small kids for those who choose to forward-face that early (not what we’d recommend), and on the upper end there is still plenty of harness length left for the bigger kids. Those who have reached 50lbs but need more torso height can remove the EPP foam pad under the bum for another 3/4″ or so of growing room. The head is well contained within the wings, and while the seat is narrow there is ample room for sitting cross-legged.

20150618_200522 20150730_114054_resized Defender3Defender2 20150627_171752 11822800_10155858771070514_3077442226089293119_n

Child fit in harness modeHarmony Defender01

Our kid testers liked the harness covers to make it comfy at the neck, and the cup holder (removable, it swivels, and can attach on either side for convenience). The crotch pad is optional and can be removed (most kid testers pulled it off but that is common on a lot of seats). Most have found it quite comfortable. Although a sore bum is possible in any seat this one is well-padded, and it’s worth experimenting with the recline of the seat itself, in addition to considering foot support if your child complains.  For those who have slept in the Defender it provides nice side-to-side head support and so far no head flop. This will of course vary by child and angle of install.

Our parent testers especially liked the ease of adjusting harness height – squeeze the handle at the top of the head rest and slide to adjust. The handle is a bit hidden inside the fabric cover but it is there. The harness must be at or above a child’s shoulders at all times. The crotch buckle slides along a channel and has two options, at ~6” and ~8”. Choose the position at or just in front of your child’s crotch.


Child fit in booster mode

Harmony is well known for having booster seats with excellent belt fit, and the Defender in booster mode was no different. While the belt fit was truly great it’s not as easy to use in booster mode as their dedicated boosters that we love (Dreamtime 2 and Youth Booster). Our 7.5 year old experienced booster rider found it comfortable but had difficulty buckling. The distance from the vehicle buckle to the front edge of the arm rest was greater than she was used to and although she is mature, practiced, and tall, she had difficulty reaching that far to buckle. The space between the arm rest and seat pad is also very closed so she had trouble sliding the seat belt into the space. Once buckled though she found it very comfortable, but struggled with the lack of independence she was used to, and that frustrated her.  The younger booster tester also had magnificent belt fit but as she has no experience riding in a booster all buckling was done by an adult.  The Defender is so great as a harnessed seat but that seems to mean a little bit of convenience is lost when moving into booster mode.

Harmony Defender08 Harmony Defender06

Converting the seat from harness mode to booster mode and back was tedious and not something I would be keen to do on a regular basis. I’m really much more of a fan of dedicated boosters though, and don’t really consider this a deal breaker. If you do use the Defender as a booster you’ll convert it and leave it. Make sure to save all of the parts and store them clean and dry for safe use later on.  I admit to not taking the extra steps needed to convert from high back to backless mode. It meant removing the metal rod and hardware from the assembly steps above, and I just didn’t want to. I was looking at Harmony’s Youth Booster sitting next to me and my professional and parental opinion is that once you get to that stage of boostering you’ll be pleased to spend $18 for the convenience of a dedicated booster, passing down the Defender to a child who still needs to be harnessed.


Fit to Vehicle:

We tried the Defender in a wide variety of vehicles and are very pleased with the ease of installation. If you have lower anchors in the seating location of choice you can use UAS up to a child weight of 46lbs (unless your vehicle states a lower limit).

The Defender requires use of the top tether at all times, as does every other forward facing seat in Canada, NO EXCEPTIONS.  The Defender’s tether adjuster mechanism is slim and easy to use and should not be a problem at all in vehicles where the tether must be passed through a small space.  If you vehicle’s head restraint interferes check your manual to see if it can be removed and stowed.

Harmony Defender03


Up to 2” of overhang off the front edge is permitted.  Whether you have any or not will depend on the depth and shape of the vehicle seat.



Experiment with the recline of the Defender using the up-front knob to make it best mesh with the vehicle seat. Aim to minimize gaps behind the seat back wherever possible, as you want maximum contact between vehicle seat back and Defender seat back. If you have overly large gaps either at the lower back or upper edge of the seat take a photo and send it to Harmony; they are best positioned to advise consumers as to what is acceptable.  Those of you with fixed and forward-leaning head restraints might run into issues, but unfortunately this is the case with most forward-facing seats in vehicles with that unfortunate design feature.

20150621_174604 Harmony Defender10


Harmony Defender05Seat belt installations and UAS were both successful. Pro tip: most seats have some way of exposing the belt path. Doing so will make installing infinitely easier. On the Defender this can be accomplished by separating the cover at the lower outside corner and peeling it back. Tighten the belt from the inside of the seat – this works for the UAS strap as well as the belt. Clever body positioning means you can get maximum leverage without requiring herculean strength to tighten.

Will it install perfectly everywhere? Of course not, but no car seat will.  It was a nice fit in the vehicles we tried it in though, using a mixture of UAS, lap/shoulder belt, or lap belt (not all at the same time of course — pick one!)

  •  2009 Dodge Grand Caravan – installs well in all seating positions with a tether anchor (captain’s chairs and 3rd row centre)
  • 2012 Ford Focus
  • 2003 Honda Civic
  • 2003 Honda Odyssey – installs well in all seating positions
  • 2012 Ford F150 Super Cab (extended cab with suicide doors) – installs well and just fits on the vehicle seat without too much overhang.
  • 2011 Honda Odyssey- fits like a glove in the middle ‘8th’ seat 2nd row centre, leaving room for the passenger side seat to flip forward
  • 2010 Jeep Patriot – works well centre, not so much outboard with the really protruding and non-adjustable head restraints. A nice option in a 3-across!
Defender 3 across

2010 Jeep Patriot

Defender middle seat

2011 Honda Odyssey


2009 Dodge Grand Caravan

Harmony Defender02

2003 Honda Odyssey

Harmony Defender09

2012 Ford Focus


2012 Ford F-150 Super Cab on the ’40’ side of the 60/40 split

Removing the Cover

I followed the manual to the letter to remove the cover for cleaning, something I like to try with new seats to see how it washes up and how the process goes.  The manual directs a parent to remove the harness and then remove and wash the cover…but I had a lightbulb moment and after conversation with Harmony they are behind this alternate method and intend to update their manual or online FAQ with this simplified method for cover removal.  This method avoids re-threading the harness at the shoulder and is much easier for parents to accomplish.

1. Lay the seat on its back and locate the rectangular metal plate that holds the harness under the hip.

2. Gently separate the harness from the metal plate with a flat-head screwdriver.

3. Use the screwdriver to carefully pry up the metal plate from the plastic base. The metal plate is now hanging loose from the shell.

4. You’re then going to pop that metal plate up and through the bottom of the seat. To start fold it like the below photo shows.

5. Insert the metal plate into the slot in the seat pan.

6. Pull it through to the other side and it’s free!

7. Now the harness is still attached to the seat at the shoulders, but is loose at the hips. The cover can now be quickly and easily slipped off around the harness; wash per manual instructions. Reverse the process when putting it back together.

cover1 cover2 cover3 cover4 cover5 cover6


Overall impressions:

Harmony aimed to produce a long-lasting, comfortable, easy to use seat at a very attractive price point. They nailed it, absolutely, and it positively shines as a harnessed seat.  The biggest potential issue is assembly, but don’t let that scare you. You get enormous bang for your buck here if you can round up two screwdrivers and few minutes of your time. We love it in our house and has been the main ride in our vehicle for the last month.

Are you super pumped about the potential of this seat? Yay! Win one for yourself or grab one at Walmart. Thank you to Harmony for providing a giveaway prize to one lucky winner, in your choice of fashion, subject to availability (Pirate Gold or Raspberry) – all opinions here, however, are our own. To enter use the Rafflecopter widget below. For your entry to be valid you MUST comment on this blog, answering this question: what feature of the Defender do you find most appealing?  Good luck!
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Diono Monterey: Back & Better Than Ever!

11707765_10153412967887165_8408673300298440703_nIt’s b-a-a-a-c-k! Back and better than ever is the Diono Monterey booster, seen here in review (and scroll down, as a giveaway!). It had disappeared from the market for about a year and we were very sad…and then thrilled to learn it was making a comeback! The Monterey is a favourite of techs, and for very good reason. It is one of the tallest boosters on the market, kids find it very comfortable, and it generally provides excellent belt fit in a variety of vehicles.

The Monterey retails for $160 and is available in a variety of places, including Shop.ca, Amazon, Toys R Us, and many specialty boutiques.

It is currently available in three fashions: Bloom (pink), Surf (blue), and Heather (grey, reviewed here).

Diono_Monterey_Bloom_Angled_WithCupholdersDiono_Monterey_Surf_Angled_WithCupholdersMonterey Heather

What we love

  • Fits children 40-120 pounds and 38-63”, making it one of the longest-lasting and tallest boosters available
  • Provides excellent belt fit on most kids in most vehicles
  • The adjustable seat back width means it can be adjusted for different-sized kids, helping smaller children stay contained and in position, while still being comfortable for larger kids who would still benefit from the back portion
  • Long seat pan provides lots of support for long-legged kids
  • Has UAS so it’s not a projectile when not in use (optional)
  • Variable recline positions for comfort and to fit various vehicle seat shapes
  • Stowable cup holders can be tucked away when not in use or if you need more room (what treasures would your kids keep in theirs?)

20150713_201438_resized 20150713_201445_resized

Fit to child:

The Monterey in high-back mode provided excellent belt fit on every child we tried. As always though, we do recommend always trying a seat before purchase if possible. The children we tested said they love how cushy and comfortable it is and the retractable cup holders.  One 7 year old said she liked it even though it wasn’t pink – gasp!

At 21″, the backrest adjusts to one of the tallest heights on the market, meaning it is a great choice for tall and long-torsoed kids who could still use the support of the back.


When evaluating belt fit of a booster seat to a child, you want to ensure the lap belt is low and flat on their thighs (not up high on the belly) and that the shoulder belt is centered in the middle of their collar bone.


On the smaller end of the spectrum, the child below is five and is just 40 pounds and 43”. Her regular seat is still a harnessed seat. The lap belt fit was excellent and she declared the seat to be very comfortable. I appreciated the ability to adjust the side walls narrower.

11052456_10153240024826351_1576201248317825227_n 11295921_10153240024901351_6853039547386612346_n

Another smaller child, at five, 42 pounds and 42” tall. Again, the belt fit is excellent and the seat pan gives lots of support to her legs.


These two kids have very similar stats, at 50” tall and 51 and 55 pounds respectively. Again, excellent belt fit and they found it very comfortable.

11229384_10153240024931351_6023238804757516860_n 11167997_10153412968087165_3323244682587007943_n

At 9 ½, 62 pounds, and 56″ tall, this child normally rides in a backless booster (and is clearly super thrilled to be testing this out in highback mode!), but she is within the specs and still just fits. This would be very useful for a young but tall child who would still benefit from the support of the high-back, or for a child who still falls asleep in the car to give them somewhere to rest their head so they don’t slump out of position.


Road tripping with her family this 8 year old is 90lbs and 4’8″ (54″) tall and prefers to have the back on the 2012 version of the Monterey (virtually unchanged except for the style of the upper belt guide so we included this photo for comparison).

ML in Monterey


Using the Monterey as a backless booster may or may not work for your child/vehicle combination. When buying a seat now for a 5-6+ year old it is hard to predict their build, or know for sure what you will drive, when they have outgrown the back and need to use it backless. Pictured here without the back we don’t like the belt fit on the lap belt; it’s too low on the legs and isn’t making contact with the hip bones — because without the back portion on the child has scooted back away from the belt. If you do find that is the case consider a backless booster such as Diono’s Solana, or another option well-suited to your child.

Fit to vehicle:

20150713_201522_resizedThe Monterey also worked exceptionally well in most seating positions and vehicles that we tried. It does have UAS hooks to latch the booster into the vehicle with an up-front adjustment mechanism to tighten and loosen each connector. This does not provide any extra safety to the booster rider, but does mean that the booster seat isn’t a projectile when not in use, and is a convenience feature that we find, well, convenient! Use of UAS is an optional feature, and if you don’t have UAS in the position you use the booster in we always recommend buckling the booster in when not in use.

11265426_10153412938357165_2803299625134764172_nSometimes with high-back boosters the shoulder belt won’t always retract properly through the belt guide. This is not ideal as the belt won’t be in a good position to keep a child restrained properly if, for instance, the child has leaned forward (hopefully while the car is not in motion!) or if you have had to brake suddenly. Compared to previous versions of the Diono and Sunshine Kids Monterey this revamped Diono Monterey has a redesigned belt guide that tends to be very friendly with most shoulder belts. We found it worked very well in most of the vehicles/seating positions that we tried, including one position where the belt comes at an awkward angle that generally doesn’t work with high back boosters. We did find one seating position in one vehicle where the belt didn’t retract, but in general the Monterey would be an excellent bet.

Diono wants the Monterey seat back to make contact with the vehicle seat and to minimize gaps; if there is a gap, they have advised to contact them for evaluation. Some larger or fixed and forward-leaning head restraints may create too large of a gap to be safely used with the Monterey but as vehicle geometry varies so widely it’s best to leave the decision making to the manufacturer. Take a clear photo or two from more than one angle and let them evaluate the fit for you.


The Monterey does require vehicle head support behind it, even in high-back mode, so it is not an option for vehicles with no head restraints. Diono does not allow the vehicle’s buckle to cross the lower belt guide, so it also may not be an appropriate choice if your vehicle has very long buckle stalks.


Overall impressions:

The Monterey is an excellent booster seat that is loved by technicians, parents and kids alike. It provides excellent belt fit on a large range of children, is one of the tallest high-back boosters on the market with one of the highest weight ranges, and has features to make it a comfortable and convenient seat to use.

It is not the seat for you if you need a booster in a position with no head restraint or if your vehicle has exceptionally long buckle stalks. It may not work if you have fixed, forward-leaning head restraints. As always, if possible try before you buy to ensure it fits your child in your vehicle.

Thank you to Diono for providing the seat shown in this review. All opinions are our own.

Thank you to Diono for providing one booster seat in “Heather” fashion to one lucky reader! Please remember that booster seats aren’t an appropriate option for a child until s/he is consistently over 40lbs, and has the maturity to sit properly in position at all times, usually beginning around age 5-6+. Do you have such a creature? Please enter!

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Evenflo Symphony: Multi-Mode Review


Introducing the Evenflo Symphony LX, an “all-in-one” seat that is a 2015 Today’s Parent approved product (based on TP’s opinion of quality, ease of use, and value for money).

Evenflo has packaged a number of attractive features into one bundle, available in the LX (reviewed here) and DLX versions. It does a pretty decent job of all of the stages (rear facing, forward facing, booster) and that’s not a statement we throw around lightly.  To be clear it’s perhaps not the only seat you’ll ever need; at a minimum you’ll at least need a backless booster once your child outgrows the booster function. We DO think it’s a good bet for those who transport multiple children…such as grandparents.  In fact this is an ideal seat for the casual transporter, and will accommodate average/large-sized newborns up to the 6-8 year old crowd, at which point a backless booster is a very reasonable (and inexpensive) option.

The Symphony is available for purchase at Walmart, Shop.ca, Babies R Us, Best Buy, and Canadian Tire.  Prices and trim levels vary between about $240-300.

The Symphony is designed to accommodate children who fit the following criteria:

Rear facing:
5-40lbs and 19-37″ and the child’s head is at least 1″ below the top of the child restraint head rest in either of its two lowest positions.

Forward facing:
22-65lbs and 28-50″ and the tops of the ears are below the tops of the child restraint head rest and child is at least one year old and the harness is coming from at or slightly above the child’s shoulders.

40-110lbs and 43.3-57″ and the tops of the ears are below the tops of the child restraint head rest and child is at least four years old.


  • up-front easy-to-use recline mechanism
  • up-front easy-to-use head restraint adjuster mechanism
  • premium UAS connectors (LX has SureSafe connectors, DLX has SureLatch connectors)
  • included funnel guides for easier use with UAS
  • harness buckle storage pockets for easier loading of child
  • infinite slide harness
  • infant body support included
  • cover is easily removable for machine washing
  • use with UAS until child weighs 40lbs (unless your vehicle states a lower limit); after a child weight of 40lbs install with the seat belt
  • cushy fabric and well-padded

Fit to Child:

At 7lbs 12 oz and 4 days old this average-sized newborn (left) and 11lbs and 4 weeks old (right) fit nicely in the Symphony with the harness tabs sitting at shoulder height, and included infant insert that aids in fit and positioning. Use is for rear-facing only, and optional.

IMG_8818IMG_8814 (533x800)

11233338_10155746888050514_4166020268480730053_oIf there is too much space between baby’s crotch and the crotch buckle, allowing baby to slouch down and potentially compromising the airway, try using a crotch roll (small rolled cloth or receiving blanket) to fill the space. Ensure first that the harness is adjusted tightly to pass the pinch test and then slide the cloth into place. Once baby is older (and larger) a crotch roll likely won’t be needed to maintain position.



Children may rear-face in the Symphony until a standing height of 37″ or until the top of the head is within 1″ of the top of the movable head rest in either of the bottom two positions. A standing height of 37″ will get a 100th percentile child past age two, the minimum we recommend for turning a child forward-facing.


Forward-facing children can be accommodated from 22lbs and 28″ but we strongly recommend (as do Transport Canada and other child passenger safety advocates) to rear face as long as possible.  So don’t rush things!

Our model here — a fairly representative 50th percentile 6 year old girl — is 44lbs, 45″ tall, with a torso height (bum to shoulder) of about 16″. She has about 1/2″ of torso height left before the seat is outgrown as the harness must be coming from at her shoulder level.  Of course shorter torsoed children will last longer, and the long torsoed ones will outgrow it sooner.

The no-rethread “infinite slide” harness will come in handy when using this for multiple children – simply slide the red tabs to the needed height AT your child’s shoulders.


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Booster fit is where most so-called 3-in-1s fail in either fit or realistic longevity – but not the Symphony.


From left to right:

At 44lbs she’s heavy enough for a booster but at only 3.5 she’s much too young (and wiggly! see the hands?) and still fits with oodles of space in the harness – absolutely how we’d recommend she still ride.  However it is encouraging to see that the belt fit is good on the lap and shoulder for those kids who are her size at a booster-appropriate age (5-6ish or so).

At 44lbs, 45″ tall, and 6 years old our model in the fancy dress also has great belt fit, low and touching the hips and centered on the collarbone. She has two “clicks” to go in head rest height, giving her more room in the torso to grow and still fit this seat.

At 56lbs and 49″ tall, and 8 years old this tester also has some space left height-wise, with one “click” to go to the tallest position.



Fit to Vehicle:


The Symphony is neither the most compact seat nor the largest, falling somewhere in the middle for how much space it takes up front to back when rear-facing. As always we recommend trying before you buy wherever possible.  The seat has three recline positions and it’s critical to make sure that it is fully reclined to position 1 when rear-facing. Furthermore look for a raised arrow on the base of the seat and make sure it is parallel to the ground. Use a tightly rolled towel to assist in achieving the needed angle if you have very sloped vehicle seats.


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Premium UAS connectors store handily on easily accessible rings on the side of the seat, seen here in the “SureSafe” version on the LX.  Evenflo includes two plastic “LATCH guides,” aka funnel guides, to make installing their seats with premium connectors a breeze in vehicles with buried UAS anchors. No more digging around in the seat bight, the LATCH guide makes it simple.


Buckle storage slots and dual cup holders round out the convenience features found on the Symphony LX.  The Symphony DLX features “SureLatch” self-ratcheting UAS connectors plus OUTLAST temperature regulating performance fabric.

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Overall Impression:

Many seats on the market claim to be a “3-in-1” or to cover all stages of seating for your child from birth through booster use. While an appealing idea for parents – buy only one seat and be done with it – it’s not a realistic expectation for most seats as they often fall short in one or more modes.  We’re pleased to discover that the Symphony shines, and does all modes well.

It’s not the seat for you if you plan to rear-face your off the charts child to age 4, if junior has the world’s longest torso, or if you have a tight 3-across and need to eke out every spare inch of real estate.

We think its true niche is for people who frequently transport a variety of ages and sizes of children. Switching between modes is not tedious, and it has a reliably good fit across the whole range of children the seat is made for.  Grandparents (and aunties and uncles!) we’re looking at you!


  • you can use lower anchors and tether in booster mode, eliminating the need to buckle the seat when empty
  • when the seat is in booster mode there is an on-seat storage location for unused parts (harness, crotch buckle) so no risk of losing parts.
  • 8 year life span
  • the belt fit is great on all of the kids we tried it on
  • up to 20% overhang of the base is permitted in all modes
  • cover is easily removable and machine washable


  • the tether length (required when forward-facing) might be too short in some vehicles; call Evenflo for a tether extender.
  • the harness is not removable or replaceable (potentially a concern if your child is really, um, leaky)
  • not ideal for tight seating scenarios as the Symphony is on the wider side.
  • Due to its width and height it will be challenging for smaller booster riders to reach down and around to buckle.

Thank you to Evenflo for providing this seat for review – but all opinions are our own.

Now we’d like to send this seat out to one of you! The only requirement is that the seat must be destined to a location where it will be used by more than one person. Maybe Grampa wants a seat in his car for when the kiddos visit? Maybe you’re a daycare provider and would enjoy the flexibility of quickly and easily adjusting a seat for multiple kids? Tell us! And then maybe you want to meet up with a tech near you to learn to install it like a pro!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Evenflo Embrace: Small and Mighty

A fantastic new option in high capacity infant-style seats snuck onto the shelves recently, but we’re about to blow its cover. Because we LOVE it, and we’re here to tell you why.

Introducing the Evenflo Embrace 35, available at Walmart for $140.  This is a rear-facing only infant-style seat with stay-in-car base and removable carrier. It is meant for children who are between 4-35lbs and 17-30″ tall.

You know us – we like to chatter on about fit-to-child and fit-to-vehicle and show you lots of pictures of same. But let’s start with the highlights:

  • Exceptionally good fit on low birth weight babies. Expecting multiples? Unexpectedly find yourself with a preemie? The Embrace is a very good bet, and readily available on your local Walmart shelf.
  • Long-lasting specs: the average child will fit until 30″ tall, and with most seats on the market it’s the height limit that will be reached well before weight.
  • Easy to use and lightweight. It’s simple and straightforward with some ease of use features often found on higher end seats.

Now for the nitty gritty, the detailed analysis you know we will always provide.

Fit to Vehicle:
The Embrace installed quickly and easily in the test cars we put it in. We tried it with lower anchors, with seat belt, and without the base. We’re quite good at it of course – but it’s straightforward and there’s nothing tricky to contend with.

03 Honda Civic – front seats all the way back!



03 Honda Odyssey – front seats all the way back again.IMG_7040


3rd row of the same Odyssey – the 2nd row slides forward enough to leave ample room for the Embrace.IMG_7043


03 Civic installed baseless – so much room you could have a party in there.

embrace baseless

03 Civic behind the passenger, with the driver’s seat all the way back for reference. If this seat is installed behind a vehicle seat (i.e. not in the middle) you must leave 1.5″ of clearance between the top of the car seat shell and the vehicle seat. Even so, plenty of room in the front for my 5’8″ self.20150410_154932_resized


The Embrace (and many other Evenflo seats) now come with these nifty little additions.  Evenflo calls the little plastic guide a LATCH Guide but they are also generically known as funnel guides. They make it easier to quickly secure a premium connector onto a buried lower anchor. Photo on the left is what the seat bight looks like. The anchor is there but you have to dig for it. Photo on the right is with the LATCH Guide in place, enabling very quick access to the lower anchors. You won’t need them on vehicles with exposed lower anchors, and should not use them with simple hook-style connectors (you’ll never get them out again) but this is a very nice option for those of you with Evenflo seats who move your seats often.

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Another handy feature that aids in successful installation is the recline indicator, easily visible on the base. You want to make sure it’s all in the green, always. For a newborn recline it as much as possible while still staying green; this will protect the airway and prevent chin to chest head flop. Use the built-in three-position recline adjustment on the base, or a rolled towel if needed to achieve the needed positioning.



Perhaps you’ve heard that only a certain amount of a car seat can overhang a vehicle seat? For most seats no more than 20% can hang over the edge. Some don’t allow any at all. We expect the Embrace to be a good bet on shallow vehicle seats such as extended cabs because it’s quite compact.



Fit to Child:

The Embrace is a a spectacular fit on very small babies and should be a go-to option for those needing to fit a low birth weight baby. There are two important steps that need to be done to ensure the harness is adjusted properly.

1. Shorten the harness and route it properly onto the splitter plate. The manual describes this but here is a photo showing the proper orientation of the excess length.

embrace splitter plate


2. Shorten the crotch buckle to best position it for baby, which will also further shorten the harness. This means you can tighten it sufficiently for a wee one. There are special routing instructions for how to do it, so check the manual carefully.



Overall fit features:

The Embrace has three harness heights (the lowest is around 5.5-6″), and four crotch buckle positions (including the special newborn position as described above).  The harness length is both short enough and long enough, meaning it fits properly at both ends of the spectrum. The harness adjuster is smooth and easy, and the cover is well-padded with energy-absorbing foam.  Handle positioning is smooth – no fighting with release buttons, and must be in ant-rebound position toward baby’s feet at all times while driving.

This is Lucy, my small newborn tester. The harness is adjusted short and on the lowest setting, and the crotch buckle is set for a newborn, and I still have room to tighten the harness further. The included head pillow is optional but fills the interior of the car seat nicely.



I got to hang out with not one but two adorable babies to model this seat. Babe on the left is about 11lbs, 8 weeks old, and easily on the 2nd harness position already. Mom found the carrier light weight (7.5lbs). Babe on the right is also about 11lbs at 7 weeks old and with her long torso she easily fills out the seat.

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At the other end of the spectrum we wondered would the seat actually fit a child to the height or weight limit? This 18 month old model is right at the height limit – 30″ – but at only 21lbs she has outgrown it by height. She’s evenly proportioned and has the required 1″ of shell above her head still. Long-torsoed children might outgrow it by that measure before reaching the standing height limit. There was still ample harness length left as well, so a bulkier child would fit too.



Premium Features:

Storage compartments for the buckle tongues to hold them out of the way while loading your squirmy offspring.

buckle storage


Smooth and simple carrier release. Push the top of the release bar in and the carrier can be lifted easily out of the base.



Quick connector with pull release (the red loop) makes for a nice fast uninstall, and works beautifully with the LATCH Guides mentioned above.



Final thoughts:

You get a lot of bang for your buck with the Evenflo Embrace. Lightweight, easy to use and install, with some nice features all in a tidy, compact, well-priced package — it absolutely has earned a place on our favourites list. Big thanks to Evenflo for providing the seat used in this review, but as always out opinions are completely our own. Will it be the perfect seat for you? Maybe! Best to check it out at Walmart, and wherever possible try installing it in your car before committing.


Happy Hump Day Flash Contest

O22599_10153240015751351_2841763408889106860_nnce again, Shop.ca is having a super deal! We want to take advantage of this with a quick flash contest as a thank you to everyone using our links for their shopping. We will be using random.org instead of Rafflecopter for this one. Just fill out the attached form and we will draw at 9pm est on Wednesday, June 3rd (6pm pst). You can choose between any of the MyRides or the Snugli SecureKids linked below as long as they are in stock and showing free shipping.

One entry per person please! Multiple entries will be disqualified. Open to residents of Canada who are the age of majority in their province who have not won one of our contests in the last year, excluding the admins of VI Car Seat Techs and their immediate families. Void where prohibited by law.


Choices available for this contest:

Snugli Harnessed Booster in grey (Evenflo SecureKid) $124

Snugli Harnessed Booster in camo (Evenflo SecureKid) $137

Graco MyRide in Spritz (pink/brown) $142

Graco MyRide in Marston (green/brown) $132

Contest is now closed! Thanks to those who entered. Big congrats to Kelsey G, the lucky winner!

Want to take advantage yourself? Here’s how!

The deal is good for anything, not just car seats. If you would like to take advantage of it yourself, go through these steps.

  1. Get a shop.ca account here and we get $25 for our seat donation fund the first time you make a purchase of $75, and you get a bunch of Aeroplan points if your order is over $99, and a big Aeroplan bonus on the first order with your number added to your account; http://www.shop.ca/?plcktb=ZwBzWm4KZg2
  2. Add your item to your cart – specific links for spectacular deals below.
  3. At checkout use coupon code RMN50OFF125JUNE for $50 off an order of $125 or more. If you have a second seat to order (or anything else for that matter) do a separate order and use coupon code RMN40OFF100JUNE. You can use each code once per account.
  4. Tell us here or on Facebook what awesome deal you scored because we like to live vicariously through you!

    ALL car seats and booster seats


    We couldn’t have a Hump Day post without a camel picture!