Car Product Reviews

New Graco Car Seats Ready for Longevity

Photos courtesy Graco

For many new parents, choosing a car seat becomes baby’s first catch-22.

In a perfect world, our bundles of joy would be born before this purchase became necessary. Then, we could factor things like weight and length into the decision and run out to buy a car seat that would be the ideal match.

But between baby showers, over-eager grandparents, and unavoidable practicalities – the kid’s got to get home from the hospital somehow – this is pretty much never how the scenario plays out.

Many parents get lucky: baby is an average size, everything fits nicely into their car’s back seat, and they drive off into the sunset to live happily ever after.

Others, though, hit snags – like me, for example. My little girl was born in the 99th percentile for both length and weight and stayed that way. By the time she was nine months old, the seat I’d bought for her before birth could no longer accommodate her, and I was stuck already shelling out for a new one that wasn’t nearly as user-friendly, especially when backward-facing. I’d spent over $600 on car seats in less than a year, and neither of them ended up being perfect.

I also was left with no choice but to settle on a convertible seat – one that can be installed both backward- and forward-facing, as opposed to the forward-only seats that are typical in the second stage – because I’m aware that it’s important to keep infants facing rearward for as long as possible. However, the temptation to move to a more affordable stage two seat might be too strong for some parents if they don’t know about the safety advantages or willingly dismiss the importance of keeping infants facing backward.

According to a poll organized by car seat maker Graco and hosted on the Angus Reid Forum, 22 percent of parents transition their children to forward-facing car seats too early, influenced by factors such as thinking the child can no longer use a seat when his or her legs touch the seat back in the rear row, and 27 percent turn them around before the recommended age of two. Transport Canada says that children are safest in rear-facing car seats for as long as they are still below the seat’s height and weight limits.

Graco has recently released a couple of products that aim to reduce this early turn-around, and at the same time help parents avoid the multiple-purchase situation.

The first of these is called the Extend2Fit, which is a convertible car seat that, when installed to be rear-facing, can deliver up to five inches of additional legroom. This can cause a fully extended car seat to hang over the forward edge of the car’s rear row, so the base also comes with clear markers to indicate not only how to properly balance the seatback’s angle (as with most car seats) but also how far forward the seat can be perched before it becomes unsafe (which, for reference, allows for up to 20 percent of the base to be positioned off the seat).

This seat also allows not only for your child to have a little more legroom but also has a weight rating of up to 50 lb (23 kg) when rear-facing, which should hold most children until well past the two-year point, when little heads and necks are better prepared for front-to-back impacts. The seat can then be turned around and used forward-facing to 65 lb (29 kg), at which point you’d need to purchase a separate booster. In the meantime, it employs a clever sliding harness-adjustment system that gets around that annoying seatbelt rethreading issue.

There are a couple of things to consider before pulling out the credit card to drop the MSRP of $349 for this one. First, if one or both of the drivers in your household is tall, you may find that this seat limits your configuration options when fully extended. Contrary to popular belief, it’s unsafe to allow a car seat to sit snugly against a front seat when it’s installed – if the seat’s movement is restricted in a crash then the inertia that it can’t absorb gets passed on to baby instead, which entirely defeats the purpose. This seat may add up to five inches of legroom for your little one, but that’s five inches of movement taken away from the seat in front of it. Bear that in mind if you drive a small car or have adults in your house with long legs.

Second, because it’s a convertible car seat, it’s not the sort that you can just lift out with a handle and snap onto a stroller while baby sleeps soundly – you’re going to have to lift junior out entirely and re-buckle into a separate seat. If you’ve had a kid, you don’t need me to tell you this procedure is akin to attempting to diffuse a bomb. Some parents will find it worthwhile to just bank on spending the car seat money twice for the extra few months of peace and quiet.

Funny that should come up, though, because if that’s your plan then Graco has another new product you might want to consider.

You may have seen the advertisements for the 4Ever 4-in-1 – it’s the one with the little girl seat-dancing along through her childhood.

This one is especially intriguing to parents thanks to the prospect of making just one trip to the store. Through its various stages – which go from rear-facing to forward-facing and then a high-back and eventually backless booster – this seat can take your child from four to 120 lb and carries a 10-year expiry (as do other Graco products), by which time it should be safe to transition to using only a seatbelt. Each stage is easy to adjust into and takes only a minute. With careful planning, it might even be feasible to use this product for two different children on separate car trips – certainly much more so than with most other products.

The 4Ever 4-in-1 comes with some challenges as well. Being that it’s also a convertible seat, this one won’t lift out either. It can only be rear-facing for a child up to 40 lb (18 kg), which won’t get all children up to age two. It’s also a little heavier than average, and at 21.5 inches wide this isn’t a product that would fit three-wide in the rear seat of an average vehicle – or in the average airline seat, which might leave you sweet-talking your seatmates into giving up their armrests.

Still, at $449, parents who can live within these constraints may find this to be one of the more economical car seat propositions on the market, and the allure of only needing to put one thing on the baby registry is hard to ignore. This is likely to be a hot seller.