Vehicle Shopping Heads Up
Choosing a new vehicle can be a difficult task on a good day, but add in little people and child restraints and it's darn right overwhelming.
First things first, not all vehicles are created equal, but you already know that right? Most importantly, just because a manufacturer touts it's latest vehicle as a "family" vehicle, doesn't make it so (ahem...Dodge). There are a few factors that you need to consider before you even get to the car lot, remember that car salespeople are out for a sale and they don't always know the ins and outs of child restraints. I'm not saying salespeople are bad, but be an informed shopper, do your research and know what you're looking for before you find yourself in love with a shiny new ride.
So, here's a few basic tips to consider first:
1) How many top tethers do you need? How many forward facing, harnessed seats do you currently have, or will you have in the life of the vehicle? Remember that ALL forward facing harnessed seats MUST be top tethered in Canada. The Car Seat Lady did a great post on this and it includes a wonderful breakdown of most vehicles on the market now. Rather than reinvent any wheels, I'll send you to her :) ---> The Car Seat Lady Latch Breakdown Just because a vehicle says that it seats 7, that doesn't mean it really does. The lower UAS (Universal Anchorage System) is important too, but there is usually the choice of a seatbelt installation if there aren't lower anchors in every position, this only applies to rear facing seats (and some booster seats).
2) What do the seatbelt in the back seats (2nd and 3rd row) look like? Do they overlap? Overlapping belts are a big problem when you get into 3 across installations, or if you have child restraints installed in the outboard positions and want an adult to ride in the middle. Here's a picture that shows overlapping belts, see how the middle belt comes from the wrong side of the outboard positions buckle? That means that if a child restraint is installed in the outboard, you can't use the middle belt...at all. Some manufacturers are a little more well known for doing this than others.
3) Vehicle seat construction is important too and not one that gets a lot of thought before the paperwork is signed. Child restraint manufacturers generally have a rule for the amount of overhang that is allowed. You don't want to end up with a pickup truck that has a "short" backseat because you may have a harder time finding a car seat that doesn't have too much overhang. Here's a picture to show you what I mean; however, the overhang in this case is likely ok, but you wouldn't want anymore.
Side bolsters, folding seat hinges, headrests and belt stalks are also all things to consider as they can make installation a little more tricky, or even incompatible in some situations.
-Bolsters - Some back seats have larger cushions along the outer part of the seat back (see picture) and can make 3 across, or even just outboard installations tricky. Certain child restraints don't play well with large bolsters because of how the harness tightens when rear facing especially, or because of how wide the child restraint back is.
-Seat Hinges - Some vehicle seats that fold down have large and in charge hinges, usually of the plastic variety. This can interfere with child restraint installation too! Here's a pic from the 3rd row of a very popular "family" vehicle, I circled all the hinges to make it easy for you to see what I'm talking about.
-Head Rests - Angle, height and the manufacturers rules on removing (or not) all come into play when you are installing a child restraint, especially when forward facing. If you have a child restraint that has a very high shell, make sure that the head rest won't push on it too much or it will cause the child restraint to go forward and can make your installation difficult. Sometimes head rests and child restraints puzzle perfectly and sometimes it takes a little more work. Some vehicles allow you to remove the head rest, but some child restraint manufacturers require a head rest to be installed to support their seat. Just something to keep in mind :)
So, now that you are feeling totally empowered and armed with knowledge, have fun shopping! If you are feeling more confused or find this stressful (even if you don't!), contact Safe Travels for a consultation and more depth information, hopefully I can make it as painless as possible!