Graco has recalled of about 3.7 million child seats for issues related to the seats’ buckle mechanism. When food or dried liquids get into the buckle, it can become increasinly difficult to use and may even make the buckle stick in its close position, according to the official recall notice. The action affects many models of the car-seat maker’s convertible and toddler booster seats.
Our experience with the buckle design covered in this recall is that it can be more difficult and less intuitive to use than competing products. The buckle not only takes more force to open than some others, but it is quite sensitive to the angle at which it is held and the position of forces against it. Our observations are consistent with the more than 6,100 consumer complaints that Graco has received regarding the buckle. For that reason, Graco was already in the process of phasing out these designs moving to newer, easier buckles.
If you own one of the car seats, here are five key things we think you should know regarding this recall.
1. Crash protection is not the issue, removing the child is.
The seats that incorporate these buckles are not a risk for crash protection. A harness and buckle are tight and keep your child buckled in, which is exactly how you would want a seat to perform in a motor vehicle crash. The reason the recall was issued and where a stuck buckle becomes a greater concern is one of extrication. If the child cannot be quickly removed from a seat following a crash or in another emergency scenario such as a fire, then there may be a higher risk of injury to the child.
2. Infant seats should be included in the recall.
For the reason we mention above, we also encourage Graco to extend the recall and buckle replacements to its rear-facing infant seats. Although Graco notes that with infant seats, the quickest way to remove a child from a post-crash or unsafe environment is to simply detach the removable carrier from the base, our simulated crash tests often find that carriers will no longer detach from their bases after withstanding the forces of a crash. The detaching cannot be relied on as the only way to get a child out; the harness should also open. If you own an infant seat that you believe incorporates the buckle in question, we encourage you contact Graco’s customer service to take advantage of the buckle replacement program or 800-345-4109.
3. There are ways to make the buckle easier to use.
The buckles in question have a release button that activates more toward the top than the center, and they are very sensitive to position. It can be very difficult to unfasten because the buckle has force against it from behind, due to the child’s body pushing onto it when the harness is tight or even from your hand behind it when holding it to unbuckle. Those factors can cause the buckle tongues to be in a “stuck” position.
To try and make unbuckling easier:
- Loosen the harness a bit before you unbuckle to try and reduce some of the force on the back.
- It’s natural to put your hand behind the buckle as a brace as you’re trying to push to open it, but that may actually make it harder to open. Try releasing the buckle by holding it but not pushing from the back.
- Push the release button more toward the top rather than the center. Graco covers some of this in an online video. You may also try to clean the buckle per Graco’s instructions in the recall, if it still is very stiff to open.
4. Cut harness straps only as a last resort.
Coverage of the recall has indicated that some parents and caregivers have resorted to cutting the harness straps as a last resort to get their kids out. We don’t blame them if they’ve tried everything else. Our concern is that once you’ve cut those straps, you’ve rendered that seat unusable. If you’ve already tried the steps above to get the buckle open and still can’t, try loosening the harness completely, opening the chest clip, and seeing if you can get your child out. Perhaps it goes without saying but vehicle travel with your child without the use of a restraint because you’ve cut the harness is not an option and a much greater risk.
If you can get by with loosening the harness to get your child in and out for a brief period until your new buckle arrives, that’s better. The buckle replacement is fairly straightforward for most of these seats and rather than trash a functional seat, perhaps you can get by this way until your new buckle arrives
5. Other manufacturers and models may be affected.
Graco is not the only manufacturer that uses this style of buckle. We know that other manufacturers such as Evenflo use this buckle design on some of their seats as well. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is aware of that and is looking to other manufacturer’s designs as part of the investigation into the recall. If the issues related to this recall sound oddly familiar, but your seat is not a Graco model, contact the customer service for your own child seat. Evenflo customer service is 1-800-233-5921 or their ParentLink help center.
For more on car seats, see our buying advice and Ratings.
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