Thursday, June 19th, 2008
Review: True Fit Convertible Car Seat
Blogs are buzzing about the True Fit car seat by The First Years. We’ve been using it for the past two months. Here’s the skinny.
The Big Idea
The True Fit is the granddaddy of convertible child car seats. This class of seat can be used from infancy (rear-facing) to toddlerhood (forward-facing). In other words, you buy one seat instead of two until your child is probably ready for a booster seat (laws vary by state). The True Fit is rated for kids 5 to 65 lbs.
Unlike the car seat my daughter outgrew by her fourth birthday, an EvenFlo Triumph convertible seat, you’ll notice in the photo above that at age 4 she still fits the True Fit. Even with the seat misleadingly angled away from the camera, you can see there is room to spare.
Why does it matter? Because each seat has safety guidelines that dictate how tall a child can grow before the seat becomes unsafe. Common gauges are where the top of the child’s head or ears fall in relation to the top of a head rest and where the shoulders fall in comparison to the harness slot.
Our old EvenFlo topped out with a child height of 40 inches (101 cm). The True Fit comes with a head rest extension making it work for kids up to 50 inches (127 cm) tall. Genius.
There are other big ideas with this seat, but for me the critical issue is making good on the notion that a convertible car seat indeed grows with your child.
All of the mechanisms on the seat are user-friendly and, now on our second child, we could discern how each functioned without reading the manual (but always read the manual). To assist you, there are plenty of instructions and diagrams printed on both sides of the seat (one side English, the other Spanish). Installation takes no more or less time than the three other seats we’ve used for our family.
1. The seat should be positioned at a 45 degree angle when rear-facing. A “recline foot” plastic flipper underneath the seat assists with that goal. Flip it forward or backward for rear or forward-facing mode. Like other seats, if you still can’t achieve 45 degrees, the manual suggests using a towel or pool noodle to gain extra elevation.
(You may have seen some other seats with removable bases that have a built-in screw-based height adjuster. It’s much handier than using towels, but typically is found in an infant carrier seat, not a convertible.)
2. A red level indicator sticker on both sides of the seat helps you judge whether the seat is at 45 degrees. Is the red line parallel to the ground? This helped immensely, although a marble or liquid level indicator would be more precise.
3. There’s no need to use a difficult locking clip when you’re securing the seat with a lap belt. The True Fit has a built-in “auto/latch belt clamp” on both sides that you thread the belt through and lock down.
4. For forward-facing installation, again, there’s no need for a locking clip. Your car’s lap/shoulder belt hooks through a clamp in the center of the seat.
5. The seat fabric snaps off, which means if at any point you can’t see where you’re threading something, you can unsnap and get a clear view. This is 110 percent better than some other seats where I’ve had to navigate my arm through a cramped hole all the while guessing at what I’m doing.
1. As your child grows, you’ll need to move the harness straps higher. The True Fit allows you to do so without removing the seat from the car or rethreading the harness. Simply grab a knob on each side of the seat, retract and slide them up. This saves you a lot of future trouble.
2. The harness latch makes sense. Some seats have buckle prongs that you hook together like puzzle pieces before inserting them into the buckle lock. They are the most annoying thing in the world.
The True Fit has two prongs that individually get inserted into the buckle lock. Simple. Easy. I’ll never buy another seat that uses the other method.
3. Cup holder! Okay, it’s ordinary, but removable and attachable on either side of the seat. This is important if your spouse is left-handed like mine and secretly tries to train your child to become left-handed. The holder opening is wide in such a way that it also accommodates those large-handled sippy cups that all the hipsters are buying these days.
4. Crotch adjuster! The bottom portion of the harness (where the buckle release button is located) has two possible positions â€” forward and back. In other words, back for an infant and forward as your child’s girth increases.
5. Loosen the harness by lifting a lever at the front of the seat, and pulling the harness outward from the shoulders. Or, tighten the harness by pulling the excess harness strap. This is fairly standard for car seats.
6. Deep side wings. When your child outgrows the seat’s extra padding (infant insert headrest, etc.) the deep sides of the seat potentially provide more coverage in the event of a side-impact collision.
Snaps! Glorious Snaps!
When your toddler pukes in her seat, what do you do? With our last seat, I actually needed a screwdriver to remove the fabric for washing! It was a nightmare… wrestling with a puke-covered seat.
The True Fit fabric is attached with 10 snaps and 4 elastic loops. It easily removes for cleaning.
Officially, you “hand wash in cool water with mild detergent and hang to dry. DO NOT machine wash or dry in a dryer.”
Oh, but I’m naughty. You see, while I had the seat on my living room floor for photographing, a wet patch mysteriously appeared on the fabric. No one claimed credit, so I had to blame the cat. After 10 years, for the first time our female cat peed on a mysterious, threatening new object in her territory.
So I unsnapped the fabric and tossed it in our front loading washer (which is gentler than a top-loader) on a “hand wash” cycle and hung it to dry overnight. I saw no ill effects afterward, but your mileage may vary. The fabric snaps precisely on the seat, so whatever you do, definitely don’t put it in a dryer.
One Criticism, Maybe
I found the chest clip on the harness to be stiff, requiring both hands to unfasten. If you’re like me, and you unhook your toddler with one hand while turning and leaning around from the driver’s seat, you may be out of luck. Likewise, a toddler may not have the hand strength to release himself… which conversely is a good thing if your child likes unhooking himself while you’re driving.
Okay, one More Criticism
Let’s face it, car seats are a whirlwind of confusion for new parents. There’s a reason service agencies hold free car seat checks (here in California often coordinated by our local police agency). This seat, like all car seats, would benefit from an instructional DVD that walks you through the installation steps.
In forward facing mode, the True Fit requires a top tether, part of the LATCH system that exists in all new US vehicles since 2002. (The manual states, “Use top tether in all forward facing installations.”). If you have an older car, you’ll need to have a top tether installed. Not all car seats have this requirement, so I presume it pertains to the dynamics of the removable headrest.
The biggest issue, the one I cannot address in a review, is how well a seat fits in your car. If you have a compact car, find an independent baby store that lets you place a seat in your car for sizing, or choose a store that has an easy return policy.
- Rear-facing without headrest extension: 5 to 22lbs (2.3 to 10kg).
- Rear-facing with headrest extension: 5 to 35lbs (2.3 to 15.88kg) and head is 1 inch below top of seat.
- Forward facing: 23 to 65 lbs (10.42 to 29kg) and a height of 50
inches or less and at least 1-year-old. Car must have a top tether.
- Dimensions: (LxWxH / WT): 24.00 ” x 19.50 ” x 27.50 ” / 19.25 lbs.
By all appearances the True Fit is comfy, plush and cushiony. It snuggles our 3-month-old baby boy quite well. He just sits and gazes happily at the mobile above his head. It’s reassuring to know he’ll likely be using this same seat when he’s my daughter’s age.
Convertible car seats can feel big and heavy, but this one does not. My 4-year-old daughter prefers the True Fit. She has used a Graco seat with memory foam in one of our cars for two years, and yet she declared the True Fit more comfortable. “It’s soft,” she says. And I must agree, it is has multiple layers of lush padding. They don’t build driver’s seats like this because you’d fall asleep at the wheel.
[The True Fit was provided to Thingamababy for review.]