Bursting the Britax Bubble

Many people who deal with parents and car seats hear a lot about Britax.  It is recommended as the ‘safest’ seat out there by word of mouth among parents at the playground and in the daycare parking lot.

Picture courtesy adventureplayground.org.uk

So what’s the big deal?

It goes like this.  Once upon a time, most infant seats kept your baby rear facing until 20lbs.

And they were all white and pastel too!

When they outgrew that, they went forward facing.  No matter how old they were.  Then they sat in a forward facing seat until they were 40lbs.

You could use these seats rear facing as well, but most didn't. They also had the 20lbs weight limit for a long time.

Again, no matter how old they were.  Then they sat in a booster for a couple of years and often were sitting in just the seatbelt by 6 or 7.

Except, then there was Britax.  Britax had convertibles that rear faced longer!  The shells were taller!  You could use the harness longer!  And the slots were taller!   It would last your child to a safe age both rear facing and forward facing.  Why wouldn’t you buy one if you could without bankrupting your family?

Here I come to save the day!

So child passenger safety experts got in the habit of recommending these seats.  As an added bonus, they came in fun patterns.  And they were super duper easy to install, with little neat things like built in seat belt lock offs and unique UAS clips.

You tighten each side individually, and they slide on a bar. It's very unique.

However in the mid 2000’s, other companies started to catch up to the lead Britax had.  At the time Britax rear faced to 30lbs.  Many other companies met that goal, and a few exceeded it before Britax made it to 35lbs (The Cosco Scenera, the Sunshine Kids Radian, The First Year’s TrueFit).  Britax harnessed to 65lbs, and then many other seats followed.

The First Years True Fit was the first seat to break the 30lbs barrier in 2009. (There had been seats in the early 2000s that went to 35lbs, but there had been nothing in several years)

They were still very easy to install, they still came in cute patterns, but they weren’t really the only long lasting seats on the market anymore.  Over the next few years, starting with Sunshine Kids, most of the other companies began to blow Britax out of the water.  40-45lbs rear facing.  18” top slots.  And best of all, prices that were $50-$100-$150 less than what Britax was charging.

In 2010, Britax again tried to catch up with the pack.  Their newly designed convertibles went to 40lbs rear facing, and 65lbs forward facing (CDN version).  They are still very easy to install.  They are still very comfortable for the child and they still come in fun patterns.

Redesigned, and new patterns!

Other seats still exceed them in some areas, for example, Britax seats don’t have as much leg room as some others for a rear facing toddler and the slots aren’t as high as some others for a forward facing pre-schooler.

So while the word still goes around the playground, most up-to-date techs no longer recommend Britax over all other seats.  This doesn’t mean that the seats are unsafe or ‘less’ than they used to be.  It just means that with the advent of seats like the Graco MyRide, the Safety 1st Complete Air, and the Diono Radian, Britax has enough competition to no longer be impressive just because they are Britax.

Britax’s current line are very nice safe seats.  They cost an average of $300.  They have plush fabrics and are for the most part easy to use and have desirable features.  However, they still will not prevent injury in a crash unless they are used correctly.

The other reason that some techs no longer recommend Britax is due to a phenomenon called ‘The Britax Bubble’.  It goes like this.

“Oh, I know the harness should be tighter, but oh well.  He’s in a Britax.”

“Yeah, I thought we should keep her rear facing, but it was such a pain, so we bought a Britax”

“Yes, I know that it was previously in a crash and is now expired, but I can’t afford a new one, and I KNOW he’s safer in a Britax”

My Britax will keep me safe, even if the straps won't keep me in the seat!

See what I mean?

Comments like these and many many more show that some parents haven’t really thought through what their seat is capable of.  No matter how much you paid for it, no car seat will jump up and save your child if you use it incorrectly.  Britax seats often make it easy to use them correctly, and techs encourage parents everywhere to take advantage of those features.

In the end, if a Britax seat is in your budget and has the features that you’ve been looking for they are nice seats.

If a Britax does not easily fit your budget, or isn’t exactly what you need?  Don’t feel guilty for looking elsewhere.  All seats in Canada test to the exact same standard.  It’s a pass or fail test, and if it’s on the shelves, it has passed.  All those safety claims are just that, claims.  We don’t actually know if side airbags, or extra foam or wings will help in a crash – those kind of features aren’t looked at when a seat passes the CMVSS 213.

Wings and airbags!

What we are advocating here is this:  Have a car seat, follow the instructions, install and use it correctly every time.  Know your child is safe on every ride no matter how much you paid for your seat.

About Atlantic Car Seat Safety

We are two Children's Restraint Systems Technicians who live in the Halifax area and volunteer through the IWK's Child Safety Link. We aim to answer questions and provide support as well as posting recalls, updates, reviews and how-tos.
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11 Responses to Bursting the Britax Bubble

  1. Diana says:

    Such an odd article. We now have a Britax but have used several other seats along the way (at grandmas, rental cars etc.) and I can honestly say some of the ‘extra features’ aren’t just necessarily about style or comfort. Those ‘fancy UAS’ buckles you talk about make it SO much easier (faster) to properly secure the seat. Same thing for the feature that keeps the darn straps from twisting. I can admit that there were times when my son was still in his infant Graco carrier when I was in a hurry or it was snowing or something and the straps were twisted (and they so often were) when I’d just leave them with the twist in them and buckle him in and fix them later. Ditto for the harness height adjustor. With our Britax you just turn a knob to raise the straps incrementally as your child grows, you don’t have to take the whole seat apart to move them up to the next slot. Yes, I suppose they are all just a convenience thing – but anything that makes it more convenient for an overtired, harried mom to have the seat installed properly and harnessed correctly is going to increase the chance that those things are done – net result – child is safer. As for the comment about the side impact features – what you say is true – the gov. doesn’t test for side impact safety (how odd?) so why would you knock a company that has done their own testing and added features to at least try and minimize side impact injuries that the cheaper seats don’t add b/c they don’t need them to pass the national test? I totally agree with the sentiment that your child in no safer just b/c you spent money on a Britax if you’re not using it correctly – but I don’t understand why you would downplay the excellent features the seat does have??

    • As we stated in the article, owning a Britax does not make your child safer. However, as you have stated many of those features make it easier to keep your child safe. This doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to keep the straps from twisting on other seats, simply that you have to put the effort in. (Incidentally, the HUGS you mention, are not actually for keeping the straps from twisting, they add strength to the harness while forward facing. The seat doesn’t pass testing forward facing without them.) Not all Britax seats have the infinite harness adjuster. Many other seats have both the alligator style UAS clips and an infinite harness adjuster, and many similar features to Britax – at half the price tag. They are just convenience features. In the hands of someone who cares to take the effort, all seats are equally safe. In the hands of someone who doesn’t, all seats will be equally unsafe.

      When we talk about side impact testing, we genuinely mean that we don’t know if Britax has tested the features they advertise or not. They don’t release that data. We don’t know if they actually help. It is possible that things like side wings and airbags actually cause more damage to children in a crash then not having them does. The gov’t doesn’t test side impacts because they are incredibly rare. We do know that rear facing protects children in a side impact crash better than anything else.

      We weren’t trying to say that it’s not worth it to own a Britax. We are trying to make sure that people realize that spending that money doesn’t automatically make your child safer. You still have to know how the seat is used, and use it correctly everytime. The Safety 1st Scenera has been on the market in one form or another since 1995. It is everywhere – millions of children ride in this seat. It is one of the ONLY seats that didn’t need to make any changes to pass the new 2012 regulations. And it costs $60 on sale. Safety comes in lots of flavours.


  2. AWESOME article! I’m telling you, being a Mom is a tough competition. When we’re pregnant it’s all about who has the best maternity clothes. As the time gets closer to birth we start comparing cribs, strollers, car seats, diaper bags…..it’s insanity! It’s all about the people who had the “best”….and they went overboard. Just because something has a higher price tag doesn’t mean it’s far superior. I also see people pad their car seats with a ton of after market products that are just outright dangerous. You mention it to them that they aren’t safe for use and they tell you they wouldn’t be in stores if they weren’t (crib bumpers and quilts anyone??). We use an Evenflo Triumph for our 2 year old and just recently flipped him forward. He still had a ton of leg room and he’s a tall kid. But his weight reached the max. Our 6 year old is in a Safety 1st Apex. He just recently last year was unharnessed. He’s now in it as a HBB. The seats together cost less than a Britax and they are awesome seats!

  3. Jenn Hallett says:

    We use the Sunshine Kids Radian 80. We are now buying 2 more, though they will be the Diono.. Our almost 7 year old fits very comfortably in his 5 point harness still. We were once told that if you compare the Britax Marathon to the Radian 80, the pedestal on th Britax causes it to have a higher center of gravity. Yeah, my son would have liked to look out the window, but his safety came first. Also, by not having a pedestal, I think it doesn’t look as much like a little kids seat.

    • There are lots of different reasons to choose different car seats. The Radians are very tall seats with high weight limits. They can however be a little more difficult to install, especially in some vehicles. I’ve very glad that you are happy with your seats.

      Thanks for commenting!

    • Rea says:

      Is the Sunshine Kids Radian 80 an American car seat? To the best of my knowledge, that seat has never been available in Canada. I would check for the Canadian safety sticker on the side to see if it’s legal in Canada. Unless, of course, you’re located in the states, in which case no worries! But American car seats are illegal to use in Canada.

      • Rea, you are correct. The Sunshine Kids Radian 80 is an American Carseat (the Canadian version of the same seat is called the Radian Premiere). I assume that Jenn is in the US, but if she is in Canada, her seat would be illegal. All Canadian car seats MUST have the Canada Safety Seal sticker on the shell.

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