ERF Car seats, more dishonesty and a warning for you all

I wanted to talk some more about car seats, following on from my last post. I’d like to think I  have done quite a fair bit of car seat research, but mostly I wanted to warn people about being mis-sold incorrectly fitted car seats.

Having done all the research I could take, I made an appointment with a store local to me, who “specialise in car seat fitting, especially extended rear facing, stocking the latest models. Our staff are fully trained by Britax, Be Safe and Maxi Cosi. We offer impartial expert advice and would recommend an appointment for our rear facing seats.'”. Their details are featured on rearfacing.co.uk.

Great, I thought, they would be the perfect people to help me, I was especially after someone who was impartial and who had lots of choice. I had thought (and seen on the websites that the ERF seats I really REALLY wanted, wouldn’t fit (Brittax Dual Fit and Cybex Sirona), so wanted to look at  other options.

When I got there, I explained how through my extensive research on the subject that I was keen to have an ISOFIX ERF, but because of the underfloor storage issues, didn’t think it possible. The lady in the shop, told me that we should just try the DualFix (even though I had read it was not compatible) because she had fitted one in a similarly aged Ford C-Max before, and so we took it out and she fitted it and it looked to someone not in the know, that it actually fit, my heart leapt a little. It was perfect, met my needs – I would have been happy….had I been anybody else, but me.

She told me then and there that it would work and that she had been told by Britax, “we could buy some foam from a craft shop to fill in the underfloor storage and prop the leg up”.  She also had some documentation that showed that the Britax DualFix, would fit my C-Max. Which I knew went agains the current information on the website, having just checked it that day myself!

I bid her a hasty goodbye and promised to return the following Monday (yeah, right). I headed straight for Mothercare, to ask them if they had heard this theory on buying craft foam to fill the underfloor storage. They dismissed it as rubbish and gave me Britax’s telephone number to ask them directly on the Monday. I have to say of the two staff members I have come across in Mothercare and accosted, they have really surprised me; their knowledge has been informed, impartial AND in my opinion –  up to date. I’ve been very impressed.

And so, I called Britax bright and early on Monday. I reached a VERY helpful chap. Who told categorically told me that they had not given this information to anybody and my car make and model would absolutely NOT work with a DualFix. The cars have not been tested with the leg proped up on a yellow pages/craft foam etc. Yes, I’ve read stories about people using Yellow Pages, before! Come ON – It’s just common sense people!

And so, feeling even more frustrated by all the conflicting information there is on the internet and by supposedly TRAINED re-sellers, I made an appointment with the In Car Safety Centre (who claim to be the Country’s leading experts) and drove 2 hours to Milton Keynes. Nana Joan decided to road trip with me and we honestly could not have picked a more miserable rainy day.

Anyway, I digress! They’re based on an industrial unit in Milton Keynes which the sat nav could find (yay!) and sell ONLY car seats. They definitely look to the general observer that they know what they are doing and I kind of like that they focus only on car seats, there’s no other baby paraphernalia to distract you! Once Bug had been propped up with a tub full of toys, it was on to choosing.

The In Car Safety Centre also told me that it’s always best to try seats in the actual cars and they as trained professionals were able to judge what was safe. They also told me with the underfloor storage that you can take the mat up and have the foot prop sit on the bottom of the car (again, I had read that this was not the case elsewhere).

I just felt at this point like I had to believe them, otherwise who else could I turn to – when EVERYBODY is giving you different advise? I could just google forever and come to no real answer.

They tried the DualFix first and although it looked like it fit, the extra leg just wasn’t snug enough on the bottom and they were not happy with it, so we tried the Cybex Sirona, with the leg extension and it fit (according to them) and they agreed it would work definitely in the car. We also tried the Maxi Cosi 2 way Pearl and although it had a slightly bigger body, I had secretly been dreaming about the Cybex since the baby Show – and well, it was available in Purple and meant the wife didn’t have to sit in the Front seat when I drove with her knees to her chest. So I kissed £416 goodbye (ouch) and drove home with the Bug in her new seat, feeling happy that we had found the seat of our dreams.

The Cybex Website currently states that it only fits the 2012+ version of our car and says:

“WARNING! In case your car features a storage compartment in the leg room, the support leg can possibly be placed behind the storage compartment. If this not be possible, you should fill the compartment with filling material approved by the car company which is available as accessories kit for certain vehicle models (please check the user manual). Should the car company not offer this special solution, we regret not being able to confirm the usage of the child safety seat at this particular car seat position. We ask for your understanding that we generally cannot make any statement as to alternative filling materials (e.g. polystyrene, books, etc.). We apologise for any inconvenience.”

Again, the complete opposite of what the In Car Safety Centre have told us!

Genuinely, who are we to trust?! How can I keep my baby safe? Have I been mis-sold a car seat? If The In car Safety Centre, Babycrepettswood.co.uk, rearfacing.co.uk, mothercare.com or anybody else would like to comment – I and all the rest of the Mums, Dads, Carers etc would be very, very grateful.

Cybex

This blog post was shared with the In Car Safety Centre, via their Facebook page on 1st February 2014.

On 3rd Feb, they responded by saying:

“I was very interested to read your recent blog, placed on our facebook page. I confess I am a little disappointed that you did not feel that you could talk to us about your concerns, prior to publication.
To clarify our position, in response to the issues you raised, particularly in relation to what we at the In Car Safety Centre (ICSC) have told you concerning the under floor storage boxes, which appears to be contrary to what you have read elsewhere.
We will NOT sell a seat with an anti-rotational Prop (leg) that sits on the unsupported lid of a storage box.
We will sell a seat that has a leg that sits on a storage box, filled with an ‘Approved’ filler, normally supplied by the car manufacturer.
We will sell a seat with a leg that would otherwise sit on a storage box, when the standard leg or the proprietary supplied leg rest extension reaches the floor of the storage box and when it is part of the overall floor pan.
We will sell a seat that has a leg that misses the lid of the storage box that gives full and proper positioning elsewhere on the floor area.
We at ICSC realise that cars sold in the UK often have a symmetrically opposite floor plan to those sold elsewhere in Europe. This sometimes makes it more difficult to fit a seat in the UK version.
Many seats manufactured in Europe and Semi Universally Approved for European vehicles may not in the opinion of ICSC be ‘Approved’ for what appears to be the same UK model, despite being listed.
Car Seat manufacturers ‘Approval’ lists state whether a seat is approved or not. It does not state, as in the case of under floor storage boxes that non approval would be reversed if a ‘filler’ was used.
ICSC takes its role as a leading provider of children’s car seats extremely seriously. It has not intentionally tried to mislead in any way and totally refutes the accusation made of ‘dishonesty’. Despite this accusation, we continue to strive to be a ‘centre of excellence’ in children’s car safety.
I think you will find that our reputation for outstanding customer service and satisfaction is deserved, please read through the kind words left on our facebook page by just a few of our thousands of our satisfied customers. We work very closely with the manufacturers to give the right advice for each seat and in many instances our expertise supersedes that of the car manufacturers, who often do not provide retrospective or additional approvals when models change.
We stand by our guarantee that the products we offer you will be ‘Approved’ for your vehicle and suitable for your child. I hope these points clearly demonstrate ICSC’s approach to this issue, and go someway to alleviating your concerns. If this is not the case, we will be very happy to accept your seat back and give a full refund.
http://incarsafetycentre.co.uk/about-us/company-policy/
Simon Bellamy, Managing Director”

I felt like this did not address my concerns, and so wrote back on the 3rd to say:  “Hi Simon – Thank you for coming back to me. Just to clarify – my C Max is a 2010 version and does not have a filler, I have the Cybex Sirona with the leg extension. My confusion comes from the fact that you have said “we will sell a seat with a leg that would otherwise sit on a storage box, when the standard leg or the proprietary supplied leg rest extension reaches the floor of the storage box and when it is part of the overall floor pan.” – whereas Ford say NO; “If the model is before the facelift models pre 2010 you unfortunately cannot use the support leg child seats. A foot prop must be in contact with the vehicle chassis. This is not possible if it is placed into the storage box. It would be a risk to life if a non-Ford approved filler or seat is utilised.” Cybex themselves also also say No; “WARNING! In case your car features a storage compartment in the leg room, the support leg can possibly be placed behind the storage compartment. If this not be possible, you should fill the compartment with filling material approved by the car company which is available as accessories kit for certain vehicle models (please check the user manual). Should the car company not offer this special solution, we regret not being able to confirm the usage of the child safety seat at this particular car seat position. We ask for your understanding that we generally cannot make any statement as to alternative filling materials (e.g. polystyrene, books, etc.). We apologise for any inconvenience.” So both the car manufacturer and the car seat manufacturer are saying No, and you are saying Yes. I am sure you can appreciate where my confusion comes from. I want to understand WHY you are saying we can use it when others do not? Do you independently test the car seats yourself, the same way the manufacturers do?”

On the 5th February the In Car Safety Centre, replied by saying:  “We take your questions, comments and feedback very seriously and will consult our manufacturers again on this matter to get some additional advice. We strive to always give the right advice 100% of the time based on the information available. Regrettably there is a lot of ‘grey area’ in this information and although we use and provide guidance there will from time to time be changes and advances which need to be reassessed. This may be one of these very rare occasions. In the mean time we continue to offer an exchange or refund to ensure you are totally happy with our service and your seat. Please get in touch with us so that we can resolve this issue to our mutual satisfaction.”

Updated 6th February:

I was lucky enough to be put in touch with Robert Bell who is considered an expert in this field. Robert Bell was CEO at Britax Nordiska throughout the 90s. Today he own Sakta (Sakerhetsbutikken) where he sells car seats and other safety equipment. He trains staff in car seat safety, is a member of the SIS-commitee, and is involved in the development of car seats, so works closely together with the manufacturers.

Robert was kind enough to answer my questions and put my mind at rest. He has very graciously allowed me to share our conversation on my blog:

“I can try to give you a bit more  information, that may make you a bit more comfortable with your choice of CRS. That Cybex seat is not my favorite, but that’s because I think it 1) has little leg room for the child and therefore 2) leads to forward facing kids earlier than with other choices. Here in Sweden we like kids to stay RF as long as possible. I’m sure you’ve read more about this on Carseat.se.

My background is that for the past decade I have run a specialist store in Stockholm that has sold and installed CRS for almost 40 years. Prior to that I ran a few CRS companies, including Britax here in the Nordic markets and Britax in the US. Prior to that I ran the same store for the first decade. Not an engineer by training, I have nonetheless managed or contributed to the design of many CRS, both here and in the US. I’ve been on the committee that developed ISOFIX from the outset. So I know a bit about manufacturing CRS, the requirements and standards, and the practice of CRS installation.  I think I am one of the few private individuals who have owned their own crash rig, so I know a bit about testing as well.

Here are your questions:

1. Have any car seats been safety tested with the foot extended to the floor and/or on top of any filling?

2. Who is responsible for putting car seats through safety tests? Are there different bodies in different countries?

3. If it is the car manufacturer or even car seat manufacturer, why have they not tested it with the foot extended/on top of some kind of makeshift filling or manufacturer recommended filling, surely they want a part of that market?

4. Are there written studies/videos anywhere that I can view safety studies on this?

To answer all this I have to start with question 2, which is about how CRS are tested and approved. In Europe we have a very strict approach to the approval of CRS, which involves something called “Type approval.” A manufacturer, let’s say Britax, first designs the seat and produces test samples, and at the same time, a set of drawings and specifications that describe the product in great detail. Britax has a set of crash rigs, very good ones in fact, so the actual performance of the product is known prior to the formal testing. Britax however is not allowed to test the product itself and proclaim it to fulfill the standard (and I’ll come back to this).

Britax then takes the product and goes to a certified test house (there is an ISO standard for how to run a test house) which may be publically owned or privately owned. Let’s say they choose the very well known TNO in Delft, the Netherlands. TNO runs the product through a very extensive battery of tests. These tests are defined in a standards document, in our case the older ECE 44 revision 4, or perhaps the newer ECE 129 (called iSize). These documents are in fact very similar. The tests are designed to answer many questions: how durable is the webbing? Does the head protection absorb energy at the right level? Is the buckle hard enough to open? Does the adjuster device work after a number of years of simulated use? What happens if the seat is exposed to fire? Does the cover contain banned chemicals? Does the harness work for the size of children for which the CRS is intended. And of course the central question, does the seat work well to protect the head and chest of the child in a simulated accident, when installed in a manner that reflects a fairly lax installation on an average European vehicle seat.

Once this testing is complete, TNO then examines the tested samples very carefully to ensure that they are exactly in correspondence with the submitted drawings and documents.  The experts also review the crash testing and other testing and decide if the product is fully in compliance with the 150 or so pages of demands in the standard. If so, TNO issues a document which states that the product is in fact in compliance with the standard ECE 44 for use in certain parts of a motor vehicle for certain sizes of children.

That, however, is not the end of the process. In the case of TNO the documents are passed on to a Dutch governmental body called RDW (Rijksdienst voor het Wegverkeer). There the next group of engineers examines the test results and the submission documents and decides if TNO is correct. If so, they issue a formal type approval of the product. If not, the testing has to be redone, or documents added or revised, or whatever the RDW requires. It is also possible for the RDW to reject the approval altogether, though that does not happen often. This can be done in many countries, and in Europe, and approval to the ECE 44 issued by a European government is accepted as an approval by all other countries in the Union.

So that is the answer to how CRS are approved. There is always a government body that issues a formal approval. That document allows the manufacturer to claim that a certain product is approved, for example, in all vehicle seating positions for children in the mass range 0-18 kilos.

In the US, the process is utterly different. In their set of rules, the manufacturer tests on his own and certifies that the product is in compliance with the US standard (called FMVS213). The government may and does often test on its own, and will issue a judgment if the product is in compliance. Often they are not, and this results in one of the innumerable recalls that all US sites on child seats list. The standards are also quite different in some regards, so it is not possible to make a seat that fulfills both at the same time.

Now to answer your questions about floor support, I have to digress a bit into CRS history. The floor support or floor prop is, as far as I know, a Volvo invention. Volvo made its own CRS for many years, some of them quite advanced. Volvo decided that a RF CRS with a floor support would work better in rear seats. These seats were approved in a special way in Europe: the ECE 44 allows for a so called “vehicle specific” approval, which means that the CRS is approved in a vehicle and only in that vehicle. When Volvo tested their seats, they used a full car seat body on their crash rig (and the Swedish equivalent of TNO actually sent its engineers to Volvo to run the tests on Volvos own rig).

Floor supports appealed to other CRS manufacturers, because they seemed a good way to reduce CRS motion in a crash test. This is always a good thing: the less they move, the lower the load passed on to the child.

But here is where the problem arises that you are facing with your seat. The ECE rig is not a car body. It is testing device that has been used since the 70’s, long before Volvo and others began using floor props. So the floor on the rig is not defined in the standard, and the use of floor props is not covered by the wording of the standard. There are committees within the ECE process that discuss these kinds of things, so there is a correct practice for the way in which floor props are installed, but the device itself is not part of the testing.

And here is where the use of floor props becomes difficult for good companies that try to make good child seats. As a design engineer, I don’t actually know what the floor of the vehicle is like. The compartments that you have on that Ford are only one example of many problems that surround the vehicle floor. To start with, there is no reason (apart from floor props) for a motor car to have a strong floor. Most modern vehicles have a floor made in high strength steel with a thickness of 0.6-0.7 mm. That is a remarkably thin piece of metal, and it is not designed to take sudden impacts from the interior of the car (why would it, aside from this use of floor props?). Now, if the floor bulges under stress, that would in itself absorb some energy and be good for the child. Volvo has actually followed up on their designs, and in some case the floor prop punctured the floor (again, not necessarily a bad thing). Furthermore, many floor areas are perforated, with drain holes for chassis rust treatment, break lines, and other things that need holes in the metal.

So from an engineering point of view, the floor prop is a headache. We think they probably help, they certainly help on the test rig, but if we are careful, we make sure that our designs will do well even if the floor is like a Swiss cheese.

If you follow me this far, you can then understand that the manufacturers are not altogether excited about telling parents that that their well designed floor prop may well be doing very little to help the child survive a crash. Nor are they keen to say a lot about the obvious problems of floor pockets and the invisible problem of floor perforations.

But the very good news is that the more conservative CRS manufacturers make sure that their designs work well even if there is no floor at all. That is the correct engineering conclusion of all this: let’s make sure that our seats are very strong structures that can handle all the crash forces even without the floor support at all.

Britax has done this with some (or perhaps all) of the extended RF child seats. Maxi-Cosi has done the same with the Mobi. This I know from being present at the testing of these products. And I expect that many others do exactly the same thing. I must state that I do not know if Cybex works in this way.

Furthermore, the US standard has a certain bearing on this question. The US standard is in some ways more conservative. It may be changing on this score, but if I am correctly informed it is not possible to certify a seat that depends on a floor support for achieving correct performance on the standard crash test demands. As a result, US child seats do not use floor supports. The US Britax seats, for example, the Roundabout, use exactly the same shell as the Hi-Way II in Europe. But the Roundabout is approved without floor support. It may be that Cybex also does a Serona for the US, and in that case, you can also draw the conclusion that the item will perform to US levels without a floor support.

So, to answer your first question and third questions. My guess is that Britax has done exactly the testing that you’d wish they had done, because Britax has a very large crash rig in Andover which can (and does) support the testing of full car  bodies. They will no doubt not share this work, but I would be surprised if there is not considerable knowledge of what happens when a seat is mounted like yours. So the answer to question 4 is that there is probably no public information on this score.

What do we say to parents here? Remember that Volvo invented the floor prop to improve rear seat performance. If a CRS rests on the dash in a front seat installation, a floor prop is not needed, because the dashboard is so very strong. When we encounter floor pockets, we do suggest that users 1. fill them or extend the prop to the actual floor and 2. place  the CRS against the seat back of the front seat. The latter will give considerable support in most vehicles.

If you had turned to me as a Swedish parent, I would say to use your seat exactly as In Car Safety recommended. No matter which seat you had chosen the issue would be exactly the same, and I would go so far as to say that the performance of these various ISOFIX seats would be quite similar in a crash. And that performance would be very good.

Here is why I say that. Remember that an ISOFIX seat is very stiffly attached to the vehicle at the rear end. In a crash, the forward motion of the seat will be inhibited, and the seat will then rotate down into the vehicle seat cushion, and at the same time, load the floor prop. On the ECE crash rig, this rotation is very limited, because the rig has a “floor” that is solid steel of a thickness of 5 or 6 inches. But when you test the same seat without a floor prop, that rotation will be absorbed quite well by the vehicle seat, and the forward motion of the seat is quite limited even without the prop. This is a good outcome, and I believe it will be the same regardless of which seat you use. In your case and in an actual crash, I expect the floor prop placed on the actual floor metal of your Ford will retard motion quite well. In a very violent happening, it may well deform the floor pan, and that does not hurt the child.

There is a working group in the ISO process that is charged with devising a way of making a defined part car floors strong, so as to improve the function of floor props. That way we can begin to assume that the vehicle floor will work consistently. When we are agreed on that, your concerns will be answered. But for the moment I think you and other mothers can feel confident that your child restraints will protect your child in a crash regardless of the  inconsistencies that surround the floor prop feature.

The best thing about rearward facing is that the laws of physics are on our side. The seat keeps the child from hitting the vehicle interior (which often happens in FF seats) and the energy of the crash is absorbed over the entire back and head as it rests against the EPS liner of a stiff CRS shell. There is none of the violent motion and neck loads associated with forward facing seats. So the way the floor prop functions is really a detail, not unimportant, but at the same time only one component of many that ensure that the child moves very little in the crash. I usually end up saying to parents that it does not matter which child seat you choose. The only thing that matters is that it is a rearward facing car seat. You can read more about the statistics at Carseat.se but that is the really important thing to convey to your readers.Let me know if you want me to explain something of the above in more detail, or if something seems unclear.”

I’d like to take a moment to reiterate that I have never been trying to rubbish ICSC.  My only objective has been to clear up the grey around the underfloor storage issues. I hope that you will find this information useful and it will help you to make an informed decision on a rear facing seat for your children.

 

 

18 thoughts on “ERF Car seats, more dishonesty and a warning for you all

  1. This is a very important subject!
    I am glad you have looked into it and maybe we will here from ICSC again. I do hope so!

    As for what they say, I too have been taught that it is OK for the leg to be extended into the bottom and rest there. I have also been taught that using a filler (bought from manufacturer) is also OK.

    So this really does interest me!
    I hope to here more about this! :D

  2. I have bought all my seats for my 3 children from icsc and found them to go above and beyond anywhere else I have been to purchase such safety products for my children. After reading your “blog” it seems to me you wanted the cybex sirona at no cost whether it fitted correctly or not and have now taken to rubbish them and other stores on your “blog” after spending a lot of money on the seat seems a little foolish!!

    • Hi Melody,

      Your comments couldn’t be further from the truth. I am willing to spend whatever it takes, to buy the BEST available seat for my child(ren), BUT I want to make sure it is doing what it is supposed to! After I got back from spending £416 and checked online, I discovered that the car seat I had bought and said it wasn’t compatible!

      I am not setting out to rubbish ICSC either (they were actually very nice to be in the store!), but what I absolutely am setting out to do, is find out what the truth is with regards to the foot prop and underfloor storage – as it appears to be – and I quote ICSC in this – a “a grey area”.

      Best,
      Elle

  3. Reblogged this on A Rear Facing Family and commented:
    The latest email from Robert Bell regarding weather or not it is safe to use a filler to fill an ‘underfloor compartment’ or to extend the foot-prop all the way down to the bottom of the compartment has been added! :D

    The short version: This is completely safe!!! :)

  4. I’m facing the same problem with my Renault Grand Scenic 2014 model – 2 month old car!
    Any good ideas how to solve the underfloor storage problem?

  5. Thank you so much for your extensive research. I have been trying to decide which car to buy to fit 3 seats across (2 rear facing isofix + 1 high back booster) with no 3 on the way and encountered this problem. Was given conflicting advice by car dealers and a number of car seat retailers here in Ireland and was at my wit’s end! Amazingly, my husband came across your query (translated into Swedish!) and Robert Bell’s very helpful reply earlier today before I independently discovered your blog this evening. It’s very comforting to know that the support leg is only “a detail” in the overall safety of the ERF seats when tested.

    What I would love to know is, are the car manfacturers going to rethink the location of these (pretty useless) underfloor compartments to get rid of all these questions?? Maybe they have already but unfortunately my budget doesn’t stretch to a brand new car. I was thinking of getting a Ford S-Max/Galaxy (more than likely a 2009/2010 model). I would be much obliged if anyone had any recommendations for ERF isofix car seats that fit these cars or other reliable 7-seater cars that fit 3 seats across the middle and the ERF isofix seats they use in them.

    Many thanks,
    Ciara

    • Hi Ciara,

      Firstly my apologies for the delay in replying to your comment, I get a lot of spam sadly and genuine and interesting comments like yours get lost in it!

      I am very hopeful of either car manufacturers re-thinking the underfloor storage situation, OR car seat manufacturers testing the seat with the support left in the underfloor storage space, to put parents minds at rest!

      For specific car seat information, I would definitely recommend checking out: https://www.facebook.com/RearFacingTheWayForward. I have heard that the Ford S Max have three independent seats and would be interested to know whether they can comfortably fit 3 seats in the back?

      Do please let me know what you think!

      Best regards
      Elle

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