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  • Review and Comparison: Britax Frontier 85 vs. Graco Nautilus

    Longtime readers might recall my last car seat odyssey, which occurred after we were rear-ended. After giving up on the Sunshine Radian, I waffled between the Britax Regent and the Graco Nautilus. I eventually ended up getting two Nautilus seats to replace a Britax Marathon and a Britax Roundabout.

    When it comes to ease of installation, nothing comes close to the Marathon, which always became immovable after a simple tug on the LATCH belt. With the Nautilus, I have to work harder to install the seat, but it goes in securely, has a “big boy” feel like a booster, and has handy toy compartments and a cup holder. (You can read my review of the Nautilus here.)

    Still, when it came time to replace our second Roundabout last fall, I couldn’t help but think I’d like a Britax model more. The Regent had been retired and replaced by the Frontier 85, which is a high-back booster with a five-point harness, accommodates children up to 85 pounds, and is apparently a little narrower than the Regent (which my friend K. complained was too wide). I was able to get a decent deal on the Frontier at Babies R Us, so we replaced the Roundabout with it.

    Unfortunately, I’ve been less than thrilled. The seat was easy enough to install (the Regent reportedly was rather difficult), and I like that the crotch strap distance is greater than the crotch strap distance on the Nautilus. But my son says the seat is not as comfortable as the Nautilus, the crotch strap protector pad always falls off, and if you can make out the area I circled in the picture to the right, there’s an elastic strap that holds the car seat cover down in that area that’s constantly coming off.

    My biggest complaint about the Frontier, though, is that the front part of the seat hangs off the back seat a tiny bit, where the seat curves. Maybe that’s not an issue in a larger car with a larger backseat, but it happens in our Nissan Altima. It doesn’t seem to be a safety issue, but I’m just not thrilled about it.

    All in all, both my son and I wish we’d just gotten a Nautilus instead of trying the Frontier. It would have saved us about $70-80 too. So needless to say, when it came time to buy our very last car seat recently (the second Marathon expired on 6/15), we got a third Nautilus.

    Car Seats Have an Expiration Date

    It occurred to me recently that our oldest car seat, a Britax Marathon, is over five years old now. And I vaguely knew that car seats have an expiration date. So I finally went looking for more information. On the side of the seat itself, I found a sticker that had the manufacture date (but no expiration date). And on the Britax web site, I found the info I was looking for in their FAQ:

    The service life for Britax infant car seats (including the base), convertible car seats, youth seats (such as the Britax Regent), and belt-positioning booster seats is 6 years from date of manufacture. The Britax Frontier Harness-2-Booster seat has a service life of 9 years. To prevent injury due to deterioration or hidden damage, do not use child restraints or booster seats older than their service life or if it has been in a moderate or severe crash. You can find the date of manufacture on the child restraint/booster seat serial label.

    So I have about six more months before I have to get a new car seat. Just in case I forget, I’ve created an entry in Google Calendar with a couple of reminder emails to go out before the seat expires.

    We also have two Graco Nautilus seats, and here’s the info I found in the Graco FAQ:

    Car seats have a suggested useful life that that is identified on the car seat as follows: “Do Not Use After December 20xx”. With changes in regulation, changes in vehicles, new technology and other factors including general wear and tear of a car seat, we recommend that a car seat be replaced on or before reaching the “Do Not Use After” date.

    I haven’t checked the seats since they’re less than two years old, so I don’t know exactly where the sticker is, but I expect to find it on the side.

    I would think that you could find similar information for any brand of car seat on the manufacturer’s web site, but if you can’t, you could check your owner’s manual or give their customer service center a call.

    The expiration date is something to think about, especially if you expect to keep a seat for a long time. I think weight and height-wise, we could probably use the Marathon for another year. And I bought the Nautilus with the expectation that we would not have to replace it. So, hopefully it won’t expire for at least another four or five years.

    Update to Graco Nautilus Review

    As you might recall, we were rear-ended back in November and needed to get new car seats. I first tried the Sunshine Radian and hated it because I couldn’t get it to fit right.

    I ended up with two Graco Nautilus seats, which I liked. But after less than one month, the belt on one of the Nautilus seats began to fray – and since it was the belt that you pull to tighten the harness, it would get stuck and the belt would be impossible to tighten or loosen. In other words, the seat became unusable. (See photo.)

    If this had been my only Nautilus seat, or if the problem had happened with both seats, I probably would have demanded a full refund from Graco so that I could go purchase a Britax Regent.

    But since the other Nautilus has been fine, I was willing to give Graco the benefit of the doubt and assume the problem was unique to the car seat that we’d bought. I contacted them through their web site, explained the problem, offered to send photos, and asked for a replacement seat. The next day, I received a response requesting the photos. The day after I sent the photos, I received an email stating that the replacement parts had been sent.

    Since I had asked for a new seat, I wasn’t exactly sure what “parts” to expect. But I’d forgotten that the Nautilus isn’t just a car seat, it’s convertible to a booster. So what arrived was the booster part of the seat, and all I had to do was remove the back from the old booster seat and attach it to the new one. I just followed the instructions that were in the manual. It took me less than 30 minutes to remove the seat from the car, replace the booster, and reinstall the seat. Not bad.

    While I was less than pleased to have the frayed belt problem in the first place, I must say that Graco’s customer service handled the problem exactly as I would have hoped. And while I don’t love the Nautilus the way I love the Marathon, it’s almost as easy to install and use. So if you’re looking for a five-point harness seat that looks like a high back booster, I continue to recommend the Nautilus as a more affordable option than the Regent (though I look forward to personally trying out the Regent at some point).

    Clean your kids’ car seat covers . . . even if you think they aren’t dirty

    I’m probably going to freak a few parents out, but I’d be willing to bet I’m not the only parent who hasn’t washed her kid’s car seat cover in three years of owning it. I would have if it seemed necessary, but it didn’t.

    But as you might recall, we’ve been playing car seat shuffle following a car accident in November. And having only one car has given me a chance to wash the car seat covers without taking any seats out of commission.

    What a surprise! Even though the surface wasn’t noticeably dirty, I found lots of crumbs under the cover. And under the styrofoam. Thank goodness I’d bought a Dustbuster a few months ago – it did a pretty good job getting all of those crumbs and sand off. (That reminds me, I owe you a proper review of the Dustbuster.)

    Washing the covers was pleasantly easy. So far I’ve washed two Britax Roundabout covers and one Marathon cover. The directions say hand wash and line dry, but I ignored the first part and put them in my (relatively new) washer on the “hand wash” setting, then hung them to dry, and it worked fine.

    Another Car Seat Warning

    As I prepared breakfast this morning, I saw a report on the local news that chemicals on car seats could be harmful. Here’s the online report that the local story came from. The local news station’s report isn’t on their website, but they said that the toxins are more likely to be a problem as the car seat wears out, so it’s probably a good idea to make sure the plastic isn’t cracking or thinning (which seems like a good idea for basic safety anyway). The online report also offers a couple of recommendations to minimize risk, including keeping car seats out of the sun as much as possible – I’m going to start covering ours with a blanket when I have to park outdoors, which I need to do anyway to keep the metal part of the buckle from getting too hot in the Southern California heat.