The screeching wheels of our minivan struggling to come to a halt is as clear in my mind today as it was the day that we totaled our brand new Mazda. One minute, we were chatting excitedly and the next, we were slamming on the breaks and sliding sideways into the car in front of us. Fortunately, our 3 year old was strapped in tightly into his car seat and far from where the greatest impact occurred.
Before this accident, I never really thought much about side impact protection when considering which car seat to purchase. I did read reviews about safety ratings, but honestly, what was most important to me was ease of installation, loosening and tightening straps, an easy to clean fabric, and style. After this accident, I realized first hand how kids sitting in the back seat are relatively protected in a front or rear-end collision, but relatively exposed in side impact collisions. No wonder that a study by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia revealed that 1-in-3 child crash fatalities are caused by side impact collision. Furthermore, the National Highway Patrol Administration reports that a child’s head is most vulnerable to serious and fatal injuries. That’s why, I was so excited to test out the Safety First Complete Air car seat with Air Protect Side Impact Protection Technology.
- Air-filled head wings provides protection from side collisions
- 40 pound rear-facing weight limit (one of the tallest rear-facing carseats available toady)
- 3 crotch strap positions
- Head wings make for nice pillows during car naps
- Easy installation
- Stylish, easy to clean fabric
- Even with 3 settings, the crotch buckle might still be snug for older kids
- For smaller cars (aka VW Golf), installation as a rear-facing car seat will probably require a pool noodle or towel to get a comfortable 45 degree angle recline. Safety 1st’s Complete Air SE and LX models cost more, but come with a 4-position recline to deal specifically with this issue
The Complete Air car seat has additional pads that surround a child’s head. In the event of an accident, the pads completely surround the side of your child’s head. In the event of sudden impact, the pads releases air gradually to absorb any side impact and in so doing, protects your child’s head from serious injury. If you look at this photo of my 3 year old in the Complete Air, you will notice that the pads fit much more snugly around his head than on other car seats.
I’ve been using the Complete Air for about 6 months now and I must say I appreciate that the height of the pads are very easy to adjust so they are always perfectly positioned. Just squeeze the levers on the top and slide it into place. My favorite surprise bonus about the side impact pads, is that when my son falls asleep, it cradles his head much better than other car seats we’ve used that do not have the side impact pads. This has been especially helpful since we do a lot of long road trips as a family. Initially, I was concerned that my 3 year old would be upset that the pads blocked his side view, but I honestly haven’t heard a single complaint.
The Complete Air can be used with children 5 to 50 lbs as both a backward and forward facing car seat. Installation is very easy. What I really like is that even when installed with just the vehicle’s seat belt, the install is tight. Not quite as tight as on my Britax Roundabout, but it’s good enough. Another thing I really like is that the car seat’s harness straps loosen and tightening very easily.
I only have 3 minor complaints. First, the shoulder straps seem a little too far apart when using the carseat with a younger child. Now that my son is 4, this isn’t an issue, but when he was smaller, I often saw it drooping slightly off my son’s shoulders even when the straps were tight around his body.
Secondly, the crotch buckle does have several settings to ensure that the straps can lay tightly over a child of any size whether they are a 5lb baby and a 50lb preschooler. However, despite all the different settings, the crotch buckle has an annoying way of getting tucked under my son because of the angle of the seat.
Lastly, there are only two angles you can set the car seat at, both of which are pretty upright. It’s fine with older kids, but for an infant who can’t sit up well, it can be an uncomfortable position to be in even for short trips. The Safety 1st Complete Air LX and SE models have a 4-position recliner to help address this issue, but I didn’t get a chance to test these out. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this seat for infants under 6 months. Just get an infant car seat.
The Complete Air car seat comes in twos styles – a gray and black, and orange and brown. Both are stylish. The synthetic fabric is soft and feels good to the touch. What I really like about the material is that it seems to stay clean very nicely. After 6 months, the seat still looks good as new…well, after I vacuum off the crumbs from eating too many goldfish crackers in the car. That’s a good thing because unlike the Britax, this is not a seat you can buy a second or third car seat cover for. Taking the seat apart for cleaning was fairly easy. It’s not as easy as the Britex, but so much better than our impossible to clean Evenflo.
All in all, I would definitely recommend the Safety First Complete Air car seat. Considering how important side impact head protection is, this car seat just cannot be beat. You can purchase the Safety 1st Complete Air Convertible Carseat at Amazon.com for $179.99 (qualifies for free shipping).
“Note: This article contains affiliate amazon links.”
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This complimentary product was received from the manufacturer to be reviewed by Trekaroo. I received no other compensation and was not required to express any particular point of view.
LiLing Pang is a contributing author on Trekaroo – a reviews site dedicated to exploring and traveling with kids to:
updated: March 09 2011 by LiLing Pang