Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Safety 1st OnSide Air Convertible Car Seat Review

For those who've followed my blog and seen all my car seat entries, you know the woes I've been having finding one that fits my car and my big boy.  He had a 6 month baby well checkup a few days ago, and he's 20 lbs. 9 oz. and 28 1/4".  So he's above average in weight and very above average in height.  Because of this, I need a seat that can handle a bigger child and still have room to grow.  I drive a 2000 Toyota Corolla so I needed it to be compact.  I had almost decided on the Combi Coccoro because it's made in Japan and designed to fit in smaller spaces and then I found a new car seat that came out this summer by Safety 1st.  It's the OnSide Air convertible car seat, the only car seat under $100 that can handle 5-40 pounds rear-facing.  I scoured the internet for information without much luck and saw on the web forums that many people had called Dorel, the company that manufactures Safety 1st products, didn't have much information available to curious car seat enthusiasts.  It was impossible to even find the car seat dimensions online.  Despite this, I took a chance and drove an hour and a half to Savannah, the closest place with a store that had it in stock.  I had to see it for myself.

Comfy but narrow and notice how little head 
room there is for future growth.
Aesthetics, Comforts, and Features

Many have commented that the stock photos of the OnSide Air make it look like the Cosco Scenera.  I have to agree that I wasn't a fan of the look presented.  In person, however, I was pleasantly surprised.  I think you can probably tell from my photo that it looks much better with higher quality fabric. The cover is so plush that it feels stuffed with memory foam.

The cover is also easily removable because it is elasticized the entire way around like a bed sheet without any of those annoying or hard to release hooks or catches.  You do need to undo the shoulder harness to get it completely off, but that's not difficult.  It is generously sized so that it doesn't pop off in tight spots.

I will say that the harness webbing isn't very thick, so it does twist if you're not careful.  The chest clip also isn't the most substantial feeling plastic and is much flimsier compared to the chest clip on the Chicco KeyFit this seat is meant to replace.  It may be because it's new, but the chest clip and buckle don't come undone as quickly as I would like.  It does not come equipped with harness covers, so I would highly recommend that purchase.  I got these cute, cuddly monkey covers for $4.50 at WalMart.

Other features include a removable cup holder, which didn't attach securely enough to be functional for me.  The OnSide Air Converitble Car Seat is one of the products by Safety 1st that incorporates Air Protect technology.  Air Protect reduces side impact by releasing a burst of air from special chambers in order to reduce the force of collision.  The OnSide Air focuses on the child's head, but Safety 1st offers choices in the Complete Air line that features full body Air Protect side impact protection.  The Complete Air seats start at $180, so the OnSide air is an affordable alternative that focuses on the most vulnerable part of a child's body during side impact collisions.

Adjustability and Fit

The seat features 4 harness slots and 3 crotch strap slots for adjustments as your child grows.  This is where it has something in common with the Scenera.  The harness slot heights are the same with a top height of about 15 inches, and the same placement of the crotch strap slots.  Many parents have lamented that their children outgrow the Scenera by height before they reach the weight limit, so this may be an issue for tall babies like my son.  At 6 months and 28.25" tall, however, my son is using the 2nd harness slot from the bottom so he has two more slots to grow with.  He is also using the middle crotch strap slot.

At 11" across, it is a somewhat narrow seat, so the OnSide Air may not be the best solution if you have a heavier or older child.  For smaller or slimmer babies, this is perfect since it doesn't totally swallow the child.  Because of it's narrower seat and well-padded cover, this is a more realistic choice for parents wishing to start with a convertible car seat for newborns.  I think the recline is deep enough for a newborn to sleep comfortably, especially with a head positioning pillow.

Adjusting the harness was about the same as any other harness system I've used.  The adjustable crotch strap, however, was more difficult.  It's held in place by a metal retainer that you have to twist and push through the slot in order to remove the strap.  For safety's sake, it's a tight fight getting the retainer to pass through the slot so it does take time and brute force (for me anyway) to get it through.  Then you have to do it again to put it back in the correct position.

This seat also features a 2 position recline.  It was easy to figure out and switch between the two.

Fits in my 2000 Corolla with seats extended and reclined 
for up to 6'2" tall driver.  It also is slim enough that you could 
fit up to 3 of them or 2 additional passengers on either side.
Small Car Compatibility

The OnSide Air does fit in my small Toyota Corolla with the front seats extended comfortably for me (5'7") and my brother (6'2").  This is the largest amount of space a car seat could take, however, and still be comfortable in front.  As far the width of the seat, it's perfect for a family that frequently rides at full capacity.  I tried the Evenflo Tribute 5, and it extended into my lap when I sat next to it.  The OnSide Air didn't encroach on my space.  I wouldn't want to ride long distances in this setup though.

Even though the edge goes over my chair, it doesn't
interfere with my shoulder or arm.  I can live with it.

This car seat is lightweight and easy to carry and position.  My car is a pre-LATCH model, so I had to do a seatbelt installation.  It wasn't difficult.  The belt paths are clearly labelled for front and rear-facing modes.  The car seat cover is easy to peel back if necessary to thread the seat belt through the path, but I personally didn't need to because the opening was big enough for me to feel my way through.  Aligning the seat was pretty straight forward.  There is a guide that must be level with the ground.  It's not as accurate is the bubble levels, but it gets the job done.

The seat is at the proper recline when the edge of the sticker
is parallel with the ground.

The biggest concern for me with the installation was the fact that my lap and shoulder belt make the seat slant when tightened down as much as necessary to keep the wiggle to 1" or less.  You can tell in the picture of my shoulder and also in the one that shows my son how the car seat tilts up to the left side.  It's because the shoulder part of the belt pulls the seat up while the side with the buckle pulls the side down.  I think part of the issue is that my back seat has a pretty big slant even in the center.  Another part of the issue is that the way the car seat is designed leaves a big space under the front which I had to fill with towels in order to stabilize the vertical wobble.  But I've had this problem to a certain extent with every car seat I've put in my car.  With some car seats, I've been able to fix the slant issue by stuffing a towel in front of the car seat.  That didn't work, however, with the OnSide Air.  In my car, I acheived the most level installation by tightening the seat belt as much as I needed and then stuffing the gaps between the car seat and the backseat with towels afterward.  I needed one on the front and back of the seat as pictured above.

Belt paths are clearly marked:


I love the fact that I can potentially have extended rear-facing to 40 lbs, the softness and comfort of the seat cover, the ease of removal of the seat cover, and the price.  There isn't another car seat I've encountered that gives you so much for $100 or less.  It's softer than a lot of more expensive car seats.  It's nice that you can switch to forward-facing if you child outgrows the 40" or 40 lb. limits for rear-facing.  This seat allows forward-facing passengers up to 43" and 40 lbs.  I don't consider the fact that it has the same weight limit for front and back to necessarily be a downfall.  It's what keeps the seat compact, and it allows the child to stay rear-facing for longer than the 35 pound limit on most convertible seat covers in this size and price range.  I also liked that the recline was bigger than other similar car seats.

I'm not such a big fan of the fact that it doesn't come with harness covers, probably won't keep up with my child's growth by height, and that it requires towels to fill the gaps between it and the seat when the belts are properly tightened.

Overall, however, I recommend this car seat to anyone with a compact car or who regularly rides with a full load, especially if the vehicle is latch-equipped.  I also think this is a great option for newborn use because of it's more compact size and 7" harness slot and substantial recline.