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Safety 1st Complete Air Car Seat Review

Safety 1st Complete Air Car Seat Has New "Air Protect" Side-Impact Protection

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Safety 1st Complete Air Car Seat
Copyright 2009, Dorel Juvenile Group. Used with permission.
The ability to keep a child rear-facing to 40 lbs is an exciting feature of the Safety 1st Complete Air convertible car seat. Even more exciting, though, is the Air Protect side-impact air cushions that are designed to dissipate crash forces around your child's head in the same way those giant, air-filled stuntman cushions protect movie guys who need to jump from great heights to film scenes. I don't have access to crash testing facilities to tell you how well these air cushions work, but it's very good news that manufacturers are working hard to improve kids' safety in side impact crashes.

Safety 1st Complete Air Convertible Car Seat Features

The Safety 1st Complete Air convertible car seat was the first car seat released with the new Air Protect side impact protection system. This system was developed in partnership with Kettering University's Crash Safety Center, and is the first to be tested with the group's new "intruding door" side-impact crash test. This crash testing method mimics the amount of intrusion from the vehicle door in a side impact crash, and the company has asked NHTSA to consider making this method the federal side-impact crash test standard. Air-filled pillows on either side of the child's head divert crash forces away from the head by controlled release of air through tiny holes in the cushions.

Other features of the Safety 1st Complete Air Car Seat:

  • Rear-facing 5-40 lbs and 19-40"
  • Forward-facing (minimum) 22-50 lbs and 34-45"
  • Adjustable headrest with 5 positions
  • No re-thread harness
  • Lowest rear-facing harness position is 10.5"
  • Highest forward-facing harness position is 17"
  • Push-button LATCh connectors

What I Like About the Safety 1st Complete Air Convertible Car Seat

The standout feature of the Safety 1st Complete Air car seat is the Air Protect side-impact protection system. The manufacturer offers some videos on their website that show the crash testing, and the Air Protect system certainly appears to provide excellent head protection in a side impact crash.

I also like the 40 lb rear-facing weight limit, which, when combined with the fairly tall car seat shell, should allow the majority of kids to remain rear-facing well past age two. Since research shows that kids are more than 5 times safer when rear-facing through toddlerhood, the additional height and weight capacity for the rear-facing position is excellent.

It's convenient that you don't have to unthread the harness to adjust the height, and it's not difficult to get the hang of twisting the tabs at the top to adjust the height. The harness adjuster tail is set high enough on the front of the car seat that it doesn't easily get trapped against the vehicle seat when rear-facing.

The Safety 1st Complete Air car seat is very easy to install in the forward-facing position. The forward-facing belt path is easily accessible and the car seat fit my vehicle very well in this position. The foot on the bottom of the Complete Air folds easily between recline and non-recline positions.

I love the push-button LATCh connectors, because they make it very easy to snap the connectors onto the lower anchors in your vehicle. They're also easier to remove in a tight space than the cheaper clip-style connectors. There are also LATCh storage hooks on the car seat shell.

What I Don't Like About the Safety 1st Complete Air Convertible Car Seat

The biggest drawback is the difficulty in rear-facing installations. The rear-facing belt path is awkward to get into, and I had to take off the bottom of the seat cover to get the belt through. Once the car seat is against the vehicle seat, though, it's difficult to get the cover properly wrapped over the front of the car seat again. All of the belt paths have rough edges that can scrape your hands.

The awkward rear-facing belt path plus the way the armrest area curves out makes it difficult to pull the LATCh belt at the correct angle to get it tight enough. I struggled to install the Complete Air car seat correctly, rear-facing in my vehicle. That means parents with less car seat experience may really struggle to get it right.

For younger babies, you'll likely need to use pool noodles or a tightly rolled towel to get the recline right. The height of the seat means that the vehicle seat in front of it may need to be moved up quite a way, especially in smaller cars, when the Complete Air is fully reclined. This problem is not so noticeable when the car seat can be less angled (30 degrees vs 45) for older babies.

On the car seat I reviewed, there is persistent trouble getting the headrest to lock into the uppermost position. I had to uninstall the car seat and force the metal bar on the back into its top slot, which took quite a bit of effort and hasn't seemed to loosen up over time.

I wish the 50 lb forward-facing weight limit were higher. Considering the $250 price tag, it would be disappointing to have your child outgrow this car seat quickly by weight.

Should You Buy a Safety 1st Complete Air Convertible Car Seat?

If your primary consideration is a car seat with side-impact protection that allows extended rear-facing, the Safety 1st Complete Air car seat is a reasonable choice. However, you should make sure you're comfortable with the proper rear-facing installation in your vehicle before buying this car seat. If you're considering using a convertible car seat right after your baby is born, instead of starting with an infant car seat, the 10.5" bottom harness slots on the Safety 1st Complete Air may be problematic since they need to be below baby's shoulders when rear-facing.

I like the innovative side-impact protection method and some of the ease of use features, and, for families who are willing to go to some extra effort to be sure it's installed correctly, the Safety 1st Complete Air should perform as well as other car seats in this price range. If your child tends to be heavier versus tall, it's possible that you won't get as much use as you'd like out of this car seat thanks to the 50 lb forward-facing weight limit. While I certainly don't think this is a bad car seat, I have higher expectations for ease of use for car seats in the $200-$300 range.

Dorel sent me a Safety 1st Complete Air car seat so that I could review it. In accordance with the About.com ethics policy, the car seat will be returned or donated.

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