Comparing Safety 1st Onboard 35 and Onboard 35 Air infant car seats

Consumer Reports News: November 16, 2010 05:08 AM

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Our recent Ratings of the newest infant car seats (for subscribers) includes two models from Safety 1st—the Onboard 35 (right, $100) and Onboard 35 Air (far right, $180). Both seats scored Very Good in our tests and have a rear-facing weight limit of 35 lbs.—a safety benefit that allows babies to remain rear-facing longer. (See Why rear facing longer is better.)

What was most noteworthy from our test results, however, was that these new seats topped our Ratings of infant car seats with a weight capacity greater than 22 lbs. for overall crash protection in our simulated 30-mph frontal-crash tests performed at an outside laboratory (though their overall scores were not highest for that category). The Onboard 35 Air includes Safety 1st’s AirProtect system, a set of pillow-like inserts intended to provide added protection for a child’s head in side-impact crashes. (See What does side-impact protection mean?) While we don’t do side-impact tests, we do expect that the AirProtect system will provide additional protection to children in side-impact collisions.

Both Onboard 35 models were rated Very Good overall, but the more expensive and more feature-laden Onboard 35 Air scored a bit lower in our overall Ratings range than its simpler counterpart—the Onboard 35. This was due mostly to the Air’s lower ease-of-use score—it was rated Good while the simpler Onboard 35 was rated Very Good. The Onboard 35 Air’s base has a lock-off system that makes it potentially more complicated to attach to the vehicle than the Onboard Air. (In most cases, lock-off systems provide more secure installations, and when correctly installed, the Onboard 35 Air’s lock-off worked very well.) Both versions of the Onboard 35 scored Very Good for fit-to-vehicle with LATCH, and Good for fit to vehicle with belts. Our concern is that the Onboard 35 Air’s multistep lock-off system may confuse people who are trying to make sure it is firmly locked into place.

The Onboard 35’s reasonable price, along with its Excellent crash protection and Very Good overall performance prompted us to award it a Best Buy designation.

Overall, both of the Onboard infant seats offer great potential for protecting your baby in a crash. If you do opt for the Onboard 35 Air, take time to read the manual carefully to be sure you’re using the lock-off correctly, and consider finding a certified installer to help you be sure you’ve got it right. (Find a child safety seat inspection station.)

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