Consumer Reports recently issued a safety notice alerting consumers to a concern with some Britax Boulevard ClickTight and Marathon ClickTight convertible car seats. Since then, several child-passenger safety advocates and consumers posting through social media have reported that another model, the Britax Advocate ClickTight, may be susceptible to the same issue. (See update below.)
As delivered, the Advocate ClickTight seats' safety harnesses may also not have been installed properly. If the harness is not attached properly, the seat may not function as effectively. Although Consumer Reports has found problems with the Boulevard ClickTight and Marathon ClickTight models we purchased, we have yet to purchase the Advocate ClickTight model.
Based on our research and social media postings, it appears this problem affects only new Britax convertible car seat models with the new ClickTight feature. On sale since September, "ClickTight" refers to a proprietary mechanism on the seats that helps them clamp to a vehicle's safety belts. This feature is also available on two Britax toddler booster models, the Frontier 90 and Pinnacle 90, which have a different design and are not affected by this issue. In addition, Britax Marathon, Boulevard, and Advocate seats without the ClickTight feature are not affected.
On the Boulevard, Marathon and Advocate ClickTight models, the harness straps end with a sewn loop that slides over and then into a steel hook. With the seats we bought, the loop had been pulled over the anchor but not engaged fully around the hook. If the hook is not engaged, the harness loop could pull completely off the anchor during normal use. To a consumer, the lack of attachment may not be obvious without examining the lower anchor closely.
Fortunately, this should be easy for customers to remedy. In fact, the five-point harness design allows for repositioning the straps on their anchors to adjust for different-sized children. Our car seat installation experts found that if they followed Britax's online instructions for adjusting the harness length, they were able to properly resecure the harness strap, paying particular attention to engage the straps inside the hook. But the printed owner's manual that comes with the seat doesn't cover that procedure.
When Consumer Reports queried Britax, the company sent a written statement saying, "Prior to using the seat, ensure that the harness straps are securely connected to the anchors inside the hook."
Britax convertible seats have performed well in Consumer Reports' car seat tests in the past and we are not aware of any injuries related to this concern. We were impressed with the performance of the ClickTight feature for securing a harness when we tested it on toddler/booster models.
Responding to a follow-up inquiry, Britax informed us that it they had shared test data and information with NHTSA and "confirmed the performance" of ClickTight seats. The company also shared that the problem we noted—that the restraint harness was not securely attached to the hooks on the lower harness anchors—was "an initial assembly issue" affecting all Marathon ClickTight, Boulevard ClickTight and Advocate ClickTight seats manufactured between August 15, 2014 and November 7, 2014.
On NHTSA's recommendation Britax also sent email notifications to all owners of ClickTight seats that might have been affected. Unfortunately, there was no notification sent to owners who had registered their seats with only a postal mailing address (the way Consumer Reports registered the seats it purchased). Although Britax does provide instructions on its website (britaxusa.com) for correctly attaching the harness, no reference to the harness attachment is included in the "Safety Notices" area of Britax's site. It should be.