Evenflo Company, Inc., of Miamisburg, Ohio, is recalling more than 18,000 child car seats in the United States and Canada.
Tests conducted by Consumer Reports showed the seat can crack and fail in a simulated 30-mph frontal collision.
One of the nation's largest makers of baby and child gear, Evenflo says the recall affects early production units of its $80 Maestro Combination Booster Seat, which was introduced last January. The device is designed to be used either with its own five-point harness as a conventional child seat, or -- for larger and older children -- as a booster seat using the vehicle's seat belt to restrain the child.
In tests conducted at an outside laboratory, Consumer Reports found that two of the Evenflo units failed when the seat's plastic shell cracked and the harness loosened in simulated 30-mph frontal-impact crashes.
Both failures came when the seat was being used with its five-point harness. No problems were found in booster seat mode. The two seats that failed were manufactured in December and February, respectively -- well before the April 2010 cutoff date for the recall.
Later production units -- those made after April and not subject to the recall -- included certain design modifications and passed the tests. CR says they are safe to use.
After being informed of the Consumer Reports test results, Evenflo announced a voluntary recall of 13,792 units sold or available for sale in the U.S., and another 4,479 units in Canada.
The affected U.S. units include all those manufactured up to April 9, 2010; in Canada, units manufactured up to April 26, 2010 are affected, the company said.
Evenflo said its recent tests replicated the Consumer Reports finding, though it has no reports of cracks developing in the field or of any actual injuries resulting from the problem. The company is asking retailers to pull the recalled units from their shelves.
Fixing the problem
Evenflo says it has developed a fix -- a "remedy kit [that] includes an easily installed bracket to reinforce the seat without tools" -- that will be distributed free to owners of the recalled units. It advised people who are still using the Maestro with the harness (for children under 40 pounds) not to use their seat until it has been upgraded.
Owners who are using the seat in its booster mode for children over 40 pounds may continue using the seat, the company said. The seat was rated a "Best Bet" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for use in booster mode.
What to do
Customers may call a special phone number to receive the kit (800-233-5921 in the U.S. or 800-265-0749 in Canada). Consumer Reports says it plans follow-up tests on seats incorporating the remedy kit as soon as possible.
To find out if your unit is among those to be recalled, check the manufacture date and model number -- both of which appear on a white label behind the seat as well as on the box. Affected model numbers in the US are 3101198, 3101980, 31011048, 31011049, and 31011059 and in Canada it is 31011057C.
Parents who are using the Maestro with its harness should obtain a remedy kit as soon as possible. "Even though there have been no reports of injuries, loose harness straps can allow a child's body to move farther forward during a crash than they would if the harness was tight," said Jennifer Stockburger, manager of Consumer Reports' vehicle-and-child-safety program. "That could expose a child to potential injury and to an increased risk of ejection in a crash,"
Stockburger cautions owners not to switch to booster mode prematurely simply because the problems were identified only in harness mode. "A child is better secured and has less potential for injury in a crash when secured using a seat's internal harness," she says. "Moving a child to a booster seat mode prematurely is actually a step-down in overall safety."
For consumers looking for an alternative model, CR recommends the Graco Nautilus 3-in-1, priced at $165 with harness capacity of 20 to 65 pounds.