Pros: 3-in-1 rear-facing, forward-facing and booster seat; safe; easy installation; comfortable; all the bells and whistles.
Cons: Huge; not exceptionally user-friendly.
Oh, how naive we were at first! Before my daughter was born, we picked out the fancy travel system with the infant carrier carseat and put a base in each of our vehicles, foolishly believing that our daughter would ride in her tiny little seat until her first birthday. After all, a baby should ride in a rear-facing carseat until they are least one year and twenty pounds (not or twenty pounds!), and the weight limit on her carrier was twenty pounds. Yep, we were set alright. Then our daughter came screaming into our lives weighing in at a hefty 8 pounds, 5 ounces and began growing at an alarming rate. By the time she was five months old, she was every ounce of twenty pounds, and we were shocked to be back in the market for a new carseat so soon - and we had to make up our minds in a hurry.
My first impulse, like most parents, was to forego hours of research and buy a Britax. Although twice the price (or more) of most carseats, I had heard too many times to count that Britax was the safest carseat on the market, due to the fact that Britax only made carseats. At $200, the Roundabout was the least expensive Britax, and for only $250, the Marathon promised to contain my hefty little girl until she weighed 65 pounds. Oh, but for only $300, the Britax Wizard held up to 80 pounds! And with several thousand added to the purchase price, it just might cover the heart attack my husband would surely have when I told him our new carseat would only set him back $300.
While it's true that you cannot put a price on your child's safety, and that I would gladly have forked over $200-300 if I truly believed that any one of the Britax models were the safest carseat for my child, I decided to explore my other options before whipping out the credit card. Since I had a limited number of nearby stores at which to purchase our new carseat - and no time to shop online and wait to have one delivered - I first visited the Babies R Us, Toys R Us, K-Mart and Wal-Mart websites to determine which brands and models I had easy access to. With that done, I sat down to the daunting task of comparing about ten seats based on their height and weight limits, safety ratings, user experience, ease of use and, yes, price. (Thank goodness for Epinions, which was a huge help in the comparison process!)
After several hours of eliminating the seats on my list one by one, I finally narrowed it down to just one seat that consistently ranked highest on my list of requirements: the Evenflo Triumph 5 Comfort Touch convertible carseat. At $120, this seat was considerably more expensive than some of the others on my list, but still a far cry from the coronary-inducing price tags of the Britax models.
Oh, but pleasing my husband was not to be as simple. While I immediately adored our new carseat and found it easy enough to move between vehicles on the rare occasion that we all went somewhere in his truck, he wanted a seat that was his and his alone and his had to be more MANLY. He had drooled over the Eddie Bauer line of infant gear since those earliest days of prenatal purchasing, attracted to the leather and dark colors (if not actually to the name brand, as it is associated with Ford and he is a Chevy lover from way back.) I reminded him that safety was our primary concern and then reluctantly confessed that the Eddie Bauer Alpha Omega Elite Deluxe 3-in-1 had ranked #2 on my list after all those hours of research. Feeling victorious, he piled us into the truck and headed for Babies R Us to pick out the manliest seat available for our little girl.
~* Shopping *~
There are several versions of the Eddie Bauer 3-in-1 available, and only slight variations in fabric differentiate them. Our Babies R Us store had three in stock: the black leather seat (which he lobbied hard for but was denied), the tan suede seat with padded headrest and armrests, and the nearly-identical tan suede seat with the added cup holder, which he finally settled for (much nicer looking than the navy seat pictured above). Called the Manchester, this seat has a tan and black plaid pattern along the center of the seat (cushioned headrest, protective "wings" at the head area, strap covers and seat), as well as black detailing around the shoulder strap guides, buckles and base. And of course, that all-important Eddie Bauer script logo was embroidered in not one, but two places on the seat.
Although not the most important feature of our new carseat, I immediately noticed that the Eddie Bauer Alpha Omega Elite Deluxe was a good looking carseat - while so many of the others were mostly drab and non-descript, the streamlined design, tan leather and classy pattern made this seat really stand out on the store's display shelf. As with previous carseat shopping ventures, we hefted our little girl into the display model to get an idea of how comfortable she would be in her new chariot - she certainly seemed happy enough sitting there, and the thick padding looked comfortable even to me. Ever one to doubt a decision even when so carefully made, I also let her "try on" a couple of other seats that had placed further down on my list, but she didn't seem as happy in any of them, and Daddy was having none of it. It was Eddie Bauer or bust.
I will give him credit for considering the height and weight limits of this particular seat into his decision-making process; while most convertible carseats accommodate babies from five to forty pounds and up to 40" tall, this seat is designed for use by children from 5-100 pounds and up to 52 tall beating out even the most expensive Britax model in capacity. I was surprised to find that babies up to 35 pounds may ride rear-facing in this seat (most rear-facing seats top out at 25-30 pounds), which would enable even very large babies to remain rear-facing as recommended until the first birthday or, for the particularly safety conscious, until they reached the 35 pound limit. Forward facing, this seat may be used as a carseat with the five-point harness until the child is 40 pounds, and then converted into a belt-positioning high-back booster up to 100 pounds.
By necessity of the high height and weight limit, however, the Eddie Bauer Alpha Omega Elite Deluxe is not a small seat, nor a cheap one. It's height and width are the main reason that it was stricken from my list of primary carseat options, as it would have taken over completely the back seat of my Grand Am. In the back of my husbands huge truck, size was less of an issue, but I absolutely would not suggest this seat for use in a small or mid-sized car. Admittedly, I balked somewhat at the sticker price of $180, until reasoning that having an all-in-one seat would save us the cost of purchasing a separate booster later on. (And Babies R Us is great for sending out coupons for baby gear on a regular basis if youre not on their mailing list already, I highly recommend it.)
We thought it would be a piece of cake to slide the huge cardboard box containing our new carseat beneath the cover on the bed of the truck, but nothing in life is easy these days we had to unpack the seat in the Babies R Us parking lot, wrap it in giant bags to keep it clean, and return the box to the store to discard. Just as you would not want to use this seat in a smallish car, dont plan to pick it up without benefit of plenty of cargo space either. Even still, you may find yourself in the same predicament.
~* First Things First *~
The first thing I did once unpacking the (surprisingly not horrendously heavy) carseat from the box was to locate the instruction manual. While remarkably well-hidden on some seats, the manual was easy enough to find beneath the plastic base of this model. Don't be alarmed by the chunky fifty-four page manual, which is written exclusively in English - there are many large pictures in the manual to clarify details of installation and adjustment, and reading it really won't take you all day.
Before installing the carseat in your vehicle, it is necessary to set the shoulder harnesses to the appropriate height. (When using this seat rear-facing, the harness straps should be positioned at or just below your childs shoulders; in the forward-facing position, always use higher harness positions so that the straps fall even with or just above the shoulders.) The harness position is easily adjusted by raising or lowering a metal bar on the back side of the seat, which means that youll be able to change them easily if the seat is installed rear-facing. If your child is front-facing, however, adjusting the harness height will mean removing the seat from your vehicle. You may also want to adjust the shoulder and crotch straps and familiarize yourself with the configuration of the closures before installing your new carseat as they can be a bit tricky at first.
The crotch strap has three positions to allow it to fit comfortably yet snugly against your child while easy to adjust from the underside of the seat, this strap too requires that the seat be removed from the vehicle prior to changing the position.
Strapping your little one into the Eddie Bauer Alpha Omega Elite Deluxe is a bit tricky the first time as it has a funky-shaped chest clip and buckle configuration. After sitting baby in the seat and getting both little arms through the shoulder straps, the long, flat end of the gray plastic clip slides into the shorter end and locks into place. A metal buckle 'tongue' is attached to the lower portion of each shoulder strap; these buckles must be overlapped and pushed together into the round buckle attached to the crotch strap. It took me a couple of tries to get used to these buckles, and even now its sometimes a bit of a struggle. However, seeing the buckles locked firmly into place prior to buckling does allow for peace of mind since you know the seat is fastened correctly.
It's a fact of life that straps will need to be loosened or tightened to fit snugly against your child - especially in the colder months, when bulky winter coats wreak havoc with the last adjustments you made. Thankfully, Eddie Bauer designed this seat to make these adjustments fairly easy. To loosen the harness straps, simply push the Harness Release Lever located front and center on your seat this will require digging beneath a flap in the seat cover, but is easily located while pulling on the straps. A single piece of the strap hangs from the front part of the seat, and pulling on this strap tightens the harness around your child once in the seat. This is nominally more difficult than loosening the strap, and I usually delegate this task to my husband, who seems to have no problem tightening the belt one-handed. One should always be careful not to over-tighten, however, as there is no cut-off point at which the belt will cease tightening.
To release baby from the seat, first press the release button on the short side of the chest clip and slide the two ends apart. Pressing the red release button on the crotch buckle releases the metal clips, and your child is free from his or her seat.
~* Installation *~
My husband shuns instructions at all costs, and promptly marched outside with the carseat to begin installing it in the backseat of his truck. Never one to disregard instructions (and especially when my child's safety is at stake), I followed right behind him with the manual and 'supervised' from outside the vehicle.
Although the Eddie Bauer Alpha Omega Elite Deluxe has three recline positions, only one (the most reclined) is suitable for a rear-facing seat. A red handle located at the bottom front of the seat allows you to adjust the recline with one hand; once the seat is installed rear-facing, you won't be able to reach this lever, but you won't need to as you can't reposition the seat until it's turned forward-facing.
When we learned of our daughter's impending arrival about a year prior to purchasing this seat, we promptly sold my older not-so-reliable car in favor of a newer one with the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system, which makes carseat installation easier, if not necessarily safer. (According to Car-Safety.org, "a carseat properly installed with a seatbelt should be as safe as one properly installed with LATCH.") Thank goodness for this tidbit, which made me feel infinitely better about using this seat in our pre-LATCH truck.
Should your vehicle have the LATCH system in the place where you actually want to install the carseat, the Eddie Bauer Alpha Omega Elite Deluxe is fully equipped to work with it. Two hooks, which clip onto the back of the seat when not in use, simply attach to the oblong anchors built into the vehicle's seat. Once hooked, push down on the carseat with your full weight while pulling up on the LATCH harness to tighten.
However, installing the seat using rear seatbelts isn't difficult either. Because the truck seat is very nearly flat, we were able to install this seat without additional padding underneath to make it level; for vehicles with more incline in the rear seats, however, you may need to use a tightly rolled towel, blanket or piece of styrofoam pool "noodle" near the seat back to make your carseat level. Installation using a seatbelt is a matter of simply threading the seatbelt through the belt path on the back of the seat, buckling the belt, and tightening it as much as possible. Put your full weight down on the carseat while tightening the belt - if the seat moves more than one inch in any direction when fully tightened, it should not be used.
Installing this seat using either method is largely the same, with the exception of which "belt track" the seatbelt or anchor straps should be threaded through. Clear instructions with many pictures are included.
A metal locking clip came with the Eddie Bauer Alpha Omega Elite Deluxe, and should always be used on a lap or shoulder belt that is non-retractable. Placing the clip securely around the belt within 1/2" of the buckle prevents the belt from loosening, thus negating the safety of the seat.
Once your child has outgrown convertible carseat proportions that is, more than 40 pounds or 40 tall youre ready to convert this seat into a belt-positioning booster seat. In this configuration, the LATCH system is never used. Rather, the five-point harness and plastic base are removed from the seat, leaving it sitting chair-like in the vehicle seat; booster and child are anchored into the vehicle using a lap and shoulder belt combo. This seat should never be used as a booster with only a lap belt, and may therefore not work in vehicles with no shoulder belts in the rear seats.
~* Did You Know? *~
Did you know that 80% of child safety seats are not properly installed, potentially putting their tiny passengers at risk? Be sure and have your carseat inspected (or even installed) by a professional to be sure that everything is positioned correctly. You can find an inspection station near you at www.seatcheck.org, or by calling 1-866-SEAT-CHECK.
Since there was no inspection station near our small town, I called our local police station, where an officer was happy to check for proper installation. Take advantage of those community resources!
~* Safety *~
Thankfully, we have not been involved in any situations since installing our Eddie Bauer Alpha Omega Elite Deluxe that warrant my passing judgement on it's safety features from a first-hand perspective.
I can point out, though, that the one safety feature that I was not willing to do without was the five-point harness. When fastened into the seat, baby has a strap crossing each shoulder, a strap across each hip, and a strap between the legs, secured with a wide chest clip to absorb impact in case of a crash. The widely accepted rule is that the five-point harness is the safest type of child seat restraint, as they can be adjusted for a more snug fit than the three-point harness or overhead shield. (Furthermore, seats with an overhead shield should never be used with newborns and small infants, although they are frequently features of convertible carseats. These shields are not covered with adequate energy-absorbing padding, and will not provide enough protection to a child's head in the event of a crash.)
Because of the interlocking closures on the chest clip and buckle of this seat, it is impossible not to notice if the harness is buckled incorrectly, reducing the risk of improper use of this seat. This carseat also features rigid "wings", or extended guards, on each side of the head area to protect from side impacts. This is a feature available only on the most expensive Britax seat, and one that I was a bit surprised to find on this seat. The wings are spaced widely enough to allow for plenty of head room, even for an older child.
According to the manufacturer's website, this carseat "meets or exceeds all applicable U.S. safety standards."
~* Everyday Use *~
Whoever coined the phrase "stay at home mom" obviously wasn't one, as the days in which we actually stay at home are few and far between. I hardly remember how we made it when I worked full-time before Rachael's birth, as there are always groceries (or something) to be picked up and errands that can only be run on weekdays. At first, my use of this seat was pretty limited to weekend trips in my husband's truck, but the recent surge in gas prices has changed all that. At more than $2 per gallon, he now typically commandeers my more fuel-efficient vehicle for his commute, leaving me to power-trip in his oversized black truck while making my rounds. Therefore, a close personal relationship with this seat has been forced upon me of late. As much as I despise hefting my chunky 27-pound daughter into the truck, I have to admit, this seat isn't all that bad.
To begin with, it fits very well forward-facing in the back of our extended-cab pickup, although using it rear-facing in this particular vehicle would have been next to impossible. In fact, unless you drive a minivan (or perhaps a Hummer), I wouldnt think it would fit well rear-facing in any vehicle. Although neither of us are exactly petite, we can both sit comfortably in the back seat beside this carseat if tantrums ensue. If you drive a smaller vehicle and are considering this carseat (and especially if you will use it first rear-facing), "trying it on" for size is an absolute necessity before committing to a purchase.
The front and sides of this seat are low enough that lifting my little chunk into the seat is easy from any angle, unlike with our other seat with high lips on each side of the seat. The shoulder straps very rarely twist, and have never become so tangled as to become an issue. The buckle located at baby's crotch will very often be sat upon when placing baby in the seat, and will have to be fished out from beneath her backside. Sitting on the buckle for a few seconds has never caused her any obvious discomfort, and its only a minor inconvenience.
My little girl has always appeared to be very comfortable in the wide, amply padded seat. Having never been a great napper, she snoozes very well in her carseat, although her little head does flop badly at times. This seat does come with a removable infant head support that eliminates flopping at an early age, but shes long outgrown that now. Padded strap covers do eliminate friction against the straps both while riding and napping though.
This carseat has several frills not found on other models a padded headrest with adjustable height positions, armrests that fold up when not in use, a net on one side to hold small toys and a cup holder on the other side. While nice to have, these extras are far from necessary, and I merely consider them perks.
~* Care and Cleaning *~
Plastic and metal components of this carseat should be wiped clean with a mild soap and water and dried with a soft cloth. The harnesses may also be cleaned in this manner, but should be left to air dry.
The seat pad should be hand washed separately in warm water and hung to dry. Ill freely admit that I have yet to wash our seat cover even after four months of use - thankfully, I don't have a frequent spit up-per or explosive diaper-er. And I thank my lucky stars for this since removing the seat cover requires not only removing the seat from the vehicle to release elastic straps beneath the base, but the use of a screwdriver to release the padded headrest. The armrest covers do, at least, slide off for cleaning. What a pain! At least the cover is washable because of the suede material, I almost expected to find a tag that read "dry clean only."
Replacement parts such as crotch strap/buckles, harness straps, locking clips and tether kits are available through the manufacturer, as is an instructional video for only $4. Printed instructions are, at least for now, still free.
~* Overall *~
I've been hard on it because of the myriad reasons for taking it in and out of the vehicle, but really, I do like this seat. It's huge, but because of the size it will accommodate my little girl until she's a big girl, and I'm happy that we won't have to buy a separate booster later on. (If your vehicle is large enough, it could theoretically be used from newborn to toddler, although we've used it forward-facing from the time of purchase.) It's stylish, it's safe, it has all the luxuries you could ask for in a carseat, and my daughter is comfortable riding in it so for once, I'll freely admit that my husband chose well. For his truck. I still don't want this behemoth in my car.
~* Warranty *~
This carseat is protected under warranty for a staggering seven years from date of purchase from defects in material or workmanship. Dorel Juvenile Group will repair or replace any product determined to be defective, although an original receipt is required in order to validate the warranty.
~* Contact Information *~
Visit Dorel Juvenile Group online at www.djgusa.com, or call 1-800-544-1108, 7 a.m. - 6 p.m. EST Monday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. 4:30 p.m. EST on Friday.