Pros: Longevity of use/ Harness or seat belt strap/ Strong/ Material hides stains
Cons: Not for infants/ Not enough padding for the bottom/ Difficult to remove covering
Vacationing with my in-laws, my husband and I let it slip that their grandson was getting too big for his car seat. We gave them the whole spiel about his head being over the top of the seat and how harness were the safer way to go. Fast forwards an hour or so later and you have four grown adults watching a toddler climb in and out of several car seats and totally clueless as to which is the better seat. Believing in the phrase "You Get What You Pay For", my In-laws ended up buying the Century Next Step. While not the most expensive car seat on the market, it topped the charts at Toys 'R' Us, coming in at just over a hundred dollars after tax.
Car Seat Installation 101
Living several hundred miles from us, my in-laws wanted to see their purchase in use. So we installed the car seat out in the middle of the Toys 'R' Us parking lot. The Next Step car seat is not a car seat for infants(this is a forward facing car seat ONLY), but rather a seat that can be used for toddlers and preschoolers. The weight requirements range from 20 - 65 pounds and height is from 27- 52 inches.
The Next Step comes with two ways of securing your child. From 20 - 40 pounds and 27-40 inches you can secure your child with the harness that is already assembled for use. The harness adjusts to three different positions for height. Since the harness came assembled in the lowest position we needed to adjust this for our son who is tall for his age despite his vertically challenged mother. To do this we had to unthread the harness through the back and rethread it to higher slots. This was also the time we adjusted the straps for length. This can be tricky. The length is adjusted by moving a metal bar up and then either pulling on the straps to loosen them, or feeding the strap back through the metal bar to tighten. Century could do much better by placing the tightener up front for easy access and using a one handed lever like a lot of other models currently use.
For children that are 30-65 pounds and 35-52 inches tall you can remove the harness system and use a shoulder lap belt in conjunction with built in "comfort clip". The Next Step has a comfort clip situated on each side of the seat. What the comfort clip does is place the seat belt at a level appropriate for your child's height and act as a locking clip to prevent loosening of the seat belt. The comfort clips can be positioned in three different slots to assure proper placement of the seat belt for your child.
I am really glad my son was not at the age to use the seat belt when we installed the car seat. Removing the harness proved time consuming when my son recently switched to using a seat belt. It took about a half an hour and a broken pair of scissors to remove the harness.
One of the greatest things to be said about the Next Step is its ability to grow with your child. With a harness system there is really no place for your child to rest his head. With our previous car seat that had a shield, my son's head would fall forward to rest on his hands on the shield. Included with the Next Step is a cushion that slips into slots of the covering for your child to rest his head. The back of the car seat also curves almost like wings to envelop your child body and head.
In the front of the Next Step on each side, resides to blue buttons. These buttons when pushed allow you to rotate the bottom side of your child's seat to provide arm rests. When my son was younger I had the armrests up kind of like a security feature. Now my son will turn them up as a play stage for his many friends he brings on the road trips.
The hooks for the five-point harness come with shields. These shields are made out of a soft rubbery material that allows for easier use of the harness. These shields can be taken off, but we never found the need. Also to keep the upper portion of the straps close you have a two-part connector instead of a one-piece paper clip like device.
When you fasten the seat belt, the Next Step allows you a peek-a-boo flap to easily connect the seat belt. No more trying to fit your hands behind the seat where you can't see. Feed it through the back slot and then lift up the flap and presto! Both parts of the seat belt are right in front of you.
Throughout all of the shopping the one item we were never satisfied with was the padding on the bottom. When you are sitting on hard plastic for a daylong car ride, that little bum can't help but hurt. I don't see what it could hurt to extra padding in the cover.
While the dark blue cover is great at hiding dirt and grime, it does not cover everything. The very afternoon after we bought the car seat we headed home. On our way home we needed to travel down a steep and winding road. My son has always had a week stomach and had gotten carsick on numerous earlier occasions. This day would be no different. Not more than fifteen minutes into our trip and my son initiates his brand new car seat with a combination of cherries and milk. Upon arriving home the first thing I wanted to do was finish the cleaning process. trying to take the cover off the plastic proved too much for me. The instructions give a detailed description for removing the cover, but when the book says to pull off two clips, I stopped. For I had tugged and pulled using enough strength to remove those clips, but they did not budge. For fear of breaking the clips, I ceased pulling and instead of being able to throw the outer cover in the washing machine, I turned on the garden hose and scrubbed with Lysol and a sponge.
The Next Step car seat has been a wonderful transition for us as our son grows. Since our state recently passed a law keeping children in car seats until they are six years old or sixty pounds, I have taken reassurance in the fact that he already has a car seat that will meet these requirements. When my toddler is ready this will be the seat for him as well.