Consumer Reports President Apologizes For Infant Car Seat Test Mistakes

The President of Consumer Reports emailed a letter today to all Consumer Reports subscribers, explaining and apologizing for publishing an inaccurate infant car seat test. This prompted the magazine’s first ever article retraction.

As you may have heard already, normally the side-impact crashes are tested at 38mph and this is what the results were reported under. However, it turns out the tests were conducted at speeds around 78 mph.

Consumer Reports is sorry for reporting this information and has promised to repeat the tests with scrupulous care and publish the results.

Make a mistake, apologize and then fix it? What an interesting practice for a company to follow! May others follow in their footsteps.

Full letter inside…


“By now, you’ve probably heard the news about my decision to withdraw the infant car seat report featured on ConsumerReports.org and in the February issue of Consumer Reports magazine. I took this action when we discovered a mistake in our side-impact crash tests.

We always strive to be accurate and fair, and I regret this error. Going forward, I want to make sure that our actions are as thorough and transparent as possible so that we preserve your trust as we continue to test, inform, and protect consumers. To that end, I’m writing you and the millions of other Consumers Union members to tell you what I know about the situation and what we’re doing about it.

Here’s what I know so far: One of our tests was intended to simulate how infant car seats perform in a side-impact crash at 38 mph. That’s the speed at which many new vehicles are tested in side crashes by the government’s auto safety agency. But upon reevaluating our data, we believe our tests simulated crashes that were much more severe than that.

Some of the questions I’ve heard involve our use of an outside lab to conduct the crash tests. While the vast majority of product testing by Consumers Union occurs in our own labs, we sometimes use outside contractors that have special test equipment or other expertise that we don’t. This enables us to inform you about the safety, reliability, and performance of important products that we couldn’t otherwise test.

That said, we expect all our testing to meet the same high standards, and our own staff oversees all projects. The board of directors and I are appointing a panel of experts to review this incident and determine what went wrong.

We’re also retesting the infant car seats featured in our article as thoroughly and quickly as possible, so that we can publish our findings and help parents who are making this important buying decision. I’ve directed that we suspend the article’s Ratings and other recommendations regarding specific car-seat models until this retesting is completed. In any case, I again stress the importance of what we say in the article: Any child car seat is better than no seat at all.

For 71 years, the staff of Consumers Union has worked hard to earn the trust of members like you and to build the stellar reputation we have enjoyed. We test more than 3,000 products each year, and errors like this one are rare. I apologize on behalf of Consumers Union and I promise you we’re working hard to ensure that such an error does not happen again.

Sincerely,

Jim Guest
President”

— BEN POPKEN

Comments

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  1. nweaver says:

    Actually, its a real contentious question whether a car seat for the 2-6 yr old set really IS better than no car seat at all.

  2. zl9600 says:

    I think CR’s reporting overall is faulty to begin with. Ask any automobile expert to describe the faulty testing they go through with their guides to used cars and the inaccuracy and faulty data they use to give car models one of their four, overly broad circles.

    I use CR as ONE tool of many, and I think they tend to overstep their boundaries into areas they shouldn’t. How many tests like this have gone unnoticed and un-retracted?

    I recall the brou-haha over the Isuzu Trooper from many years ago, when they rigged the tests. They were called out and proven to be rigged, yet CR didn’t do a damned thing.

  3. FLConsumer says:

    Many of CR’s ratings are inconsistent, so I don’t see why any of their ratings are credible to begin with. When two exact same appliances, only different in nameplate, but identical in construction and parts, get different ratings, someone’s not doing a good job of testing. I also don’t agree with their ratings which place a heavy weight on initial cost. I’d much rather buy a product which will last than spend half that for something lesser which will break in 3 years.

  4. ColoradoShark says:

    One interesting thing that is being glossed over is that two of the car seats *did* pass this very severe test. CR tested 12 seats: two passed, ten failed.

    If two of the seats could pass this test, why couldn’t the other ten? Probably because the other seats were built “just good enough” to pass the standard tests and the two that passed were built as “good as possible”.

    Didn’t this test reveal more than intended? There is a testing philosophy called “Test to Failure”. You keep testing until a thing breaks. Then you know how much margin/safety factor you have in the thing.

  5. orielbean says:

    They are still better by leaps and bounds than the industry-fellating mags like Car & Driver, or those JD Power awards.

    At least they are trying to test out objectively and don’t base results on ad revenue from the reviewed item’s company.

    And like Wikipedia, they are a great starting place to begin research on something. But be sure to check other places for corroboration of such.

    Any person who only uses one source of evidence has not built a sturdy case on which to base decisions, especially important safety-related decisions.

  6. Dormous says:

    I may just be me, but I see real relevance in the actual report that CR published. Yes only one car seat passed, but you know what… I’m going to buy that car seat. If it will protect my child at 78 MPH, i.e. it goes above and beyond the standards, I want it.

  7. I don’t get it. They’ve been doing this for 70 years. I think they’re allowed to make one mistake.

  8. NeoteriX says:

    Electoral College Dropout says:

    I don’t get it. They’ve been doing this for 70 years. I think they’re allowed to make one mistake.

    Agreed. I’m admittedly a Consumer Reports fanboy, but there is no other organization out there so absolutely dedicated to advancing the plight of the consumer. (w/ Consumerist being a close second *wink*)

    I love cars and I love electronics and at times disagree with the evaluations or choices they make, but recognize for the average lay person, their recommendations are still reasonable and acceptable. Because they might not have the depth of discussion or expertise as a dedicated car, photography, computing magazine does not discount their enormous value to the average consumer.

    Furthermore, in addition to rating products (where I agree, CR should be used as one source in conjunction with others), CR strives to educate consumers about how products work, what features to look for, and how those features affect the use of the product. Even if you feel the testing is flawed, the overall consumer education is still tremendous.

    As is quite obvious, I have tremendous respect for an organization with as much integrity as Consumer Reports.

  9. Sean says:

    Dormous has hit the nail on the head. My wife and I are expecting our first child in June, and we changed the car seat we were intending to buy to the Graco SnugRide, specifically because it was one of the two that passed the tests. As others have mentioned, however, we did look up plenty of other reviews of the same car seat before we made the final decision, though.

  10. etinterrapax says:

    I’ve read them for years, and have never really been discouraged by their work. I might not always agree with the ratings, especially where taste is a factor (sometimes in food ratings, they’ll recommend something that most people can’t get, or base their evaluations on criteria that don’t mean anything to me), but as a guideline, they’ve rarely steered me wrong. I greatly admire their commitment to take no outside advertising and their refusal to permit their ratings to be used explicitly in advertising. That’s more than an awful lot of publications would do.

  11. Mojosan says:

    I take everything in CR with a grain of salt.

    I sold electronics for a big box retailer during college and many times I saw a great product get a bad review because of nonsence like the battery door was hard to open or one button that you might use once in 100 plays was a color that they did not feel was the best color ro use.

    Ironically, my wife and I had just ordered the SnugRide 3 days before the test came out. We just got it today (the baby came last Friday).

    I feel bad for the employees and stockholders at companies like Evenflo that have had a serious negative impact due to CR’s error.

  12. Hyman Decent says:

    the magazine’s first ever article retraction

    I don’t think this is the first time they’ve retracted an article. I remember several years ago they had to retest pet foods because a manufacturer (which was gracious enough not to sue them) pointed out the method they used to measure nutritional content was inaccurate. In fact, as I read the article about the car seats on the day the issue arrived in the mail, I remembered that pet food debacle and I hoped that this report would not turn out to be a repeat of that.

  13. Hyman Decent says:

    As for the two seats they went so far as to label “Not Acceptable”:

    The Eddie Bauer Comfort was deemed Not Acceptable because it could not be installed securely. (It turns out to have been available with one of two different bases and CR promised to perform crash testing using the base that came with newer samples of the seat.) It’s been discontinued, anyway.

    The Evenflo Discovery was deemed Not Acceptable because it did not meet the Federal standard for 30mph frontal crash tests in CR‘s testing. Only CR‘s side crash test seems to be at issue here.

  14. dhario says:

    i don’t know why people harp on CR. they are a CONSUMER based magazine that has ZERO ads. All tests are conducted to determine the best value for the customer. Like all things customers should take reviews for what they are “reviews”. It doesn’t mean you use that information as your SOLE source of information. If for example, leaders of this country DON’T consider multiple sources of information you could potentially be in an illegitimate war in the middle east based on a SINGLE viewpoint — and we all know that doesn’t happen. Take an objective view of ALL reviews and determine the best solution for yourself.

  15. ugly says:

    My father-out-law is a fervent admirer of all things CR recommended. He’s basically made the report his shopping list, picking only those products that receive top marks. While this has served him well for his automobile purchases, it has caused no end of anguish for electronics.

    I’d suggest to anyone who is looking to buy any electronics to look through the reviews found throughout the web. In fact a simple google search for “>product

    Consumer reports have lost my respect. As far as electronics go I’d trust them only marginally more than Tom’s Hardware (not at all) or the local Best-buy salesperson.