Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Elkhart plant's buckles used in recalled child car seats
Posted on March 6, 2014 at 5:34 p.m.

An Elkhart factory stands at the center of a federal investigation into the safety of buckles that it makes for child car seats.

Car seat manufacturer Graco last month announced a recall of about 3.7 million car seats after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined they could pose a safety hazard because the buckles can be difficult to open.

An NHTSA report quotes a mother who spent 45 minutes squeezing her toddler daughter out of her car seat because she couldn't unlatch the buckle.

"My toddler became increasingly upset as it was getting scary," she wrote. "It's extremely unnerving to have this happen to your child, and even more, the worst case scenarios are already playing in my mind: What if we had a car fire or a car accident?"

The buckles in the recalled seats were made by AmSafe Commercial Products’ Elkhart plant at 22937 Gallatin Way. The NHTSA also is investigating EvenFlo car seats for the same reason, and those seats also contain AmSafe buckles.

The NHTSA confirmed it is in contact with AmSafe to determine whether its buckles have been placed in any other child car seat brands.

AmSafe’s Elkhart plant referred The Elkhart Truth to spokesman Peter Miller at AmSafe’s Phoenix headquarters. Miller did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.

Graco initially balked at the recall, arguing the buckles become stuck because “food, dried liquid drinks, vomit, formula, etc.” seeps into the buckles over time, causing the buckles to become difficult to unlatch, according to NHTSA documents. But the agency dismissed that reasoning, saying it’s “completely foreseeable” that such items will contaminate a child car seat.

Graco has received more than 6,100 consumer reports complaining about the problem, according to NHTSA documents. Graco is a defendant in two lawsuits over the issue, one a class-action suit filed in a California federal court, and the other a wrongful death suit in Los Angeles Superior Court, in which 2-year-old Leiana Ramirez allegedly was killed while sitting in a Graco car seat during a car fire that followed an accident.

The Graco seats recalled were the model years 2009-2013, produced with the “Signature,” “QT” and “QT3” buckles. For more details, visit Graco's recall website.

In May, Graco switched from using the AmSafe buckle to a new one supplied by Westfield-based Indiana Mills and Manufacturing Inc. Graco is offering consumers that buckle as a replacement for the recalled seats.