Reviewers say the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air does an enviable job of keeping both the smallest and tallest babies safe. Its infant insert and low-adjusting harness are good even for preemies, and the roomy seat shell gives taller babies extra legroom. The seat also gets high marks for safety and easy installation. On the downside, the fabric can pill and must be hand-washed, and the big seat might not be a good fit in smaller cars.
Beefed-up side-impact protection. The Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air's claim to fame is its "air protect" technology, which provides greater side-impact cushioning in a crash. The seat also has energy-absorbing foam, a five-point harness with a chest clip and push-button LATCH connectors. It receives the highest possible rating in independent crash tests. The seat's handle can be in any locked position while in the car, which parents appreciate. Dorel Juvenile Group, parent company of Safety 1st, recalled about 1,700 of the seats made between May 2011 and April 2012 because they were sold without a base.
Easy to install, hard to wash. Reviewers report no major issues installing the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air, which has easy-to-use push-button LATCH connectors and a level that tells parents when they have the seat at the proper angle for both newborns and older babies. Experts note that owners have to flip over the seat base to adjust the angle, however. The base has built-in seat-belt lock-offs, and its seat-belt installation is also well received. The seat's harness gets more mixed reviews because it must be rethreaded through the back to adjust for height. While straps are easy to operate, experts say it's sometimes hard to get them tight enough. The Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air's handle has an ergonomic handle with a rubberized grip. The seat fabric can be hard to remove, and on top of that, it's hand-wash only, experts note. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the seat 3 out of 5 stars for ease of use, saying the seat's labels are lacking and adjusting the harness can be tricky.
Good for leggy babies. The Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air can accommodate babies from 4 to 35 pounds and up to 32 inches tall, but Safety 1st says to discontinue use regardless of height if a child's head is less than an inch from the top of the shell. The shell is one of the tallest on the market. Safety 1st says the OnBoard 35 Air has more legroom than most infant seats, a claim reviewers back up. The seat also provides a good fit for very small babies thanks to low bottom-harness slots and an infant insert, experts say. Parents praise the generous padding, but some say the fabric pills easily. Others wish there were neck cushions on the straps. Another complaint: The seat isn't compatible with many strollers. At about 9 pounds, the seat is average among competitors, but because of its larger shell, it can also take up a lot of room in the back seat. The canopy is also a potential con -- reviewers say it could be larger and slips out of place.
Don't lose the manual. Reviewers have few complaints about customer service. However, if you misplace your car seat's instructions, you will need both the manufacture date and the product number to download the instructions from the website; inconvenient if your seat's already installed. The website's product support FAQ section may be a better bet if you have questions about the seat's operation, except it often refers you to the manual. There is a limited one-year warranty, and the seat expires after six years.
1. Baby Bargains
"Baby Bargains" covers all major infant car seats in depth. Authors Denise and Alan Fields consider performance, ease of use and the brand's track record to come up with their overall rating for each seat. Reviews are comparative, thorough and unbiased.
Review: Car Seats: Picking the Right Child Safety Seat, Denise and Alan Fields, 2013, 10th edition
This website, run by professional child passenger safety technicians and instructors, names the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air to its recommended seat list. A short review praises the seat's ability to fit both the smallest and tallest babies, but notes it's a big seat that lacks a no-rethread harness.
Review: CarSeatBlog's Recommended Car Seats List, Editors of CarSeatBlog.com, February 2014
Editors of ConsumerReports.org test 29 infant car seats on safety, ease of use and fit to vehicle. The ratings are reliable and unbiased, and they include editors' "highs" and "lows" for each seat -- helpful for parents who want a quick summary of each seat.
Review: Infant Car Seat Ratings, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not dated
4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Since all car seats meet federal safety and crash performance standards, NHTSA rates car seats only on ease of use. The Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air earns an overall ease-of-use score of 3 stars out of 5. Editors say labels are lacking and criticize the lack of a no-rethread harness.
Review: Child Safety Seat Ease of Use Ratings, Editors of NHTSA, Not dated
The Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air receives 4.4 out of 5 stars in more than 20 reviews. The seat earns praise for its ample padding and spacious frame. Some reviewers report quality issues such as pilling fabric and jammed handles, while others find the fabric hot and the seat too large. Lack of stroller compatibility also garners complaints.
Review: Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air Infant Car Seat, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of February 2014
6. Good Housekeeping
The Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air earns praise for clear instructions, an easy-to-operate harness and smooth-to-operate base. But editors note angle adjustment can be tricky and point out the lack of a no-rethread harness. They also say it's hard to remove the seat cover, which is hand-wash only.
Review: Infant Car Seat Reviews, Editors of Good Housekeeping, Not dated
The Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air makes this list of five top infant car seats. Editors like the OnBoard 35 Air's plush padding; quiet, smooth base; and solid safety reviews. But the harness lacks neck padding and the seat is very heavy, they say.
Review: The Best Infant Car Seats, Editors of BabyCenter.com, Not dated
Heather Corley praises the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air's side-impact technology and ability to fit both small and very tall babies. She lists it as number three of six, but the short review does not note any cons and there is no mention of testing.
Review: Top 6 Infant Car Seats, Heather Corley, Not dated
9. Parents Magazine
Hartshorn and Scheflin recommend the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air for its "carry curve" handle, which they say is comfortable to hold. The short review does not discuss other features or note any cons.
Review: Best Car Seats for Babies and Toddlers, Jessica Hartshorn and Hallie Scheflin, Not dated