The first car ride home with your newborn is exciting—and unnerving. You want to make sure you have the perfect infant car seat to keep your little bundle safe. To help take some of the guesswork out of choosing the right one, we tested a number of infant car seats, and the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air is among our favourites.
Suitable for infants weighing four to 35 pounds or up to 32 inches tall, the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air has some great features: one-click universal anchorage system (UAS) clips for simple installation; a machine-washable seat pad (because blowouts are inevitable); protective air-release technology to reduce the sudden force of impact in the event of a crash; and a budget-friendly price.
All of the car seats we tested, including the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air, have been crash-tested by the manufacturer and approved for use in Canada by Transport Canada and Health Canada. For our assessment, we focused on the car seat’s overall quality, ease of installation and use, and value given its price.
EASE OF INSTALLATION
In both the lab and the real world, our testers found the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air’s manual super simple to follow, thanks to colour-coded pages that correspond to labels on the seat. These instructions easily guided our parent testers through the three possible options: installing the base using the UAS or a seat belt, or using a seat belt to install the seat without the base. The majority of our testers found they got the most secure fit without the base, but your ideal setup really depends on your car and how the seat fits best.
Levelling is the first step toward a safe installation, and our parent testers found it very easy to accomplish. The indicator on the carrier will help you achieve the proper angle based on your child’s weight. (Pro tip: Make sure your vehicle is parked on level ground before getting started, or your angle will be off.) But because angle indicator is on the carrier rather than the base, you’re going to have to remove the carrier to make an angle adjustment (either tightening the UAS strap or modifying the foot of the base using the adjustment button) and then put the carrier back in place to see whether you’ve gotten it right.
The Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air UAS clips aren’t the easiest to use of those we’ve come across, but they get the job done. While one of our testers had an easy experience attaching and tightening the straps, our editors and another parent tester found it somewhat difficult. It takes a bit of muscle and pressure applied to different parts of the base (down in the centre or down and toward the rear of the vehicle) to get a secure installation, which is true of most seats.
This car seat is really easy to use. It took us probably less than five minutes to install it and it felt immediately secure.” —Cat, mom of two
If the UAS clips aren’t compatible with your vehicle, securing the seat using a seat belt is your only option. While threading the lap and shoulder belt through the belt path in the base is straightforward, tightening required a bit more coordination. After buckling the seat belt, pull out the shoulder strap as far as it goes, and slowly release it back into the retractor with one hand while pressing down on the base with the other. Just like with the UAS installation, using different leverage points to compress the base, along with making sure the seat belt is taut and lying flat, will ensure the base is securely installed and doesn’t move more than an inch when tugged in any direction.
For families with more than one vehicle, purchasing an extra base will make moving baby between cars much less of a burden. However, should you need to install the seat without the base, you might want to have a tightly rolled towel on hand to help achieve the proper recline angle. During this installation, only the lap belt gets fed through the belt path, while the shoulder strap hovers overtop as you tighten it using the seat belt’s locking mechanism. The clearly labelled diagrams in the manual make this process much less complicated than it sounds, and with some patience and practice, it will become second nature. In fact, all of the parents who tried this method found it very easy.
It’s important to try before you buy. As we found in our testing, there are all sorts of incompatibility issues between vehicles and car seats. The belt path could be too low, the tether might hang loose or a car seat’s height might interfere with the vehicle’s front seats. Or it just might be challenging for you to lift your kid into and out of a particular seat. Ask retailers if you can try installing the floor model in your vehicle to see if it’s a good fit. And when you’re buying a new vehicle, be sure to take your car seat to see if it’ll work—or be prepared to shell out for a new car seat if you love the car.
SIZE AND WEIGHT
The 17-inch width of the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air makes it one of the narrowest car seats we tested in the lab, which is a huge benefit for many families, as it frees up back seat space for other passengers or even another car seat (one mom noted that she fit the Safety 1st and two other car seats in her Hyundai Santa Fe). Having to move the passenger seat forward to accommodate the depth of this car seat (24 inches) is a common occurrence, but it really just depends on your vehicle.
Lugging around an infant car seat is never easy, but the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air weighs in at 9.3 pounds, which is mid-range of the car seats we tested. You should be able to lift the carrier with baby secured, and the handle is curved for comfortable transporting.
Overall great car seat for the cost. Great material, great size for baby and good weight. —Natalia, mom of one
When it comes to the five-point safety harness, only one of our parent testers felt a little doubtful of the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air’s overall ease of use. Buckling and unbuckling the harness does take a few steps and requires some hand strength, but it’s made so your little one can’t escape on their own. However, tightening and loosening the harness is a cinch to do, thanks to the release level and tightening strap. When your baby starts growing, adjusting the shoulder straps to the correct height (at or just below their shoulders) is done by re-threading the harness straps. While this is an extra step, the majority of our parent testers found the task easy.
FRAME AND FABRIC
The carrier is made of polypropylene and resin, and the fabric is a polyester blend that’s washable, foam-like and uber soft. The infant insert is composed of two pieces—a roll (which surrounds baby’s head and hips) and little pillows—to provide ultimate support for your baby between four and 11 pounds. None of our parent testers had any difficulty installing or removing the infant insert. Taking off the seat cover for cleaning isn’t too hard, but there are a lot of pad tabs and tight corners to be mindful of when reinstalling it.
The handlebar was nice when carrying around baby. The material is also great—it didn’t get any of those little cotton balls and cleaned well.” —Natalia, mom of one
The Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air aims to keep babies comfy with lots of cushiony padding and soft fabric, and our parent testers were in 100 percent agreement that their babes travelled in comfort and style in the seat. They all felt the car seat padding was comfortable and provided the support a baby needs, particularly for the head and neck. Using the infant body pillow prevented the dreaded forward slump, and all of the babies napped easily in the seat. While our parent testers weren’t crazy about the canopy (one described it as “a bit flimsy”), we found it quiet to extend. However, a light blanket might be needed to provide enough shade, because the canopy extends only as far as the handle in its fully upright position.
Our parent testers were satisfied with the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air, and the majority rated its ease of use and value as very good, while the car seat’s quality assessment spanned from somewhat good to very good. Most said they would recommend this car seat to other parents and that its features—from ease of installation to relatively low cost to the materials used—make it worthy of the Today’s Parent Approved seal. Our editors appreciated the soft padding, helpful angle indicator and clear labelling that takes the guesswork out of installation. Keeping the newest member of your family safe, secure and comfy, the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air is a car seat we can get behind.