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Consumer Reports - Strollers

Most strollers have become larger, but not necessarily heavier, and easy to maneuver. Many are also compatible with infant car seats. Navy remains a popular color, and black is now in vogue. You’ll a...

Most strollers have become larger, but not necessarily heavier, and easy to maneuver. Many are also compatible with infant car seats.

Navy remains a popular color, and black is now in vogue. You’ll also see shades of green, silver, and other bright colors. Electronic gadgets for babies and parents abound.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE

The biggest-selling brands are Cosco, Evenflo, Graco, and Kolcraft. High-end import brands include Aprica, Combi, Maclaren, and Peg Pérego. Your baby's needs and your own preferences will determine which you’ll use and how you’ll use it. There’s a host of types to choose from:

Traditional strollers. This category includes conventional strollers and lightweight umbrella strollers. Many conventional models can accommodate infant car seats. Unless used with an infant car seat, they’re generally not suitable for babies younger than 6 months.

Pros: Often fairly lightweight and convenient.

Cons: Heavier models are difficult to carry on public transportation or to use in buildings with elevators or escalators. And you still need a car seat.

Price range: $20 (for some umbrella strollers) to $300.

Travel systems. A stroller and infant car seat combo for use with newborns and toddlers. The car seat fits in the stroller. When the child outgrows the car seat, usually at about 22 pounds, the stroller is used alone.

Pros: Adults can move a sleeping baby undisturbed from car to stroller.

Cons: Some early models were recalled because the stroller collapsed suddenly or the car seat handles failed. New models are improved.

Price range: $150 to $200.

Jogger or all-terrain strollers. Three-wheeled strollers for running with mom or dad, or traditional-style strollers with heavy-duty suspension or air-filled tires.

Pros: Good for off-road use.

Cons: Not suitable for babies younger than 6 months old. Can be unstable when the rear wheels are lifted over a curb.

Price range: $100 to $300.

Double strollers. Some models seat children side-by-side; tandems seat one child behind the other or face-to-face. Some can accommodate newborns in infant car seats.

Pros: The only way to push two children.

Cons: Heavier and harder to maneuver than single strollers. Side-by-side models can’t be used with infant car seats; tandems can be hard to push over curbs.

Price range: $100 to $500.

Seat carrier frames. Lightweight, empty frames designed to hold an infant car seat, using it as the carriage.

Pros: Inexpensive and convenient.

Cons: Both the car seat and the frame must be replaced once the child outgrows the seat.

Price range: $40 to $50.

IMPORTANT FEATURES

Generally, paying more gets you options such as extra padding, additional reclining positions, or a sophisticated suspension.

Safety belts. Get a model with a sturdy safety belt and crotch strap, which help keep a baby or a toddler from slipping out. Thick nylon webbing is the typical material used. Look for buckles that are easy for you to operate but difficult for small hands to unfasten. Most strollers offer only waist and crotch straps, but more (usually upscale models) are starting to offer an adjustable five-point harness (two straps over the shoulders, two for the thighs, and a crotch strap), much like those found in car seats.

Brakes. Over the years, stroller brakes have become increasingly reliable and easier to use. Some are activated by a bar in the rear of the stroller frame (single-action). Others require two actions and have foot-operated tabs above each rear wheel. When brakes are engaged, plastic cogs engage with the sprockets of the rear wheels. Some pricier strollers have brakes on the front as well as the rear wheels. Avoid models that can hurt your feet as you engage or disengage the brakes with light shoes or bare feet.

Wheels. The SUV-syndrome has carried over into the stroller design with large wheels and rugged off-road appearance. The larger the wheels, the easier it is to negotiate curbs. But big wheels eat up trunk space. Most strollers offer double wheels on the front to make steering easier. Front wheels feature two positions: full swivel for smooth surfaces, or locked in the forward-facing position for rough terrain. Misaligned or loose wheels are a chronic stroller problem. One sign of good construction is that all wheels of a stroller contact the floor uniformly when there is a baby inside. Relatively new in stroller design are pneumatic (air-filled) tires. A pump is needed, but not supplied with some models. Some manufacturers have created wheel assemblies that can be completely slipped off the frame for easy replacement, which is a plus.

Shock absorbers. Some tires can help give baby a smoother ride. So can shock absorbers--covered springs or rubber pads above the wheel assemblies. Softer suspension is a newer feature that offers a smoother ride, but too-soft a ride can be at the expense of steering control. A few expensive imports have loose, nonrigid frames that are supposed to reduce jarring.

Handles. Handles might be padded, even thickly cushioned, on more expensive models. Adjustable handle bars can be extended or angled to accommodate parents of different heights. Reversible handles allow you to swing them over the top of the stroller, then lock them into position so that baby rides facing you. The same is possible with models with a reversible seat. A U-shaped handle not only allows for one-handed steering, but generally makes the stroller more stable and controllable. Umbrella strollers and other models with two independent handles require two hands to maneuver.

Canopies. These range from a fabric square strung between two wires to a deep, pull-down canopy that shields almost the entire front of the stroller. A canopy is a must-have, especially in glaring sunlight or inclement weather. Some canopies have a clear vinyl window on top so you can keep an eye on baby.

Leg holes and other openings (such as the head and around the occupant area). Strollers, for use with newborns or very young infants, must have leg holes that close so that an infant can't slip through. Manufacturers typically use fabric shields or hinged footrests that raise and clamp over leg holes.

Footrests. These can help children sit more comfortably without their legs dangling. Even the flimsiest strollers offer some type of footrest, but most are too low to help any but the tallest toddlers. For that reason, make sure the seat rim is soft and won’t press uncomfortably into the back of the child's legs.

Fabric and upholstery. You'll want to be able to sponge off spills and splashes and launder the upholstery without worrying about shrinking, fading, or puckering. Look for a removable seat and laundry instructions, usually on an attached tag or on printed instructions inside the packaging.

Play tray. Strollers may have a tray where baby can play, dribble milk, and drop cookie crumbs. If the tray comes with attached toys, check their size. Some strollers have been recalled because small parts on their play trays’ toys pose choking hazards. (No toy part, removable screws included, should be smaller than the diameter of a toilet-paper roll.) To make it easier to seat a squirming baby or toddler, the tray should open or be removable rather than permanently attached.

Parent trays. They’re usually molded with a cup holder or compartment for keys, cell phone, etc.

Storage areas. Large, easily accessible storage underneath the stroller makes running errands with baby a lot easier. Basket sizes vary. Try to choose one that's at least big enough to hold a diaper bag. When shopping for a stroller, press on the storage-basket floor--it shouldn't drag on the ground when loaded.

Boots. A few strollers offer protective leg coverings, or “boots," made of a matching fabric that can snap over baby’s legs for added warmth.

Reflectors or reflective trim of fabric. Many strollers have this essential safety feature.

HOW TO CHOOSE

Key differences. A high price does not ensure high quality. Consumer Reports tests have shown that some economical strollers can perform as well as or even better than models priced hundreds of dollars more. Even higher-end models can suffer typical stroller flaws: rivets on frames that sheer off, seat fabric that rips, wheels that become misaligned, folding mechanisms that cease to function, and squeaks and rattles that develop.

Recommendations. A stroller is a key item of baby equipment, and you may well end up with more than one. To take a small infant or new born for a stroll, you'll need a model that lets you close the leg holes or other openings or one that’s car-seat capable. Another option is to buy a travel system, which lets you transport the infant in the car seat.

For babies who can sit up, any type of stroller is fine. A lightweight model that’s easy to fold and carry and has good shock absorption is an excellent choice. Off-road or three-wheel-type strollers steer differently than four-wheelers. Try them first to see if you can handle them. They can be unstable when you lift their rear wheels, say, going up a curb. Multiple-occupancy strollers are becoming increasingly popular, not only for transporting twins, but also for strolling with kids of different age levels. Tandem models are a bit harder to steer and move up a curb, but they pass through most doorways. Side-by-side models are easier to steer, but pose a challenge in narrow doorways.

When shopping for strollers, here are things to consider:

Test-drive the stroller. A stroller should fit the baby and the person pushing it. Take the models you’re considering for a test drive. Make sure that you’re not hunched over when you push and that your feet don’t hit the stroller as you walk. For parents of different stature, look for a model with adjustable handle height. Try pushing with one hand as well as two; the stroller should immediate respond to your hand.

Check sturdiness. The frame should feel solid, not loose.

Check ease of folding/opening. See how easy it is to fold the stroller, remembering that you’ll often be holding your baby and folding the stroller at the same time.

Consider weight and size. Strollers weigh anywhere from 7 to 35 pounds. That’s important if you have to carry the stroller up the stairs at home. Check the size for fit in your car’s trunk.

Manufacturers set a weight limit, usually 40 pounds. Too much weight loaded into the stroller can cause the frame to bend, the wheels to loosen, or the safety catches to accidentally release, leading to possible injuries. Never try to put two kids in a stroller meant for one.

Evaluate warranties and return policies. Most stroller manufacturers and retailers have warranties that protect you from poor workmanship and inherent flaws. Manufacturers may replace the stroller broken part--but in the meantime you’re stranded without baby wheels. They also include a registration card with each new stroller. Fill out and return the portion that enables the manufacturer contact you in case of a recall.

Copyright © 2002-2006 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

For the latest information on this and many other products and servicesFeature Articles, visit www.ConsumerReports.org.

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