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Consumer Reports

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    After flaw is fixed, the Mutsy Evo stroller passes our tests

    Consumer Reports has removed its "Don't Buy: Safety Risk" designation from a stroller it tested last year after finding that a newer model did not pose the same safety risks. In earlier tests, we found that the positioning of the grab bar on the Mutsy Evo stroller posed a strangulation hazard if the child was not harnessed. The Consumer Product Safety Commission agreed and announced the stroller's recall in February. But a newer model, which offers more clearance between the bar and the seat, corrected the flaw and in our second round of tests we rated the stroller very good overall.

    The recalled models of the Mutsy Evo, including those we purchased at retail for our tests, posed a strangulation hazard related to a removable grab bar that attached above the child's legs. When an unharnessed child was placed in the stroller with the grab bar in its normal use position, the opening between the bar and the seat surface was wide enough to allow the child's torso to pass through but not wide enough to accommodate the child's head. As a result, the child could become caught on the bar, potentially resulting in asphyxiation. This hazard, known as "submarining", exists only if the child is not strapped into the stroller, a real-world possibility.

    The Mutsy Evo models in the recall include about 340 Evo strollers manufactured between February 2012 and November 2012 with the following model numbers: MT12-03, MT12-11, MT12-14, MT12-31, MT12-34, MT12-37, MT12-39, MT12-42, MT12-43 and MT12-48. The model number and date code can be found underneath the stroller seat on a white sticker. The recalled stroller was sold in juvenile product stores nationwide and on websites, including, between April 2012 and December 2012.

    The model we purchased for our more recent tests, the Mutsy Evo MT13-06, has a manufacture date of January 2013 and a date code of 01-2013. The strollers come with black or silver-colored metal frames and in a variety of fabric colors including brown, navy blue, black and white.

    The Mutsy Evo, $400, performs on par with some other combination strollers—a hybrid consisting of the stroller chassis and either a reversible stroller seat or a carrycot/ bassinet option. A very good performer, the Evo was easy to use and had excellent maneuverability—a big plus when you're trying to get out of a tight spot in a busy store or sidewalk. Its adjustable handle makes it easy for people of varying heights to comfortably push the stroller. A potential downside: You could find lifting the 26-pound Musty Evo a challenge If you're petite or your vehicle has a high trunk, like the ones on a typical SUV.

    In December, we also judged the iCandy Cherry IC124 stroller a "Don't Buy: Safety Risk" because it had the same hazard as the Musty Evo. An iCandy representative told us that the company was withdrawing that stroller from the U.S. market so we were not able to find a model for retesting.

    Good news for parents: We found a number of winners in our tests of strollers including single traditional, umbrella and combination strollers, car-seat carriers, and double side-by-sides and tandems. Our top stroller picks range in price from $60 to $525 depending on what style you choose.

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    As poisoning cases rise, a call for safer laundry pod packaging

    Since 1961, the third week in March has been designated National Poison Prevention Week. The event was established by Congress as a way to highlight the dangers of poisonings and show how to prevent them. More than 2 million poisonings are reported each year, nine out of 10 of which occur at home. While children are most vulnerable, poisonings are also one of the leading causes of death among adults.

    There are far more poison threats today compared with when National Poison Prevention Week started. In "Laundry detergent pods remain a health hazard," we detail one that's arisen in the last year, laundry pods. Since early 2012, poison-control centers nationwide have received reports of nearly 7,700 pod-related exposures to children age 5 years and younger.

    Exposure to a single-use laundry pod can cause more severe symptoms than conventional detergent. Swallowing conventional detergent might result in mild stomach upset, but with highly concentrated detergent pods the ingestion can cause excessive vomiting, lethargy, and gasping. In some reported cases, victims stopped breathing and required ventilation support.

    As part of National Poison Prevention Week, Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, is warning the public of this growing health hazard and pressing the industry to do more to protect children. If you have or care for young kids, keep detergent pods out of their reach. And if a child does ingest a pod, call the poison-control helpline immediately (800-222-1222).

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    Five common household products that can poison your child

    Every day two children die and more than 300 kids under the age of 19 are treated in emergency rooms as a result of unintentional poisoning. In fact, over the last decade, there's been an 80 percent increase in child poisoning deaths. During National Poison Prevention Week, experts are reminding parents about the everyday products in their homes that put children at risk. Here are the five most common household culprits, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, and how to keep them secure in your home.

    Cosmetics and personal care products.
    The number-one substance causing child poisonings in 2011, the most recent year for which we have data, was personal care products. Keep your makeup, skin- and hair-care products, and other toiletries secured in drawers or cabinets with child locks, or on shelves out of your child's reach. Products such as nail-polish remover can seriously harm a child.

    Analgesics (painkillers).
    Whether you keep them in the bathroom, bedroom or kitchen, store painkillers out of sight and out of reach. Don't leave a bottle on a bedside stand or other low, accessible furniture. And to discourage copy-cat behavior, don't take medication while your child is watching. If you're giving your little one medicine, don't call it candy.

    Household cleaners. While it's more convenient to store your bathroom and kitchen cleaners within reach close to or under the sink, all of these products should be stored in cabinets with a lock or on a high shelf. And keep them in their original containers, which may have a childproof closure, and not in bottles that resemble food or drink containers. Single-dose laundry pods are the latest threat in this category.

    In the event of a poisoning incident, you'll need to give the poison-control center vital information listed on the container and the label. Bleach and drain cleaner are just two common household cleaners that can be fatal to children.

    Toys and small items. Toys and other small items found around the house, including holiday decorations, coins, and desiccants—those small packets in bottles of medication or shoe boxes—are just some of the culprits in this category. Keep batteries and small magnets away from children and supervise them when they're using arts and craft supplies. Even bubble-blowing solution is a hazard.

    Topical preparations. Diaper rash creams, acne medications, and calamine and camphor-based ointments and lotions are poisonous when ingested. After every diaper change, put your diaper change products, including baby powder, out of your child's reach.

    In an emergency, call 1-800-222-1222. Keep the phone number of the poison control center programmed into your cell phone and on display in several locations around your home.

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    Manufacturer recalls 554,000 LED bulbs from four major brands

    After receiving 68 reports of LEDs overheating, including some that produced fire or smoke, the Lighting Science Group has recalled 554,000 lightbulbs sold under the brand names Definity, EcoSmart, Sylvania, and Westinghouse. Included in the incidents were eight that resulted in damage to light sockets, fixtures, rugs, carpet, floors, circuits or lamps. The Lighting Science Group is offering new bulbs to buyers.

    The recalled LEDs, equivalent to 40- or 50-watt incandescent bulbs, were manufactured between October 2010 and mid-March 2011. They were marketed as 6- or 8-watt LEDs and include A19, G25, and R20 (also known as PAR20) bulb types. You'll find the type indicated on the packaging and on the circular neck above the base of the bulb where the date code appears. The date code indicates the manufacturing date and is important in identifying the recalled LEDs. It may have "CH" or "MX" at the end. For the full list of 24 date codes, check the Consumer Product Safety Commission's recall notice.

    Consumer Reports tested the EcoSmart A19 LED Bright White 40W ECS 19WW 120 864680 but did not encounter the overheating problem. The LED did not make our list of recommended lightbulbs; it's no longer in our Ratings because Home Depot no longer sells it.

    If you own an affected LED, stop using it. To get a free replacement, contact the company (855-574-2533) or fill out a form on its recall page.

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    For the best protection, use both types of smoke detectors

    A report on smoke alarms on Sunday's episode of Dateline on NBC has triggered further debate about which type of alarm works best: photoelectric or ionization. If you're familiar with Consumer Reports' smoke alarm tests, you know that the answer is ... neither. We recommend both technologies to ensure maximum protection from fire. Here's why.

    Our tests of a dozen smoke alarms from BRK Electronics, First Alert and Kidde found clear strengths among the two technologies. Smoke alarms that use ionization technology were great at detecting a fast, flaming fire such as burning paper, but poor at detecting a smoldering fire, as in a couch or mattress. The opposite was true of photoelectric smoke alarms. That's why you need both types of alarm in your home. Or consider a dual sensor model, which embeds the two technologies in a single alarm.

    There should be at least one set on each level of your home, including the basement and attic. Be sure to place a detector in every bedroom and outside each sleeping area. Interconnected models, called out in our smoke alarm tests, will all sound simultaneously when any one is triggered. That way you'll be warned of a fire in the basement when you're asleep upstairs. To avoid false alarms, don't mount ionization or dual smoke alarms in the kitchen, where burnt toast might set them off, or near sources of steam such as a bathroom, laundry room or sauna.

    Watch this 60-second video for more advice on choosing and using smoke alarms. And don't forget about adding a carbon monoxide alarm, especially important as more and more people use generators during storm events. For more tips, read our CO and smoke alarm buying guide or visit the Dateline website.

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    The best and worst high chairs from our recent tests

    The cute names of some of today's high chairs—Sprout, Juice, Blossom—belie their serious purpose: keeping your baby safe. Some high chairs are better at this than others as Consumer Reports discovered in its latest tests. Of the 10 new models added to our high chair Ratings, two were good enough to make our list of top high chair picks while three others had safety issues serious enough to drop them to the bottom of our rankings.

    In our tests, the OXO Sprout, $250, a wooden chair intended to be used by a child well beyond the high-chair years, got everything right. It was easy to use, easy to clean, and did well in our safety tests. And for some parents, the fact that the chair grows with the child may justify its higher price. For $100 less you can choose our other new top pick, the Mamas and Papas Juice, which is a basic, all-around excellent chair that is lighter than the Sprout. But note, neither of these chairs fold up for storage.

    Three high chairs with safety issues and a Don't Buy
    While children should always be strapped into their high chairs, three of those we tested could pose a safety risk to youngsters who aren't harnessed properly, which can happen with harried parents. A low-priced option from a well-known brand, the Evenflo Compact Fold, $55, had some issues with the side panels that could lead to a unharnessed child's leg becoming stuck. This chair has fabric side panels with Velcro tabs that are secured around the chair frame. On three separate samples of the chair, at least one tab tore loose from the fabric side or the Velcro released. Both flaws have the same result—a breach in the chair's side that creates enough space for a child's limb to wiggle through and possibly get stuck. The chair also comes with a three-point harness, which is not as secure as a five-point.

    A concern is that the attractive low-price of this chair, the least-expensive in our tests, may appeal to buyers who want an inexpensive chair or one to leave at Grandma's or the babysitter's.

    The Valco Baby Astro high chair, $130, has a combination fabric crotch restraint and harness instead of a molded post that keeps the chair from meeting safety standards. Our tests showed that an unharnessed child could maneuver his legs into the space between the top of the waist belt and the bottom of the tray and either fall from the chair or, far less likely, get his head caught in the opening. We also found that the narrow fabric leg openings may not accommodate a child with chubby thighs.

    222273-highchairs-ikea-blames-d-1.jpgOur engineers were left scratching their heads when it came to installing the three-point safety harness on the IKEA Blames high chair, $60. The chair comes with instructions that include drawings but few written words. Despite being experienced in assembling and testing high chairs, our engineers found that the drawings lacked detail that could make correct installation easier. We found that if you installed the crotch strap portion of the harness in the most obvious way, the strap could easily be pulled out, which could allow a child to fall out and possibly tip the chair over too. E-mails to IKEA for advice were answered after several weeks, but the information they gave us is not included in the instructions for the average consumer. We received an e-mail with step-by-step written instructions for the crotch belt that made it easy to install properly. But once assembled, the tray is fixed—there is no sliding adjustment. And the space between the seat back and the edge of the tray is larger than the industry safety standard permits, which may allow an unharnessed child to climb out.

    A chair from an earlier test, the Babyhome Eat, $150, lacks a crotch restraint entirely, and we previously designated it a Don't Buy: Safety Risk.

    Still, there are plenty of good choices for parents including a total of eight recommended high chairs ranging in price from $85 to $250. The two CR Best Buys, the Mia Moda Alto, $120 and the Fisher-Price EZ Clean, $85, performed as well or better than the pricier picks for about half the money. If you're a new parent or caregiver, see our high chair buying guide to find the best high chair for your child.

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    LifeScan recalls OneTouch VerioIQ blood glucose meters

    Over 90,000 OneTouch VerioIQ blood glucose meters are being recalled by its maker LifeScan, Inc. According to the company, a unit of Johnson & Johnson, the meters can inadvertently shut off if readings are extremely high. That could lead lead to incorrect or delayed treatment.

    The malfunction can occur if blood glucose readings are over 1024 mg/dl. Such extreme blood glucose readings are rare, says the Johnson & Johnson press release. But the malfunction would be serious, as users would not be warned of their dangerously high levels.

    Find the best model for your needs and budget by using Consumer Reports' free buying guide to blood glucose meters. And check our free guide to diabetes management for simple strategies that can help with the disease.

    Consumers with a OneTouch VerioIQ affected by this recall can receive a free replacement blood glucose meter by callng LifeScan toll-free: 800-717-0276.

    LifeScan Announces Voluntary Recall of All OneTouch® Verio®IQ Blood Glucose Meters

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    iCandy Cherry stroller recalled due to strangulation hazard

    iCandy World has recalled 830 of its Cherry strollers because the opening between the bumper bar and seat bottom can allow an infant to pass through and become entrapped at the neck, posing a strangulation hazard, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

    Back in December, we designated the iCandy Cherry stroller a Consumer Reports Don't Buy due to this safety hazard.

    The recalled iCandy Cherry strollers were sold for $400 by Buy Buy Baby and other retailers from October 2009 through December 2012. The recall only includes strollers in Fudge (light-medium brown) and Liquorice (red and black). The stroller has a white cherry logo on the rear of the seat and a label under the basket fabric on the frame tubing. Affected models are listed in the chart below.

    Check out our stroller Ratings for traditional, jogging, and all-terrain baby strollers.

    If you have one of the recalled iCandy Cherry strollers, remove the bumper bar and contact iCandy for a free replacement: Call 877-484-4179, visit, or email

    This week the CPSC also announced two other baby and child product recalls:

    Batch number Cherry stroller color Serial number
    FUDGE (IW119) 1-500
    170 LIQUORICE (IW124)/td> 501-1000
    182 LIQUORICE (IW124) 1001-1500
    181 FUDGE (IW119) 1501-2000

    iCandy World Recalls Cherry Strollers Due to Strangulation Hazard [CPSC]

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    Federal limits on arsenic in food and beverages still not in place

    How much progress have federal officials made in taking steps to reduce Americans' exposure to arsenic in everyday foods such as rice and apple juice? Not as much as we'd hope to see. While there is an arsenic standard for drinking water, no federal limit exists for arsenic in most foods.

    It's been more than a year since Consumer Reports started publishing test results that found worrisome levels of arsenic in juices and in rice products such as rice crackers and rice cereals. We urged that you consider limiting consumption of some juices and some kinds of rice products. Meanwhile, the wheels are turning slowly as various agencies weigh in on proposed arsenic rules.

    Here's an update on each area:

    Arsenic in juice
    More than a year ago, the Food and Drug Administration said it would conduct tests and possibly draw up new guidelines to reduce risks posed by arsenic in juice after Consumer Reports' tests found that roughly 10 percent of samples of apple or grape juice tested had total arsenic levels that exceeded federal drinking-water standards. Most of that arsenic was the inorganic form, a carcinogen that poses special risks for pregnant women and young children.

    The FDA has now drafted a report that may propose new guidelines to limit arsenic in apple juice, but that report remains under wraps while being reviewed at the Office of Management and Budget, where it has been for at least a couple of months, based on comments made by an FDA official at a National Academy of Sciences meeting on January 24.

    Arsenic in rice
    Last September, when Consumer Reports released even more troubling results based on its tests for arsenic in more than 200 samples of rice products, including brown rice, white rice, as well as rice cereals, crackers, and drinks, our safety experts called on the FDA to set limits for arsenic in rice products.

    The FDA responded by announcing that its own tests of rice and products such as infant rice cereals had detected inorganic arsenic at levels that were consistent with Consumer Reports' results, and it released results for nearly 200 of the samples it tested. The agency also pledged to test at least 1,000 additional samples by the end of 2012 to help determine what steps are needed to reduce arsenic exposure in rice. Though the agency should have completed tests of more than 1,300 samples of rice and rice products, the full results have not yet been disclosed.

    Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain results of all tests for arsenic in rice and rice products that the Food and Drug Administration has collected in its files from 1991 through the present. The request, part of our continuing investigation into health hazards posed by arsenic's presence in rice, seeks not only data on the levels of organic and inorganic arsenic detected but also all other details, including the country or state where the rice being tested was grown. Such data also are helpful in formulating our recommendations to consumers about consumption of rice products.

    We'll keep you updated as the issue moves along.

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    Can you dig it? Call 811 before putting a shovel in the ground

    A simple phone call could have averted a blaze last month that scorched a home in Berkeley, California, and started a fire in a nearby van. Caused when a worker hit a gas line with a pick axe, the incident illustrates why homeowners or workers should call 811 to learn the location of underground utilities. Unfortunately, that's a precaution many Americans ignore when planning projects that require a hole in the ground such as installing a mailbox, putting up a fence, or planting a tree.

    In recognition of National Safe Digging Month in April, the Common Ground Alliance surveyed 624 homeowners nationwide and found that 48 percent of them who plan to dig on their properties this year will not call 811 first. An underground utility line is damaged every eight minutes by errant digging, according to CGA data.

    "With millions of shovels entering the ground near billions of feet of unmarked underground utilities this year, we will continue to see damages occur every few minutes, leading to inconvenient outages, and in worst-case scenarios bodily harm, not just for the do-it-yourselfers, but for entire communities," said CGA President Bob Kipp, in the news release.

    Call 811 a few days before you plan to start the project. The call center will arrange for a professional locator to come mark the approximate location of underground utility lines with spray paint or flags. Once a site has been accurately marked, it is safe to begin digging around the marked areas. Color-coded flags are used to indicate what's below the ground, they include:

    • Red: Electric
    • Orange: Communications, telephone/CATV
    • Blue: Potable water
    • Green: Sewer/Drainage
    • Yellow: Gas/Petroleum pipe line
    • Purple: Reclaimed water
    • White: Pre-marks site of intended excavation

    For state-by-state information including local laws and phone numbers, visit the website Call 811. Here are more tips from Common Ground.
    • Plan ahead. Call on Monday or Tuesday for work planned for an upcoming weekend, providing ample time for the approximate location of lines to be marked.
    • Consider moving the location of your project if it is near utility line markings.
    • If a contractor has been hired, confirm that a call to 811 has been made. Don't allow work to begin if the lines aren't marked.
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    Toys made with small polymer balls pose a hazard to children

    Colorful, small toy balls and beads made of superabsorbent polymer can pose a safety hazard to children if they are ingested.

    These polymer balls expand dramatically in water. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued one recall (for Dunecraft Water Balz), but many other products using the balls remain on the market, in toys as well as in household products.

    For more details, watch the video above and read our report "Polymer Balls Raise Alarm."

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    Lead dust stirred up by remodeling can put children at risk

    Planning a home remodel? Take note: An estimated 535,000 (2.6 percent) of U. S. children ages 1 to 5 years have blood lead levels greater than or equal to the reference value of 5 micrograms per deciliter, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lead-laced paint chips and dust kicked up during renovation projects is a common source of contamination.

    If your home was built before 1978, lead is likely present. The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of approved do-it-yourself lead test kits, which are a first step toward understanding potential lead poisoning risks in your home. Especially if you're planning a major renovation, you should work with a certified professional by contacting your state or local agency at 800-424-LEAD. Any professional you hire is required by law to follow the EPA's Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule, which ensures that any harmful dust be properly contained.

    Drinking water is another potential source of lead poisoning, in particular in homes with lead plumbing. Consumer Reports has tested nearly 50 water filters, from inexpensive carafes costing as little as $15 to sophisticated reverse-osmosis systems that cost more than $1,000 to purchase and maintain, but that will capture lead along with other potential contaminants.

    The EPA-approved lead test kits include 3M LeadCheck and D-Lead. For more information, read the full CDC report.

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    Window falls a common but preventable childhood hazard

    Each year more than 5,200 children suffer falls from windows and at least one in four is injured badly enough to be hospitalized. So it's no accident that National Window Safety Week occurs in early Spring when the weather is mild enough to open the windows again. Safety experts take advantage of this week to remind parents and caregivers about the dangers of window falls. And there's evidence in at least one state that it's working. The Oregon Trauma Registry reports it is seeing a decrease in the number of falls.

    Younger children are more likely to fall from windows, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics. The average age of children treated for injuries suffered in window falls in U.S. hospital emergency departments was five, while children four years old and younger were more likely to sustain head injuries, to be hospitalized, or die. Boys are slightly more likely to fall than girls.

    When it comes to keeping your kids safe, there is no substitute for adult supervision. Safety experts recommend the follow precautions for parents, grandparents and other caregivers.

    • Keep cribs and other furniture away from windows to eliminate the possibility of a child reaching a window by climbing.
    • Install safety devices such as window guards or window stops on all second-story windows or higher. Since about one-third of falls occur from first floor windows, consider installing them on those windows, too. (Window stops should prevent the window from opening more than four inches, while allowing an adult to open it fully in case of a fire or other emergency.)
    • Remember that screens do not prevent a child from falling out of a window.
    • Open windows from the top, whenever possible.
    • Consider planting bushes or locating flower beds under windows to soften the landing surface, which may reduce the severity of injury in the event of a fall.
    • Remember that fire escapes, roofs and balconies are not safe places for children to play.
    • Once your children are old enough, discuss with them the dangers of climbing out of or jumping from windows.

    At least one window manufacturer offers child-safety latch options for double-hung and casement windows. Overriding the device requires carrying out a two-step process that would be challenging for a small child. They may cost more but are worth considering if you have small children living in or visiting your home.

    If you're replacing your windows, look for those with the best safety features. To find the type of window that's best for your home, see our windows buying guide and the Ratings which tell you how they performed in our tests of wind and rain resistance, durability, convenience, and more, including six top picks in clad-wood, fiberglass, and vinyl.

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    Minimum weight limits on some booster seats may put a child at risk

    There's a reason that safety experts recommend keeping your child in an age-appropriate child restraint as long as possible before graduating to the next type. Moving the youngster to a less restrictive car seat too soon can be a step backward in terms of safety. This is especially true with booster seats that can be used with the car's three-point seat belt rather than a harness. In Consumer Reports recent tests of booster seats, we found that 80 percent of manufacturers suggest a weight limit typical of a child well under three, which is too young for a booster seat.

    In our recent review of booster seats, we found a disconnect between the minimum weight limits allowed by manufacturers and what we would consider best practice for booster use. Of the 34 booster seat models in our tests, 28 state a minimum allowable weight of between 30 and 33 pounds. Current growth charts, however, show that the average 30-pound child is about two-and-a-half years old, far too young to move a child out of a seat with a harness, according to our safety experts.

    Even greater cause for concern is that a large child of 15 months who is in the 95th percentile for weight can easily approach 30 pounds. At that age a child's body is not developed enough nor likely to be tall enough for this type of seat.

    A good thing is that of the 28 booster seats with the lower allowable weight limits, at least half also include a minimum age limit of three and others include height limits that are more typical of a three-year-old. These added age or height limitations help but three is still too young for opting out of the added protection of a harnessed seat. A child this age is usually not mature enough for the freedom of movement a booster seat allows and can pose a distraction to the driver. We also found two seats that indicate they can be used by a child starting at age one. Let's be clear, a booster is not the seat for any one-year-old.

    191689-boosterseats-evenflo-bigkidsport-d-1.jpgSix seats had the more reasonable minimum weight limit of 40 pounds. This makes sense because the growth of children between 30 and 40 pounds occurs at a slower rate than when they are infants. An average 40-pound child is typically closer to age five, a much safer age to consider making a transition to booster use. And many booster seats that can be used in both a highback and backless configuration have a higher minimum weight limit of 40 pounds when used in the backless mode. But for the best belt fit, we still prefer a highback booster.

    Even though many children may balk at staying in a harnessed car seat, our safety experts recommend that they remain harnessed as long as possible. A five-point-harness is far more secure than a car seat belt meant for an adult. Most harnessed seats can accommodate children as heavy as 65 pounds and some can grow with a child up to 90 pounds. In the event of an accident, it's the safest option.

    In our tests of booster seats, three highback boosters, four backless boosters and five seats that convert from a highback to a backless offer the best balance of value and overall performance. We test crash protection, ease-of-use and the ability to provide a proper belt fit in each mode. The convertible Evenflo Big Kid Sport, $30, and the similar Evenflo Big Kid Amp Highback, $40, were the only seats to score excellent for their ability to combine crash protection and best fit in their highback mode but they were only average in the backless mode. For more on how to fit a car seat to a growing child, read our car seat buying guide.

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    16 smart things to do with your tax refund

    Spring signals the return of warmer weather, blooming flowers and trees, baseball, and more. And for many of you, it's also when your state or federal tax refund will arrive.

    Truth be told, you're better off not getting a tax refund. That money going back to you means that the government took too much from your paycheck and that you need to adjust your withholding.

    Still, since a tax refund is commonly seen as a windfall, we offer our suggestions for what to do with a refund. The average federal refund was about $3,000 last year; our refund recommendations range from free to pricey.



    Upgrade your tires. New tires can make a measurable improvement in your car's performance and safety. When looking for new tires, focus on tires that do well in our tests for braking, handling, and resistance to hydroplaning.

    Find a GPS navigator. You can get many of the same functions that the infotainment systems in new cars have buy picking up a portable GPS navigator. Basic units priced at $125 from Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom provide helpful turn-by-turn directions. For a bit more, you get free traffic information. At the high end, you'll find devices that add features such as a trip computer, Bluetooth capability, an MP3 player, and an FM transmitter



    Start streaming. The brand-new Roku 3 streaming media player ($100) features an enhanced user interface for finding content to watch, a motion-sensing remote with a built-in headphone jack, and a fast, powerful processor. Roku's earlier models had a lot to offer, including a wide selection of services and apps.

    Take a bite of a new Apple. The 27-inch Apple iMac ($2,050) delivers excellent overall performance. Among other noteworthy features are a really thin stunning display, the latest Intel Core i5 processor, and a generous terabyte of storage. The built-in speakers are only so-so, so invest in a pair of headphones and/or external speakers. Check our buying guide and Ratings for computers.

    Snap away. The Canon EOS Rebel T4i ($850) belongs in every camera maven's gear bag. This digital SLR has an excellent image stabilizer, quick startup time, a touch-screen swiveling LCD, and it can fire off five shots a second. It's also smaller and lighter than some hgher-priced SLRs. And, most important, it takes very good photos! Check our buying guide and Ratings for cameras.

    Home & appliances


    Paint your interior. Use Clark+Kensington finishes, high-scoring paints that cost only $32 a gallon. Create the right mood with top-rated LEDs, especially now that they're coming down in price and some are about $15.

    Update your landscape. Pruning an overgrown landscape with a selective removal of plants can make a yard feel more organized, and clear the way for new plantings. Perennials tend to be less expensive than annuals and fill the yard with seasonal color and blooms. Read more about reducing the size of your lawn—and your yard work.

    Get a new refrigerator. If you love seltzer and your current fridge is on the fritz, you might consider putting your tax refund toward the Samsung RF31FMESBSR French-door refrigerator, which has a built-in SodaStream sparkling-water-dispenser. Check our refrigerator buying guide and Ratings.

    Personal finance

    Contribute to an IRA. You'll get a tax break in addition to tax-deferred investment growth. Contributions made before April 15 can count toward either tax-year 2012 or 2013. (If you didn't account for the contribution in your 2012 return, you'll have to file an amended return.)

    If you're not eligible for a traditional IRA, you might qualify for an after-tax Roth IRA. There's no deduction, but the money grows tax-free and can be withdrawn tax-free after age 591/2.

    Help fund your kid's Roth IRA. If you get a W-2 you can contribute up to $5,000, but no more than your child earns, per year. An expert working with Consumer Reports Money Adviser found that $5,000 invested in a Roth every year between ages 22 and 29, and compounding at an average 8 percent through age 66, would grow to $1 million, with no additional investments. (If you have kids, find out how to balance essential spending and saving for your family.)


    Go for a ride. For about $1,000 you'll get a good cycle-cross, which combines the knobby tires of an off-road bike with the turned-down handlebars of a road bike. Want something different? Consider the EllitiGo 3C ($1,800). You pedal while standing up, using the same elliptical motion of the indoor exercisers. And don't forget to invest in a good helmet. Our top-rated Specialized Echelon costs $60.

    Cook more healthfully. Restock your kitchen with new cookware. Our top-rated nonstick set, Swiss Diamond, costs about $500. You'll also want some high-quality knives for prep work. A high-scoring set of J.A. Henckels costs about $300; a very good Ginsu Chikara set runs less than $100,

    Babies & Kids


    Buy baby and yourself a new stroller. If you run or walk for exercise, consider the Schwinn Free Runner ($220), which earned a very good score for running and excellent marks for maneuverability. This model is safe, thanks to its top-notch one-touch braking and five-point harness. Other strollers to consider are the Micralite Toro ($525) and, if you have two kids to push around, the Bumbleride Indie Twin ($690). Check our strollers buying guide and Ratings for more details.

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    Five reasons your air conditioner won't work when you need it

    This month while some regions of the country are flirting with temperatures in the eighties others are still digging out from snow. But summer will be here all too soon so it's a good time to make sure your air conditioner is in working order before a real heat wave hits. Air conditioners fail because they're installed wrong, serviced poorly, or not maintained properly. Some problems you can fix yourself but others may take a call to a professional. Here are the five most common problems with air conditioners and how to troubleshoot them, according to the federal Department of Energy.

    Refrigerant leaks. Air conditioners work most effectively and efficiently when the refrigerant charge exactly matches the manufacturer's specifications, and is neither undercharged or overcharged, according to the DOE. Leaks are another matter and in addition to making your system struggle, can be harmful to the environment. If your air conditioner leaks, adding more refrigerant won't fix it. You'll need a trained technician to fix the leak, test the repair and then charge the system with the correct amount of refrigerant.

    Inadequate maintenance. Dirty filters and air conditioning coils can cause the machine to under perform. And overtaxing the unit can cause the compressor or fans to fail prematurely.

    Electric control failure. The compressor and fan controls can wear out, especially when the air conditioner cycles on and off frequently, as is common when a system is oversized. Corroded wires and terminals can also be a problem in many systems, so have a professional check the electrical connections and contacts during a service call.

    Sensor problems. To keep a room comfortable, window air conditioners have a thermostat sensor behind the control panel, which measures the temperature of air coming into the evaporative coil. If the sensor is knocked out of position, the air conditioner can cycle on and off too often or otherwise behave erratically. The sensor should be near the coil but not touching it. To adjust the position carefully bend the wire that holds it in place.

    Drainage problems. When it's humid outside, check the condensate drain to make sure it is draining properly and isn't clogged. Window air conditioners may not drain properly if they aren't level.

    In Consumer Reports latest reliability survey of more than 40,000 readers who bought a central-air-conditioning system, the three brands that logged the most repairs were Amana, Goodman and York. Choosing one of the more reliable brands in our survey can boost the odds that you'll be comfortable. Seven other brands were less repair-prone including names you'll recognize.

    Our window air conditioner testing is currently under way but many of last year's models are still available in stores. We found 13 units good enough to make our list of top air conditioner picks including the large LG LW1210ER, $320, medium Friedrich Kuhl SS08M10, $800, and the small Friedrich CP06F10, $250. When buying an air conditioner, make sure you size it correctly. A unit that's too small won't do a good job cooling a room. One that's too big cools the area so quickly that it doesn't have time to remove enough moisture, leaving you with a cold, clammy room.

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    Two-year-old loses feet in mowing accident, underscoring risks

    A mowing accident in Florida in which a two-year-old lost both her feet tragically underscores the dangers posed by powerful lawn equipment. "The energy transferred by a typical lawn mower blade is equivalent to being shot in the hand with a .357 Magnum pistol," says the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, whose doctors see many such injuries. "In addition, a lawn mower can eject a piece of metal or wood up to 100 miles per hour."

    According to news reports, yesterday's accident occurred when the girl was running in the yard as her father was cutting the grass with a lawn tractor. He didn't see his daughter, who was behind him, and accidentally backed over her with the mower. The little girl was airlifted to a hospital in Tampa where she is being treated.

    Sadly, such incidents can happen in an instant. In 2010, 253,000 people were treated for lawn mower-related injuries with children under 19 accounting for nearly 17,000 of them, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Typically the injuries include deep cuts, loss of fingers and toes, crushed and broken bones, burns, and even amputations. There's no substitute for parental supervision but here's what the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommend to keep children safe.

    • Teach children to stay away from all running lawn mowers.
    • Don't allow children to play in an area where a lawn mower is being used.
    • Remove stones, toys and other objects from the lawn before you start mowing.
    • Be alert and turn the machine off if a child enters the area.
    • Before and during backing, look behind and down for small children. Likewise, keep in mind that blind corners, shrubs, and trees, or other objects may block your view of a child.
    • Never allow a child to ride on a mower. Doctors commonly see children with severe injuries to their feet caused by riding on the back of a rider mower with a parent or grandparent.
    • Children should be at least 12 years of age before operating a push lawn mower, and age 16 to operate a riding lawn mower.
    • Use caution when mowing hills and slopes. Mow across slopes with a push mower to avoid pulling the mower over your feet if you happen to slip. Mow up and down slopes with a riding mower to prevent the mower from tipping over.
    • Do not cut the grass when its wet.
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    Sandy retired from list of tropical storm names

    Almost six months after Hurricane Sandy devastated coastal communities from Cuba to the Mid-Atlantic, her name has been retired from the official list of Atlantic Basin tropical cyclone names. That's what happens when a storm is so deadly or so costly that using the name again would be confusing or insensitive. Sandy joins a list of 77 such storms that includes Katrina, Rita, Irene, Andrew and Gloria. Causing an estimated $50 billion in damage and 147 deaths, Sandy was the second costliest storm, after Katrina, to hit the U.S.

    Tropical storm names are reused every six years for both the Atlantic and eastern North Pacific basins unless they cause such extreme impacts that the World Meteorological Organization's hurricane committee decides to retire them. The name Sandy could have been reused again in 2018. Instead it will be replaced by the name Sara. The same six alphabetical lists have been in rotation for Atlantic basin storms for the past 60 years. The list for 2013 starts with Andrea and ends with Wendy.

    Hurricane season in the Atlantic begins June 1 and ends November 30. An early forecast issued this week by meteorologists at Colorado State University predicts an active season with 18 named tropical storms, nine of which will become hurricanes. Four of those will be major storms. "Coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them, and they need to prepare the same for every season, regardless of how much or how little activity is predicted," said Philip J. Klotzbach and William M. Gray in their forecast.

    As many people learned during Sandy and its aftermath, one way to be prepared is to make sure you have a reliable generator. Depending on what you need to power, there are two choices—a portable generator that runs on gas or propane or a stationary unit that runs on either propane or natural gas. Portable units have to be set up each time you need them and during a storm gasoline can be in short supply. Stationary units are typically more expensive but are already in place when the power goes out.

    In Consumer Reports generator tests, six models made our list of top generator picks including four portable and two stationary units. Our top portable, the Troy-Bilt XP 7000 30477, $900, is 7,000 watts and has a nine-gallon tank for an average 15 hours of run time. It was easy to set up and had excellent power delivery. Our top-rated stationary, the Kohler 8.5 RES-QS7, costs $3,200 not including installation. The Kohler delivered smooth, steady power and offers 7,000 watts with natural gas and 8,500 using propane. At $1,800, the Generac CorePower 5837 stationary generator offers capable performance for roughly half the cost of the Kohler. We named it a CR Best Buy. It offers 6,000 watts using natural gas and 7,000 watts if using propane and was the only one we tested that comes with a transfer switch—usually an extra $400.

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    The labs are buzzing about our new chain saw tests

    Superstorm Sandy blew down more trees in New York and New Jersey than any previous storm on record, experts say. And since then there have been several damaging storms across the nation, including one yesterday that knocked down many trees in the Southeast. So it's no wonder that chain saws are flying off the shelves of the home improvement stores. We discovered this when Consumer Reports was buying its own batch for new testing, including models from Stihl, Craftsman, Oregon and Worx, among other brands.

    In our chain saw tests, we'll be assessing how powerfully and quickly a chain saw can cut through thick wood, how safely it operates, how easy it is to use and maintain and, for cordless models, how long it runs on a single charge.

    We're looking forward to testing gasoline models including the 16-inch Stihl MS 180 C-BE, which lets you adjust the chain tension without tools. The manufacturer also claims that it has easy starting aided by a single lever that works the choke, throttle lock, and on/off switch. Another model that piques our interest is the Craftsman 34190, $150, an 18-inch model that Sears claims has the "fastest cutting."

    Cordless chain saws like the 40-volt Oregon CS250 (see photo), $400 with standard battery and charger, are a newer option for users whose needs don't quite warrant a more powerful gas model but with property that extends past the 100-foot maximum length of an extension cord. Sold at independent outdoor-gear dealers and online at,, and other sellers, the 14-inch Oregon CS250 claims to have a built-in chain-sharpening system.

    We'll also be testing variations on traditional chain saws, with such products as the Worx WG307, $120, and the Black & Decker LP1000, $80, which clamp onto what you're cutting for safer work. (The Worx accepts an optional, five-foot extension pole.)

    Whether you're a chain saw newbie or a veteran, safety is paramount with a product that in 2011 sent more than 30,000 people to the emergency room. When using a chain saw, wear snug-fitting clothing and sturdy work boots, preferably steel-toed. Shield your legs with cut-resistant chaps and the backs of your hands with protective gloves, and wear a helmet with a face shield. Also, even electric saws require hearing protection, and sound levels for gas chain saws can easily exceed 100 decibels at the operator's ear.

    When starting a gas-powered saw, grip it with both hands and keep both feet firmly on the ground. To speed cutting and minimize kickback, keep the cutting chain properly sharpened, tensioned, and oiled. Don't use a chain saw while standing on a ladder or with the chain saw lifted above your shoulders. Avoid sawing with the tip of the chain and bar, where kickback typically occurs.

    When our tests of new chain saws are complete, we'll add them to our current chain saw Ratings, which include three top picks: the gas-powered Stihl MS 180 C-BE, $230, and two electric models, the Husqvarna 316, $220, and the Poulan Pro 400E, $110, which we named a CR Best Buy. And if buying and maintaining a chain saw sounds like too much trouble, we're also looking into chain saw rentals.

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    The new Ariens Razor mowers have lawn care in the bag

    When Consumer Reports mower testers put new models through their paces in Fort Myers, Florida, each year they look not only for good mowing performance but improved cutting and bagging over models tested in previous years. This season, the newly designed line of walk-behind mowers from Ariens, which had done no better than mediocre in previous tests, impressed our engineers enough that two models were named to our list of top mower picks by our testers.

    Common to both the self-propelled Ariens Razor 911179 (see photo), $400, and the push Ariens Razor 911173, $350, is an extra-deep deck, which not only made for impressive mulching but also, in the bagging test, packed more into the bag than any other model we tested. Both 21-inch mowers have a premium engine, no-prime starting, and single-lever wheel-height adjustment. For the extra $50, the self-propelled, rear-drive Ariens Razor 911179 also offers electric start.

    There's still room for improvement in the models we saw, which are sold through dealers and on Home Depot's website. Side discharge wasn't impressive. Neither was overall handling, with both harder to push and pull than most other models tested. And you can spend less for a push mower than the $350 price tag of the Ariens Razor 911173. Overall, though, the new line is a significant improvement over previous mowers from Ariens that we've tested.

    Before you spring for any mower, see our buying advice, which includes a video on how we test, before checking our mower Ratings of almost 80 walk-behind models and more than 60 tractors and riders.

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