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Updated: Tue, 13 May 2014 18:22:37 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Car seat safety: Frayed harness leaves child unprotected

Rob Reed, left, shows reporter Aaron Saltzman the damaged harness on an Evenflo Symphony car seat. CBC

Rob Reed, left, shows reporter Aaron Saltzman the damaged harness on an Evenflo Symphony car seat. CBC

An Ontario man is questioning the safety of his daughter's Evenflo Symphony car seat, after he says he found the harness used to strap her in completely severed.

It happened in January, as Rob Reed was driving his two children — Avery, 4, and Grayson, nine months — to his daughter's pre-school.

- Have you had an incident with a faulty car seat? Contact aaron.saltzman@cbc.ca to tell your story

"We were about halfway there," Reed said. "My daughter said 'Hey Dad, there's something wrong with my car seat.'"

Reed pulled over, got out of the car, and looked in the back seat.  He says the strap attached to the five point harness had frayed completely through and was hanging loose.  Avery was holding up the frayed end in her hand.

Reed says there is no way to know how long ago the strap was damaged.

"It's incredibly dangerous," Reed said.  

"If we were to get into a serious accident and it snapped because it had been damaged up to the point where she could pull it out with her hands, I don't even want to think about what could have happened. It would be as if she wasn't [in] a car seat at all." 

With two children and just one working car seat, Reed — who is on parental leave from his job as an electronics engineering technologist — had to call his wife at work and get her to come pick up their daughter.

Reed's Evenflo Symphony car seat has a Model number 3451881C, with a manufacture date of 2010/12/03
and an expiry date of 2018/12/01.

Reed called Evenflo the next day and spoke with someone in the customer service call centre.

She told him, "It's not a common issue we hear of, with a strap breaking like that."

Even though the one-year warranty had expired on Reed's car seat, she offered to send him a replacement seat, provided he sent back his original seat and paid for the cost of shipping, about $35 US.

Last month, Evenflo voluntarily recalled more than 1.3 million car seat buckles due to the risk children could not be removed quickly during an emergency.

No Canadian recall

According to Transport Canada's website, there has not been a recall of the Evenflo Symphony model 3451881C due to problems with the harness fraying. It is not clear whether Transport Canada has received any complaints about this issue. Transport Canada does not list complaints or the number of complaints it receives.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S. has at least six complaints on file regarding harness belts fraying on Evenflo Symphony Car Seats.

Evenflo says these types of problems are rare, but the company would not say how many complaints it has received related to this issue.

In statement issued to CBC News, Evenflo said: "We have investigated harness webbing fraying complaints of this type in the past and our engineers have universally and conclusively determined that the fraying was not due to any product or processing defect. In the vast majority of these past investigations, the cause of the fraying was determined to be from small rodent damage."

Evenflo says one of its engineers inspected Reed's car seat and found: "Evidence of damage is consistent with rodent damage."

Intense fraying

David Drutz of Kiddie Proofers, a company that sells and installs car seats and specializes in child safety, says he believes it would be possible for a rodent to chew through a car seat strap.

But he says he has never heard of something like this happening before.

"That's intense fraying," Drutz said, "that wasn't from a little clip. The belts are designed when they're cut — because they're multi-layered and they're woven — they don't just split in half and it falls off. That would have taken a lot of time and a lot of wear and tear."

Drutz says the Evenflo Symphony is in the mid- to lower price range among car seats.

Drutz says Kiddieproofers does not carry or sell Evenflo car seats.

Reed has received his replacement seat from Evenflo, but says he will not be installing it in his car.

"We've gotten a competitor's brand," he said. "And I think we're going to use that one."

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