Top positive review
Safe & Affordable Car Seat
Reviewed in the United States on October 4, 2017
First, I really wish I could give this seat a 3.5 star rating...but that option doesn't exist, so I went up to a four instead of down to a three.
We have had this car seat since February of 2016. (At the time of writing this, it's been one year, and about 8 months). My son had just turned one year old when we purchased this car seat, and he is 2.5 now. He's an average sized child in height and weight.
We were in a passenger side impact car accident on the freeway last week going 60mph, (we were side swiped on the side my son was on in this car seat), and therefore need to replace this car seat.
As I was thinking about what I would like in the next car seat, all of the things I don't care for about this car seat came to mind, as well as some of the things I liked. I thought it might be helpful for people considering the Graco Condender 65 to see my list of pros and cons after using this seat almost daily for a year and a half. :)
-Very safe, kept my son 100% safe in our car accident. Shows no visible signs of damage, was still installed tightly as was the five point harness system on my son following the accident.
-Really affordable! It was cheap without being "cheap" quality-wise in my opinion. My sister had spent at least $300 on their 2nd Britax car seat (they've had three) and I really didn't want to spend that much if I could get away with it.
-Love the cup holder, I never considered this when buying the car seat because my son was barely a year when we ordered it, but it has been so nice and convenient for holding toys, drinks, and snacks. It's plastic and easy to wipe clean. The Britax and Chicco convertible models I have considered don't have cup holders built in which is a big drawback for me. The ones that clip on (I know Britax at least sells one) seem flimsy and I've read a lot of mixed reviews that make those kinds of cupholders sound like they seem more an "afterthought" and don't really feel like a part of the seat. Knowing my son, he would probably pull them off and chuck them on the floor! (I read one review where a mom said her child did this...$30 to sit on the floor of their car...)
-Fairly lightweight without feeling flimsy. From the website I found out that it is 15.2 lbs which sounds right. My niece has a Britax Pioneer car seat that is incredibly heavy at 26lbs.
-The "Simply Safe Adjust" harness system at the top of the car seat is really convenient. It's nice to just be able to press a button and pull it as your child grows instead of having to re-thread the straps.
-There are two positions for the buckle, it's pretty easy to rethread.
-This could be a pro or a con, but there's no "recline" button. You just flip the little wedge at the base of the seat depending if you are using the seat for forward or rear facing. I never had any issue with it and we used it for both forward and rear facing. Each time the little ball that indicates proper positioning was in the perfect place without adjusting or boosting it in any way in my Honda Pilot.
-Black straps!! They hide the inevitable stains, and wipe clean easily.
(note: all of the cons are really personal preference and convenience issues. I have absolutely no doubt in the safety of this car seat).
-It is a big pain to move this seat from car to car. The latch straps are the cheaper 'hook' style, and not the nicer ones that have a button like a seatbelt and just click onto the car's latch system. They are a PAIN to get out. I've transferred this from my Honda Pilot, to my husband's Honda Civic, to my parents' BMW 5 series, to their GMC truck--it makes no difference which car it's in, it's a pain and a half to get in and out. I usually end up sweaty and swearing...It does not help that the strap you use to adjust the tightness of the seat into the vehicle is only adjustable on one side, so you have to climb into your vehicle (a pain with a giant car seat in) or you have to walk around to the other side to mess with it, depending on which side it's facing. We had to change it twice. When it came out of the box, the adjuster was on the left side of the seat, and my son was rear-facing then. It's much more convenient to have the adjuster strap on the side you'd open the door on. You can't just pull it out, you have to unscrew the bar that holds the latch belt in to switch it so the adjuster is on the other side and thread it through the seat. Then, we had to adjust it again when my son switched to forward facing. May seem like a small thing, but these are the little things as a parent that you don't want to waste your time on. It would be so much more convenient if you were able to adjust the slack/tightness from both sides.
-This leads to my other issue, the little bar clip with a button that allows you to adjust the latch belt (on the one side) is very frustrating to use as well. Half the time it does absolutely nothing no matter how hard you press it. It is supposed to release its grip on the belt so you can get slack in the belt to remove the latch from the car or tighten it when you pull the latch belt loop threaded through it. My friend has this car seat also and has had the same issue with the latch button part. I am not a weak person, but I often have to ask my husband to go mess with it because I can't do it and have lost patience trying.
-Stains. I have to admit that I have always been too lazy to take the entire cover off and wash it, and until I removed the seat from our car after the accident, I wasn't positive that I could remove the entire thing. I've only washed the little seat insert, and I have never been able to get the stains out, even with bleach. I understand that it shows stains, with a toddler it's just unavoidable unfortunately...I just wish they were easier to clean because it does look embarrassingly filthy! No matter what I tried, I could not get the stains out of this seat, so I just gave up. For reference we had this seat in Glacier. (Gray shown in photo). Luckily it is darker gray, so if you remove the lighter gray seat pad, the stains likely won't show as well. I've always left the little pad in for comfort. My friend with the same car seat has said they have pulled off the entire seat to wash when their daughter had an accident and it took quite some time to dry. She also said that she didn't feel the fabric would hold up to multiple machine washings.
-The straps in the five point harness that go over the child are very finicky. I had a lot of issues with them lengthening on one side and not the other, and not adjusting equally which is unsafe. The straps seem prone to twisting and making the buckle portion backwards as some others have mentioned. No one wants to have to mess with the straps when they're late and wrangling a cranky toddler into their car seat...
-The pull strap at the base of the seat to tighten the harness straps can be hard to pull tight enough. Maybe it's because it's in an awkward position (you're basically pulling sideways or downward instead of toward yourself) but it drove me crazy because I feel like I would be yanking and yanking and it would still not be tight enough.
-There's no recline handle to adjust the incline of the seat. Like I said before, this could be considered a pro or a con depending how you look at it.
Overall, I feel the Contender 65 is a great seat for the price, and although I have several things I didn't care for about this seat, the most important one is that it kept my son safe in an accident. I have faith in Graco, and we decided on the Graco 4Ever car seat for his next seat. It has all of the features I loved about the Contender 65, and fixes most of the "cons" on this list. It is a little pricier (I paid $238 on Amazon, though the price does fluctuate--I've seen it as low as $199 on Amazon).