Reviewer's Notebook: Little People Seats
When my wife and I bought our first vehicle we chose a four-door SUV. We wanted the ruggedness and off-road capability of a truck, with the potential to transport our future family. For several years it was just us... then us plus child one... then came child two, and our family truckster was pretty full. The empty space between the two car seats was a critical "no man's land," a no-touching zone. We had road-trips down pat with our little family of four. All that changed when child three arrived.
Even with our growing family, we continue to discover new advantages to our SUV, an '89 Isuzu Trooper. It hauls loads of gear and gets us into places that others fear to tread. It even transported our little quintet reasonably well, as long as the drive time was not over twenty minutes! During longer drives, the natives become restless, grab toys, and I end up searching for my earplugs. Road trips had become a source of dread.
Even with short trips, loading a child
into the middle seat required a mighty heave, and this only
worsened as the truck mysteriously grew taller. My wife started
dropping less than subtle hints about the capabilities of
mini-vans, and her ability to share kid-hauling with other moms.
Even I began to question how our Trooper could handle the growing
seating problems. Was I doomed to trade-in the WomBAT for a Caravan?
Thinking About Safety...
Rear impacts are more likely to cause an injury
to those in a cargo area bench seat, because most aftermarket cargo
area seats face rearward, and all place passengers closer to the
rear bumper than they would be if seated in the factory seats.
Little Passenger seats, in many cases, can be mounted facing either
the front or the rear. SUV's don't have to pass the 5mph impact
tests that cars do, so many of these trucks are equipped with rear
bumpers that are weaker than their automotive counterparts.
When I first heard the idea of adding a bench seat to the rear of an SUV, it seemed too good to be true. Could it really be done? Would someone make one for our less known rig? Moreover, would they be safe or just some flimsy, low budget hazard? Over a period of two years, I investigated various seat manufacturers, examining features, options, and installations. From that research I was most impressed with the offerings of a small California company whose name aptly reflects its true customers.
Russell Edmundson, and Dona, his co-founder and wife, faced a similar dilemma to ours. In the early 90s, they wanted a vehicle that could transport them and their six grandchildren. Their Ford Explorer couldn't fit the family, and a Toyota Landcruiser seemed like an answer. The 'Cruiser's daunting price tag convinced Russell to consider another option: why not make another seat for their Explorer? And that's what he did. Before long others were commenting as to what a great invention it was. At the prompting of a local Ford dealer, Russell started making seats for resale. One thing lead to another, and by 1996 Little Passenger Seats was selling nearing 1500 seats per year.
Today, Little Passenger Seats can provide seats custom-designed to fit virtually every SUV sold in North America. The Edmonds also do new and custom applications, so chances are that they make a seat for your rig, too.
We received our seat in early spring of this year in anticipation of summer camping and trips on "whoa whoa roads," my kids' nickname for stomach-testing trails. We selected several options, including headrests and shoulder belts for the two outer passengers, and a middle lap belt to allow seating for a third child. Little Passengers Seats made our seat with brown vinyl and the identical brown/black checkered cloth that Isuzu used on our Trooper. This ability to match factory upholstery and optional third belt and head rests sets these seats apart from others in the industry.
The first signs of the seat's success came when we removed the thick cardboard wrapping.
Kids: "Daddy, can we sit on it?"
Dad: "Sure, this is your new seat for the truck."
Kids: "Mommy, Mommy, Daddy says this is OUR new seat, and we get to sit on it!"
Kids like the comfort, and parents like the
safety of the retractable seatbelts.
The kids crawled all over the seat to the point that affixing the shoulder belts, an otherwise easy chore, took half an hour as they "assisted" with the wrenches. After looking at the underside of the seat, I understood why the seat is so heavy and stiff. The jig-welded 1" box steel tube (with 3/16" wall thickness) frame is rigid. 3/4" thick particleboard mounted to the frame forms the platform for the comfortable seat foam. I derrière-tested the seat myself: it stood up well even to my 200 pound mass. The dense foam should stand up well to time and ab/use.
The outer fit and finish of the seat matches this quality framework. Not only did the vinyl and cloth match the WomBAT, but also they were as thick or thicker than the stock materials. The headrests easily click in and adjust to match the head heights of our children. Headrests are especially important for rear-facing versions of the Little Passenger Seat. During sudden stops or frontal impacts, the headrests prevent dangerous backward head and neck movement. Like the seat itself, the headrests use thick, comfortable foam.
Little Passenger Seats include simple and clear installation instructions, with customized notes for vehicle-specific oddities. Installation requires no special tools, beyond an electric drill, but an extra set of hands is, well, handy, to help position brackets and fend off overly excited kids. ("Corbin, where's that bolt you were playing with?") The first step of installation is clearing out all of the junk inside the rig. In my case, that meant saying good-bye to my cherished storage box.
Once I removed several toolboxes, rolls
of duct tape, lost toys, and cast-off sippy cups, I swept out the
crumbs and dirt and peeled the carpet back to allow access to the
steel floor. Little Passenger Seats provides a paper pattern that
perfectly matched Project WomBAT's floor for drilling. Drill the holes,
then roll the carpet back down over the floor and cut slits to
match the fresh holes. Bolt the mounting bracket to the seat frame,
leaving the bracket loose enough to allow slight fore and aft
repositioning. With a helping hand or two, bolt the seat bracket
through the holes in the floor and the sandwich bracket under the
floor. Adjust the new seat forward to fit against the stock rear
When attaching the brackets, thoroughly goop the bolts and holes with a quality silicone sealant. To guarantee rust prevention of the freshly drilled steel, prime, paint, then silicone and bolt. Make any final adjustments in the seat position and then tighten the bolts. The low-profile mounting bracket for the Trooper is a knuckle buster, but double check that all the bolts are well tightened - your kids' safety depends on it. Return the carpet to its rightful place and get out of the way, 'cause the kids are coming!
After completing the installation, I couldn't tell who was happier, my wife or the kids. The seat fits snuggly between the wheel wells, and capitalizing on the Trooper's rear cargo space. It fits as if it was factory-installed, and it matches the interior so well that it LOOKS like Isuzu made it.
We were as anxious as the kids to test the seat. Any parent could tell you that kids' initial excitement does not necessarily translate into long-term satisfaction. As a result, we withheld our judgement, waiting and watching. We let them ask to sit where they wanted. We took short trips to the store, medium length trips to adjacent towns, and longer day trips into the mountains. After weeks of trial runs, we decided it was time to go for it. We packed up all the gear, filled the USA VenturCraft TrailBlazer trailer, and headed for Moab and the '99 Zu Zoo four-wheeling event.
Thirty hours of driving erased any remaining doubts. The Little Passenger Seat works with the stock seating to provide so much personal space for each of us that the dreaded sibling rivalry, a plague more frightening than high-speed blowouts, is history. The kids found their own niches and nestled in, no longer cramped by a brother or sister. We could hardly see the new seat under a nest of books, Barbies, and pillows, but the seat's impact was readily apparent in the form of five passengers traveling together in peace.
We continue to marvel at the change this one product can have on a family's day-to-day existence. Grandparents in town? Now even a family of six can take them to sight see without taking two vehicles. Watching a friend's rug rats for the afternoon? There's no reason to explain to the kids why you can't drive all of them to the pool, or to explain to the officer why one child was without a seat belt. Need to put some distance between yourself and a three-year old's "Why, Daddy?" End the Great Inquisition by putting the tyke in the 'back forty' with his favorite book, Game Boy or what-have-you.
ConclusionsSo is the Little Passenger Seat the answer to all passenger-hauling travel woes? As with any product, Little Passenger Seats have limitations and risks, as well as benefits. Potential owners have to weigh these against their own priorities.
- This seat capitalizes on space that many manufacturers never intended to be used for hauling people. These spaces are not sufficiently sized for adults, or, in some cases, even large teens. Little Passenger Seats understands that and engineers a seat to fit each vehicle. The Trooper allows seating for persons up to 5' 9" tall. Height capacity varies by vehicle, but no weight restrictions are placed on any of the seats. Check with Little Passenger Seats to confirm what their seat allows when installed in your truck.
- Loss of hauling capability is the most significant tradeoff of
installing any additional cargo area seating. The Trooper's factory
bench seat folds down, but the Little Passenger Seats does not.
Since the seat faces rearward and butts up against the back of the
factory rear seat, we found that the impact on storage was pretty
minimal: we simply loaded up the seat with groceries instead of
Little Passenger Seats mount easily, but the truck does need to be empty to get down to the metal floorpan.
- Little Passenger Seats produces a safe and sturdy product, and has had their product thoroughly inspected to assure it meets the necessary agency standards. To date, their seats have met or exceeded all applicable safety standards established by the Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (see sidebar).
- Little Passenger Seats' research and development efforts result in a quick and easy install and their seats have a 100% satisfaction guarantee. The company will even buy back seats after families are finished with them.
Little Passenger Seats, Inc.
1210 Seventh Street
Modesto, CA 95354
telephone: (209) 544-6826
fax: (209) 526-6445