Graco is recalling nearly 3.8 million car safety seats because children can be trapped, but is refusing to recall seven other infant seat models, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recall notice.
In the seats being recalled, the buckles may not unlatch, making it difficult to remove the child from the seat. That increases the risk of injury in a crash, fire or other emergency when a speedy exit from the vehicle is required.
"NHTSA's investigation will remain open pending its evaluation of the Graco recall and until the Agency's consideration of the review of the seven remaining seat models is completed," the agency said in a statement.
That means the agency and company will continue to negotiate on whether a recall is warranted for the SnugRide infant seats. NHTSA threatened civil penalties and told the company to remove statements that underplayed the seriousness from public documents.
In an e-mailed statement, Graco said it "identified that food and dried liquids can make some harness buckles progressively more difficult to open over time or become stuck in the latched position."
The company is offering an improved replacement harness buckle to affected consumers at no cost.
In addition, NHTSA said that last month, it started investigating four models of Evenflo child safety seats, which have a design similar to the recalled Graco seats and may use buckles made by the same manufacturer, AmSafe Commercial Products Inc. of Elkhart, Indiana.
Graco also emphasized that the infant seats were not included in the recall, because they are "uniquely designed to detach from their base for quick release if needed." Those who have difficulty with an infant-seat buckle, however, should contact Graco and can also get a replacement buckle, Graco said.
The child seat recall covers 11 models sold from 2009 through 2013.
"Graco would like to stress this does not in any way affect the performance of the car seat or the effectiveness of the buckle to restrain the child," the company said in the statement.
NHTSA says it has at least 80 complaints about the seats. Parents said they had to use excessive force to unlatch the harness buckle. In some cases, the straps had to be cut to free children.
Graco said in a letter to NHTSA that it had been monitoring the performance of the buckles since 2009 and had given owners advice on how to use and clean them, and offered replacement buckles.
The recalled models include: Cozy Cline; ComfortSport; Classic Ride 50; My Ride 65; My Ride with Safety Surround; My Ride 70; Size4Me 70; Smart Seat; Nautilus; Nautilus Elite; and Argos 70.
Child safety advocate Joseph Colella emphasized that the Graco seats should continue to be used.
"Since this investigation is not related to crash protection, the affected car seats should still be used until the repair kits are available, but repairs should be made as soon as possible," said Colella.
Consumers can contact Graco toll free at 800-345-4109 or at email@example.com.