Graco has voluntarily recalled nearly 3.8 million car seats because of a faulty buckle, but federal regulators say the company should add another 1.8 million to the list.
Parents have complained that they've been unable to unbuckle their children from the car seats, a problem especially during an emergency.
On its website, Graco wrote that it has found that "food and dried liquids ... can make some harness buckles progressively more difficult to open over time or become stuck in the latched position. Therefore, Graco has decided to conduct a voluntary recall on the harness buckles used on all toddler convertible car seats and harnessed booster seats manufactured from 2009 to July 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. And a car seat is always the safest way to transport your child."
Graco is offering consumers a replacement buckle. Click here for more information.
But federal regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wrote in a letter to Graco last month that the faulty buckle can affect the car seat's performance.
Officials do not "believe that food or drink contamination should create any buckle performance issues," they wrote. "It is completely foreseeable that children will eat or drink while seated in their car seat and that some amount of these substances may enter the buckle. ... [T]he hazards and risks involved in the delay of extricating a child from a car seat in any emergency situation are significantly increased and rise to the level of unreasonable risk when the harness buckle is difficult to open, or is stuck in the latched position."
That letter lists several complaints from parents. In one, a parent wrote that it took 45 minutes to remove a scared toddler from a car seat. They eventually loosened the straps to pull the child out.
"It's extremely unnerving to have this happen to your child, and even more, the worst case scenarios are already playing in my mind: what if we had a car fire or a car accident," the parent was quoted in the letter to Graco.
In another letter to Graco on Tuesday, highway officials wrote that their investigation into the 1.8 million rear-facing infant seats that use the belts in question, but have not been recalled, remains open. They include these models: Snugride, Snugride 30, Snugride 32, Infant Safe Seat-Step 1, Snugride 35, Tuetonia 35, and Snugride Click Connect 40.
"At this time, NHTSA intends to proceed with the agency’s normal process ... to compel Graco to recall the appropriate population of rear facing infant car seats," the agency wrote in Tuesday's letter to Graco.
Click here to see the federal documents related to the recall.
In an article on CNN.com, a Graco spokeswoman said that if parents do own one of the rear-facing car seats, they can call to receive a replacement.
"They are not officially recalled; however, customers experiencing any difficulty with their harness buckle can still get a new one," the spokeswoman told CNN.