Child car seat buying guide

The safety of your children is paramount, so buying a car seat needs careful consideration to ensure it’s safe and fits well into whatever vehicle you use.

We’ve gathered together the most important information to create this handy buying guide to car seats for children.

The safety of your children is paramount, so buying a car seat needs careful consideration to ensure it’s safe and fits well into whatever vehicle you use.

We’ve gathered together the most important information to create this handy buying guide to car seats for children.

Written by
Alex Hasty
Insurance comparison and finance expert
Last Updated
25 JANUARY 2022
8 min read
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Why do children need car seats?

It’s the law
By UK law, all children must be in an appropriately sized car seat until they’re 135cm tall or 12 years old, and over 36kg (79lbs).

Failure to restrain your child in an appropriate car seat can result in an on-the-spot fine of £60 and, if you’re taken to court, you could even face a fine of up to £500.

For safety
Using a child car seat that’s suitable for your child’s size and weight can offer a high level of protection, especially in a head-on collision.

The sturdy frames are made with impact-absorbing foams, while the back and head restraints provide essential side impact protection for the head and neck.

While adult seat belts are designed to protect adults, they could cause serious injuries to a child.

If a child uses an adult seat belt before they’re tall enough, the lap part of the belt will sit too high on their stomach. This could cause internal injuries in the event of a collision. There’s also the risk of your child slipping out from under the seat belt.

For comfort
Size and weight aren’t just safety considerations – the correct seat will also ensure your child is comfortable while travelling. Baby will be far happier to fall asleep in a well-padded seat made with soft, breathable fabric.

Forward-facing child car seats and booster seats will also give your child extra height. Being able to look out of the window can help stave off boredom and makes for a more enjoyable journey.

Car seat guide by weight

The UK’s R44 regulation child car seats are divided into group categories, depending on weight and approximate age.

Group Child's weight Approximate age Car seat type
0 0kg to 10kg Birth up to 6 to 9 months Lie-flat or ‘lateral’ baby carrier, rear-facing baby carrier or rear-facing baby seat using a harness 
0+ 0kg to 13kg Birth up to 12 to 15 months Rear-facing baby carrier or rear-facing baby seat using a harness 
1 9kg to 18kg 9 months to 4 years Rear or forward-facing baby seat using a harness or safety shield 
2 15kg to 25kg 4 to 6 years Rear or forward-facing child car seat (high-backed booster seat or boost cushion) using a seat belt, harness or safety shield
3 22kg to 36kg 4 to 12 years Rear or forward-facing child car seat (high-backed booster seat or boost cushion) using a seat belt, harness or safety shield

 

Car seat guide by height

Child car seats known as ‘i-Size’ seats conform to EU safety legislation R129. i-Size seats are based on the child’s height and come in three different sizes:

  • 0-85cm – rear-facing baby carrier or baby seat using a harness.
  • 0-105cm – rear-facing baby seat until your child is at least 76cm, then forward-facing.
  • 100-135cm – forward-facing child seat.

What to consider when buying a car seat

Buying a car seat for your child shouldn’t be a rash, on-the-spot decision. Take time to do the research so you can make an informed decision equipped with as much information as possible.

When comparing car seats, consider:

Trusted recommendations

  • Check out manufacturers’ websites – well-known brands such as Graco, Maxi-Cosi and Britax, have detailed information on their car seat ranges. Don’t forget to check out the product reviews for verified customer opinions.
  • Go to online parenting forums, where parents give honest information and advice on car seat models.
  • Read product reviews in parenting magazines and professional review sites. Most will have lists of their top five car seats to help narrow down your choice.
  • Check out RoSPA’s (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) Child Car Seats website for detailed safety advice on buying the right car seat to suit your needs.

Expert advice

Try to find a retailer that has trained staff who can offer expert car seat fitting advice. For example, Halfords offers a free car seat fit and demonstration service.

Some local councils run schemes for local retailers to get training and accreditation for fitting car seats correctly, while others operate a free safety check service – so it may be worth looking at your local council website before you buy.

UK car seat safety ratings

Take a look at NCAP’s safety review of the car seat model you’re considering. NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) is an independent and unbiased body that rigorously tests all car seats in different accident scenarios.

Make sure the child seat you choose has either an orange ECE R44/04 label, or the i-Size R129 label. These ensure the seat complies with the current child safety standards.

Ease of use

Consider how large and heavy the car seat is. If you’re constantly moving it from one car to another, you might want to buy a more lightweight model.

Modular pushchair/pram/car seat travel systems are extremely popular and useful, as you can just lift out the baby seat and place it straight onto the buggy or pram frame. Although practical, combos are more expensive, so make sure the car seat has the features you need before spending your money.

How to make sure your child’s car seat fits

The following tips can help ensure your child seat is safe and secure:

  • The safest place to position the child seat is the centre rear – this is likely to be furthest away from any potential impact.
  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before fitting the seat and keep them in a safe place in case you need them again.
  • For a car seat fitted with the car’s seat belt, make sure the car seat belt passes through the correct points on the child’s seat.
  • Secure the seat as tightly as possible by pushing your weight into the child seat as you tighten the seat belt – it shouldn’t move forwards or sideways.
  • Some seats have a lever or button to tighten the seat belt once it has been threaded through the child seat.
  • For ISOFIX car seats and i-Size seats – make sure the connectors are clicked into the ISOFIX slots correctly and tethering straps are only connected to the dedicated tethering points. Some vehicles have a visible indicator that turns from red to green to show the seat is attached correctly.
  • Your child should be strapped in snugly, with one finger’s width between the harness and your child’s chest.

Remember:

  • Make sure you deactivate any front airbags before fitting a rear-facing baby seat in a front seat. While a rapidly inflating airbag is designed to cushion and protect an adult body on impact after a collision, the considerable force could seriously injure a baby or small child.

For more information on child car seat safety, visit The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) Child Car Seats website.

Should I choose an ISOFIX or car seat belt system?

ISOFIX is a car seat safety system that uses anchor points rather than a seatbelt to secure the car seat in place. The system is compatible with i-Size seats, which are based on the child’s height rather than their weight. All new cars from November 2014 onwards already have ISOFIX anchor points fitted as standard.

Both ISOFIX and car seat belt systems have their pros and cons.

ISOFIX system

  • Are only compatible with cars fitted with ISOFIX anchor points
  • Potentially safer as it has a more secure connection to the car
  • ISOFIX booster seats stop your child from slipping off the seat
  • Can be quicker and easier to put your baby seat in the car if it’s fitted with a base
  • It’s hard to fit an ISOFIX seat incorrectly

 

Car seat belt system

  • Can be fitted in any car
  • A more flexible option if you want to use the seat in other vehicles
  • More chance of getting it wrong when using a seat belt to secure the seat – it might become twisted or unclicked
  • It needs a bit more effort to ensure the seat is attached firmly enough
  • Fitting correctly can be confusing and can differ depending on the model

 

Should I buy a second-hand child car seat?

It may be tempting to buy a second-hand car seat off eBay, especially if you want a more expensive, fashionable model. But it’s highly advisable that you don’t.

You don’t know if anything’s happened to the car seat. It may have been involved in an accident or might have hidden flaws that you only discover later.

If you’re using a ‘hand-me-down’ from older siblings or friends and family, make sure the seat is still in working order and you have the original instructions. Car seats age and may become brittle or not work so well over time.

The sensible advice, for peace of mind, is to buy a brand-new car seat. If you’re finding it difficult to find an affordable car seat, ask your local council road safety department if they know of any child seat discount schemes.

Do I need to replace my child car seat after an accident?

According to The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), it’s always advisable to replace your child car seat after a collision, even if there’s no visible sign of damage. The structure may have been weakened and might not provide the same amount of protection as before.

It might not be necessary to replace the seat if there was very low impact and there’s little or no damage to the car itself, or there was no child in the seat when the incident occurred.

But if in doubt, it’s better to be safe than sorry and replace the seat altogether. RoSPA believes that car seat replacement should be considered a legitimate cost by insurance providers.

If your insurance provider is reluctant to pay the costs to replace the seat, this letter from RoSPA could help.

Key safety facts for child car seats

  • Don’t just assume because your child has reached 12 years of age that they no longer need a booster seat. The law states that they must be over 135cm regardless of their age.
  • Riding with a child on your lap is never safe nor legal.
  • Never allow two children to share a seatbelt.
  • Be aware that in some European countries, the minimum height for not requiring a booster seat is 150cm, not 135cm. If you’ll be driving in Europe, check the law of that country before you go.
  • Always seek professional car seat advice if you're unsure about fitting or moving a car seat between cars yourself.

Car insurance with child car seat cover 

Car insurance policies can vary, so it’s a good idea to shop around and compare to make sure you get the level of cover you need. If you’re looking for car seat insurance, always check the policy details so you know what’s included before you buy. Some insurance providers cover child car seats as standard, while others don’t. There are also policies that include extras like pushchairs and prams.

Whether you’re looking for third-party, fire and theft or fully comprehensive insurance, comparing with us is a quick and easy way to find the right cover for your needs.

Frequently asked questions

Are child seats covered by car insurance?

Not all car insurance policies cover child seats as standard, so don’t just assume you’ll get a pay-out for replacing it following an accident. 

The level of cover can also vary – for example, some policies may pay up to a limited amount, while others might cover the total replacement costs. Check your policy if you’re not sure. If you have a particularly expensive model, you should also check to see if your car insurance covers your child seat if it’s stolen from your locked car.

Can I get child car seat cover as an added extra?

Some insurance providers may offer child seat cover as an optional extra that you can add to your policy, but not all do.

Although insurance providers aren’t allowed to use gender to calculate their premiums, some may offer benefits like child seat cover and handbag insurance specifically marketed at women drivers. That said, there’s nothing to stop men from taking out this type of policy too.

What should I look for in a policy with child car seat cover?

If you want child seat cover as part of your car insurance, you might want to check: 

  • if the provider will replace the child seat or pay out up to a limited amount
  • if you receive a cash sum pay-out, will it be enough to pay for an equivalent seat?
  • if you can claim for a replacement seat, even if there’s no visible damage
  • if there’s an excess to pay
  • if a claim for a replacement car seat will affect your no-claims bonus

What insurance do I need if I’m a child minder?

If you work as a child minder and use your car to transport children, you need to let your insurance provider know. You may need to take out a business car insurance policy that includes child car seat cover. 

You might also need to change your class of use if you use your car for work purposes.

Do I need to replace my child car seat after an accident?

Even if there are no visible signs of damage, it’s always advisable to replace your child car seat after an accident. The structure may have been weakened and might not provide the same amount of protection as before. 

It might not be necessary to replace the seat if there was very low impact and there’s little or no damage to the car itself, or there was no child in the seat when the incident occurred. 

But if in doubt, it’s better to be safe than sorry and replace the seat altogether. RoSPA believes that the replacement of a child car seat should be considered a legitimate cost by insurance providers. If your insurance provider is reluctant to pay the costs to replace the seat, this letter from RoSPA could help.

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