A simples guide

Everything you need to know about buying a car seat

Assuming a car seat is safe, doesn't actually mean it is safe. Purchasing a car seat should take a good deal of time and consideration... and that's only the first step – then there's the fitting it into the car. But don't panic, we’ve gathered all the information you need in order to help you when buying, fitting and finding out everything about car seats…

 

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Children are our most precious family members.

We spend all our time ensuring we keep them safe. As babies, we stare at them as they sleep, as toddlers we obsess over what they eat (or don’t). As children we worry when they go out to play, keeping a watchful eye on them and flying out to the rescue at the slightest whimper.

This is why purchasing a car seat should take a good deal of time and consideration...and that's only the first step – then there's the fitting it into the car. But don't panic, we’ve gathered all the information you need in order to help you when buying, fitting and finding out everything about car seats.

Buying a car seat

When you buy a car seat, don't just buy the first one you see. 

Remember the time your parents flew outside at the speed of light because you rolled off on your roller skates? Well, take on that kind of obsessive safety vigilance now.

car seat

Before you buy, make it your mission to find the safest seat by:

Researching it - and leave no stone unturned. Check out the manufacturer’s website – Graco, Maxi-Cosi and Britax all have comprehensive sites to look around. Don't forget the product reviews, and also hunt out parenting forums where the 'people in the know' will have made a comment if it's particularly bad or good.

Take a look at parenting magazines and professional review sites like 'What Car'. Most will have lists of their top 5 best car seats. They’ve done the hard work for you, so you might as well use it.

Check the seat fits - you might be surprised to know that they're not all compatible – particularly ISOFIX designs, therefore you may have to consider using the seatbelt to secure the car seat. Take a look at our ISOFIX vs seatbelt comparison later.

Weight - consider what it'll be used for. If you'll be moving the seat from one car to another, you might want to buy a lighter model to avoid putting your back out.

Combos - Pushchair/pram/car seat combo are great as you can just lift the baby seat out of the car and straight onto the buggy/pram frame. But don't be wooed by the buggy first – make sure the car seat meets your requirements too.

Safety tests - take a look at NCAP's website for a safety review of the car seat you are considering. NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) rigorously tests all car seats in all different accident scenarios. They're independent and are purely interested in the safety of the car seat.

Safety labels - make sure that the car seat you opt for shows either the orange ECE R44/04 label or the i-size label. These ensure the seat complies with the current child safety standards.

3 facts about rearward facing car seats

  • They offer more protection from spinal and neck injuries in an accident
  • Brands like Britax and Maxi-Cosi now offer extended rearward seats that are available up to 25 kg (which is about 6 years of age)
  • You can buy seatbelt or isofix depending on the car

New v. old

Car seats aren't cheap, especially as you’ll probably have a few to buy over time as your child grows, so you might be considering purchasing one secondhand.

The problem with this is, you don't know what's happened to the car seat. It may have already been involved in an accident, or it may be broken in some way - and you’d only find out if you had an accident.


If you've got more than one child it's highly likely that younger siblings might inherit the older seat. It's important to check that it's still in working order. Car seats age, and may become brittle or not work so well – it's just something to bear in mind rather than automatically assume it's fine. RoSPA have some good advice on what to look for.

Size Matters

Ensuring that your child fits the car seat is paramount. Incorrectly sized car seats can have very serious consequences.

baby

Don't rush

As well as the potential safety hazards of not protecting your child correctly the Police can hand out on the spot fines of £30 and if you're taken to court you could even face a fine up to £500.

Yes it can be easy to get fed up carting the heavy baby seat here, there and everywhere, acquiring a bruised hip or leg from repeatedly bashing yourself as the weight gets heavier.  But rushing your baby into the next stage seat is not advised.

On the flip side, sometimes we keep our child in the baby seat after the age/size we should, purely for convenience.

Safety should never be put off until later, but very often in this crazy fast paced world we live in, it takes second place to something else...without us even realising it.

So what can you do to make sure you're child is always in the right type of seat. It's can be a bit confusing, however the child car seat website lists all the car seat sizes against the weight of your child which is a very useful reference – keep checking when you know your child is coming up to a 'seat change' period – and if you think you’ll forget and continue on your merry way, then put a reminder in your calendar or phone. Also, take a good look at the Government's website about the car seat laws to understand all the legal requirements, so you don't get caught out without realising it.

Fitting it correctly

It's always worthwhile to try and buy your car seat from a dealer that has a fitting shop – where there are trained seat fitters who can run through the whole process with you.

If you are unable to do that, just make sure you have read the instructions fully. Many manufacturers will have YouTube tutorials which can be a great help, these are often clearer than the manual and save you time.

isofix vs. seatbelt

  • Seatbelt car seats can go in any car, giving you the flexibility. However ISOFIX car seats not only need the ISOFIX fitting.
  • ISOFIX  is proven to be safer. It has a secure connection to the car whereas seatbelts can easily be un clicked leaving your child vulnerable.
  • ISOFIX booster seats stop your child from slipping off the seat.
  • It's pretty hard to incorrectly fit an ISOFIX seat (see our how to fit guide) but the seatbelt versions can be confusing and are different depending on the model. In fact according to Mothercare 52% of parents are fitting them incorrectly.
  • If you have an ISOFIX base this makes putting your baby seat in the car super quick and easy rather than tangling yourself up in seatbelt.

Car safety with small children

So, you have the nice new seat, it's fitted correctly, perfect. Or is it?

Imagine...you're pootling down the road feeling very pleased with yourself and turn back to smile at you're safely strapped bundle of fun...only to find them sitting upright with both arms out of the straps, waving.

This is a common problem, and is usually just a phase – but one that obviously needs tackling as the safety implications don't bear thinking about.

You can buy tamper proof clips which keep both straps together - but ROSPA do not recommend these as they could potentially affect the workings of the seat in an accident. They could also get in the way if the child needs removing in an emergency.

Here’s how to deal with a small escapologist in your car. Resist screeching to a halt in a flat panic (as this would probably give them a good insight into why they need their straps). But don't carry on driving for hours, giving instructions while keeping one eye on the road and one eye on the rear view mirror. Just pull over when safe to do so and strap them safely back in.

And a final note: even if it's really cold, resist fastening them into the seat with very padded coats or outer clothing. This can affect the effectiveness of the car seat considerably. Keep a blanket in the car to cover them over keep them warm once they are safely fastened in.

toddler

Car safety in general

You've got the car seat sorted, the child is now sitting correctly – so you're all safe, right?

Well, maybe. Something else we often take for granted is the working order of the car itself. It's just about being aware of simple things and checks – that the oil and water are topped up, lights are all working, tyres are the right pressure and your windscreen wipers and washers are working well.

You can also check the overall safety of your car too by searching for its safety review. NCAP put every car through its safety paces and thoroughly wreck it to see how safe the passengers would be in an accident.

If your family car only gets one star, it may be time for a trade in.

Safety facts for car passengers

If that's not enough car safety information for you to digest, here are some more facts to keep you and your family safe on the road...

The centre of the car is said to be the safest place to fit a car seat. It's the furthest away from the sides should there be a side on collision.

Make sure everyone wears a seatbelt – From 1991 it became compulsory for everyone to wear one.  An unbelted person who is thrown out of their seat has the potential to injure another passenger.

Don't just assume because your child has reached the minimum age to no longer need a booster that this is ok (10 years for a boy, 12 years for a girl) The law states they actually need to be over 135cm regardless of their age. 

Riding with a child on your lap is never safe or legal - your weight could injure them if the car stopped suddenly.

Never allow two children to share a seatbelt.

Be aware that in other European countries the minimum height for not requiring a booster seat is 150cm and not 135cm, so if you are travelling abroad, check the law of the country you are travelling to or through.

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