Car Seat buying guide
Choosing the best baby car seat can be surprisingly complicated, but it's worth the hassle to make sure they can travel safely and comfortably. This guide will help you understand the essential information you need to know so you can pick the right seat for your child.
The first things you need to know
You have to choose your baby car seat before your baby is born
You'll need to get a seat fitted ahead of their due date. Your hospital won't let you drive your baby home if you don't have one fitted. You can't ever take your baby in your car without a car seat, even if it's just a quick drive. It's against the law and it's not safe.
The first seat you need is a group 0+
Car seats start at group 0, but group 0+ is considered the best for newborns. They go up to group 3. Each group is for a different stage in your child's development, based on their age and weight. Some seats are made to cater for multiple categories, so you don't have to change seats as often.
Some newer seats may be i-Size. This is a new seat type which bases development on age and height rather than age and weight. More on those later.
A rear-facing car seat is best
It may seem strange to drive with your baby facing away from you, but it provides much more protection. Children should stay rear-facing until they are at least 13kg (approximately 12 – 15 months) and for longer if it's still comfortable for them.
Don't ever buy a second hand car seat
Some car seats are so well made they could have been in an accident and you wouldn't be able to tell. Wear and tear isn't always visible and significant structural damage can be present under the surface. Don't chance it – buy a new seat. And if you have an accident yourself, always buy a new seat after.
Check your measurements
Not all car seats fit all cars. Measure your car seat space and check the position of the seat belt buckles. Compare these to the seat dimensions to get a rough idea of whether a car seat is likely to fit before you make any decisions.
And always look for the safety label
It's actually the UN that sets the safety standard for car seats. A safe car seat will have a label with an E mark, which should read 44.04 or 44.03, or the new i-size R mark R129.
Seats you can use from birth
Newborns need a group 0 or group 0+ (more common) car seat to begin with. Seats are available that are made just for group 0 or 0+, as well as multi-group seats, which they can continue to use as they get a little older.
It can be cheaper and more convenient to buy one seat that can cover a number of stages of their development. However, multi-group seats may not offer the same specific support for your child as a seat specifically designed for each particular stage of their development.
These are lie-flat car seats and are relatively rare as they've been largely replaced by 0+ seats, which can be used for longer.
|0-10kg (22lbs)||Birth to 6-9 months||Rear-Facing|
Sometimes known as an infant carriers, these bucket-style seats are the most commonly used for newborns. They include a carry handle and can be used as part of a baby travel system (see Jargon section).
|0-13kg (29lbs)||Birth to 12-15 months||Rear-Facing|
Group 0+ and 1
These seats are rear-facing but can be changed to forward-facing when baby is a bit older. You can turn them forward-facing when they're 9kg (about 9 months) but it's better to choose a seat that allows them to be rear-facing until they're 13kg (12 - 15months). Some seats will allow them to stay rear-facing for up to 18kg (4 years).
|0-18kg (40lbs)||Birth - 4 years||Combination rear and forward-facing|
Group 0+, 1 and 2
These seats are relatively rare. They start rear-facing and you can change them to front-facing once baby is at least 9kg. You should, however, ensure they can stay rear-facing until they're 13kg (12 – 15 months). Some allow babies to stay rear-facing until they're 18kg (4 years).
|0-25kg (55lbs)||Birth - 6 years||Combination rear and forward-facing|
Understanding the jargon
Isofix is a car seat fitting system which allows car seats to be fitted more easily and safely, as there's less risk of incorrect installation. Isofix can be found in most cars made since 2008 but can be installed into many older vehicles.
Isofix uses two sockets at the bottom of your car's seats (they should be easy to spot). An Isofix seat has two bars that plug straight into these sockets. Additionally they will also have a third support – either a leg that stands on your car's floor, or a top tether that attaches to the back of the seat.Shop all isofix
i-Size is the new European standard for car seats which is beginning to be phased in. They still use the same group numbers, but i-Size seats measure suitability using your child's height, instead of their weight. Because of this, i-Size seats allow your child to be rear-facing for longer and offer more protection if your car is involved in a side-on collision.
In the future i-Size will become the legal standard for car seats. The other benefit of i-Size is that it's developed to work with Isofix so that in the future all car seats will be able to fit all new cars.
3 point and 5 point harnesses
A three point harness has a crotch strap and two shoulder straps which buckle together over the child's pelvis. These are commonly found on car seats for newborns.
A five point strap is found on Group 1 seats and above. This adds two side straps that help to secure babies better as they become larger and heavier.
A travel system
A travel system is a combination of a newborn baby car seat and a pushchair. You can simply detach the car seat from the pushchair frame and install it into your car. The frame can then be folded down and transported in the boot. Some models also include a carry cot.
This allows you to transfer your baby straight from pushchair to car easily, but on the downside, some pushchair frames can be bulky and may not fit in a small boot. They can also encourage parents to keep their baby in a car seat for longer periods, which isn't recommended. They should only stay in a car seat for up to two hours at a time.
3 point seat belt
You can only use a car seat with a three point seat belt. Fortunately most cars already have these. Three point belts have two straps, one across the waist and one across the chest. They're called three point because when fastened they connect to your car at three points. A middle seat, however, may only have a single strap that just goes across the waist and would not be suitable.
When will they need a new car seat?
You'll need to keep a check on their weight and height and compare them with the guidelines provided with their seat.
Signs that they might be ready for a new seat include:
If they're in a group 0+ seat:
- They can sit up unaided.
- The top of your baby's head is higher than the top of the seat.
If they're in a group 1 seat:
- Your child's eye line is higher than the top of the car seat.
Seats for growing babies and growing children
These seats can accommodate babies from 9 months onward. You'll need to continue to use a child seat until your child turns 12 years old, or they reach 135cms tall.
Shell-shaped group 1 seats used to all be forward-facing, but many are now available that allow children to be rear-facing.
|9-18kg (20-40lbs)||9 months - 4 years||Forward-facing, or combination rear and forward-facing|
These are rare. They are high-backed booster seats that are designed to raise your child up so that they can be secured safely in the booster with your car's seatbelt.
|15-25kg (33-55lbs)||4-6 years||High-backed booster seat|
Group 1, 2 and 3
These high-backed booster seats use a harness to secure children until they are 15kg, after which they can safely be secured in the booster with just the car's seatbelt.
|9-36kg (20-79lbs)||1-12 years or 135cm tall||Forward-facing, high-backed booster seat|
Group 2 and 3
These can be either a high-backed booster seat or a booster seat without a back. On some seats, the back can be removed once your child has reached 22kg. Seats with a back, however, are considered to be safer.
|15-36kg (33-79lbs)||4-12 years or 135cm tall||High-backed booster seat or just a booster seat|
These are rare. They would usually include just a booster seat without the seat back. As mentioned, seats with a back are considered to be safer.
|22-36kg (48-79lbs)||6-12 years or 135cm tall||Booster seat|
Airbags are dangerous – keep baby in the back seat
It's illegal to use a rear-facing car seat in the passenger seat if there's an active airbag, and it's still very dangerous if it's a forward-facing seat. It's always better to keep them in the back seat.
If you do need to have them in the front, you must have the airbag deactivated, although this will mean an adult passenger will be without protection. You'll need to request a deactivation from the manufacturer, although car makers have the right to refuse your request.
Don't leave baby in a car seat for too long
Staying in the seat for too long can affect their development. Don't keep them in a car seat for more than two hours until they're at least three years old.
Avoid heavy coats when using a car seat
You won't be able to fasten the belts tightly around your baby's body if they wear a thick coat. If you can fit more than two fingers under the harness, it is not tight enough. Use a foot muff or snug to keep them warm instead.
Prevent buckle crunch
The belt buckle must not be in contact with the frame. If there's an accident, pressure on a buckle could cause the belt to come loose. It should be positioned down the side of the seat with only the straps actually touching the frame.
Delivery & payment
If you've settled on which type of pushchair to buy, then you're ready to shop. Still not quite sure? Our customer services team will be happy to give you more information and advice.
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