Child Car Seats Buying Guide
When you're transporting your child from A to B, you need to know that they're secured properly in the back of your car. Not only does this give you real peace of mind, but it's also a legal requirement for children under the age of 12, or under 135 cm tall.
One problem that parents face when buying car seats is the sheer amount of choice on the market. So how do you choose the right car seat to suit your budget and requirements? Here are a few pointers to make shopping easier.
Weight groups and sizes
While most car seats will have an approximate age range in the product description, it's actually the weight of your child that'll help you choose the right size seat. Car seats are organised into groups as below:
- Group 0+ – Suitable from birth – for babies weighing 0-13 kg
- Group 1 – For babies and toddlers weighing 9-18 kg – this is usually when parents switch from rear to front-facing car seats
- Group 2 – For toddlers and children weighing 15-25 kg – your child will probably use this seat from the ages of three to seven
- Group 3 – These largest car seats are for school aged children weighing 22-36 kg, and should last until your child no longer needs a car seat
Front vs rear-facing car seats
Car seats for newborns will always be rear-facing, and generally babies will stay in these seats until they reach the maximum weight limit. Recent studies have shown that children under four are safer in rear-facing seats, as they are most effective in the event of a head-on collision, which can be the most dangerous kind of accident.
Most car seats from group 1 onwards will be front-facing, although there are a few rear-facing options on the market. There's no legal age where you're required to change positions, it's simply up to the individual parent to decide what's best.
Even a top of the line car seat will be less effective if it's not properly installed, and so it's important to find a seat that you can install safely and easily.
The most common types of seat belt fitting are:
- Seatbelt fitted seats – Many seats can simply be secured by a car's seatbelt. These are great for switching between cars – perhaps if your child often gets driven around by a childminder or grandparent – but the disadvantage is that they can be improperly fitted
- ISOFIX – If your car has ISOFIX fittings, then a compatible car seat can be easily fitted. Most of these seats can also be fitted by seatbelt if you're using a different vehicle
- Base fitting – Some group 0+ car seats clip into a base, which can be securely fastened into your car. This makes it easier to transport younger babies, and some of these car seats also clip into pushchair frames for a complete travel system
Like many other products, car seats have to hold certain safety marks to show that they're up to British standards. Car seats should hold a label that shows they conform to ECE R44/04 standards, and the label will show the category and weight group for which the seat is recommended. If you plan to use your car seat when flying, then most airlines will require that your car seat has the ECE R44/04 label to show that they're safe.
Brand or budget?
When choosing a car seat, many parents like to go for long established brands such as Britax, Graco, Maxi-Cosi, and Chicco, among others. Going with a well-known brand can certainly give you peace of mind, and there are often handy extra features, such as compatibility with the brand's travel systems, that are appealing to parents. However, there's nothing wrong with going for a lesser known brand, and even retailers such as supermarkets now sell car seats online. As long as they meet the required safety standards, they should still offer the required level of protection.
Car seats can be a big purchase, and you'll no doubt want to get as much use out of them as possible. You'll find a few convertible car seats on the market, which can easily be adapted as your child grows. For younger babies, this includes seats which can be used either rear or front-facing, and for older children you'll often find models which change from a full car seat to a simple booster seat.
As with any safety product, it's important to do research into car seats before you buy one, ensuring that you understand the different terms. Once you've brought your seat, it's important to learn to install it properly, and to adjust the restraints, ensuring that your child is kept as safe and secure as possible. You can then drive with confidence, knowing that if the worst should happen, you are well prepared.