Baby car seat guide – choosing the right one: We answer your questions

baby car seat guide
image - Sharon McCutcheon - unsplash

When you first start looking for a baby car seat it can be confusing to say the least. We look at your options and answer the questions in this guide

Buying a baby car seat is not made easy by the fact that there are thousands available on the market. We’ve done the research and looked for the best.

Buying a baby or child car seat – key points

Ensuring that your child travels in a car seat that is right for them is extremely important. You should make sure that the car seat is;

  • Suitable for the weight of your child and their height
  • That it is fitted correctly as per the instructions
  • That it conforms to the regulations look for the capital ‘E’ mark label on the seat. Only EU approved seats are legal in the UK.

WARNING – In winter time never place your child into a car seat with a snowsuit or large coat on, in the event of a collision they can easily slide out of these. This is because you may not be able to pull the harness tight enough.

Car seats and the law

Most people don’t know about car seats and the law. The law changed regarding child car seats in March 2017. If you use an unsuitable car seat then you can be fined up to £500.

If your child is 12 years old or is taller than 135cm they do not need to use a child seat. Before that, they have to, to stay legal. Of course, after this point, they do have to wear a seat belt.

Whose responsibility is it, if you’re not the parent?

Up to the age of 12 or 135 cm, it is the responsibility of the driver to ensure children are in a proper car seat. If the child is 12-13 or over 135 cm drivers also have the responsibility to ensure they are wearing a seat belt. For over 14-year-olds (As a passenger) it is their responsibility to wear a seat belt.

Before 2006 children over 3 years old were only required to use a car seat if it was available. Even more strange is that a child under 12 years of age could sit in the front seat without a car seat. Something that seems alien now, despite being so recent!

Exceptions to the rules – when a child does not need to legally use a car seat:

  • Children can travel in coaches or minibuses without a car seat, however, they must travel at the rear, if a child car seat or an adult seat belt is not fitted. If child car seats are not fitted or are unsuitable, children aged three or older travelling by minibus must use a seat belt.
  • A child can travel in a taxi or minicab, without using a car seat. But they must wear a seat belt if the driver cannot provide a car seat for your child. If so they must travel in the rear of the vehicle wearing an adult seat belt when over the age of three. Under threes should travel without a seat belt.
  • A three-year-old child and above is permitted to use an adult seat belt if they are making an unexpected journey over a short distance as long as it is necessary.

How do I choose the safest car seat?

There are many different types of seat available. They are divided into categories, according to the weight of the children for whom they are suitable. These relate slightly to different age groups, but the weight of the child that is the most important point when deciding what type of child seat to use. New i-size seats (Based on height) are designed to keep children rearward-facing until they are at least 15 months old. The safest car seat for your child would be one that is;

  1. The correct size for your child
  2. An Isofix with Top tether
  3. A 5 point harness system
  4. Rear-facing

What car seat is best for a newborn?

It can be hard to find a car seat for a newborn baby. Generally, you need to get it before your baby is born so you’re ready. However, you’ve got loads to think about and buying a newborn car seat can take time. These points will make your life easier though;

  • Buy an i-Size seat that will be rear facing and with IsoFix
  • Only use rear facing
  • Buy the best seat you can afford
  • A seat that fixes to your pushchair and a seperate isofix base in the car, makes life easier – especially in the early days
  • Newborn car seats with handles have a specific position they need to be in when driving, check the manual for yours.

You can buy a car seat as part of a travel-system where the car seat can fit to the pushchair. If you need help on choosing a pushchair you can read our guide How to choose and buy the right pushchair

Baby car seat weight groups –
When should my child change car seats?

Car seats for babies and children are divided into weight groups, you should buy a new car seat as soon as your child becomes too big for the seats group. Combination car seats are ones that cross weight groups and some that cross all the groups. The groups are;

  • Newborns 0 – 10 kg = Group 0
  • 0 – 13 kg = Group 0 +
  • 0 – 18 kg = Group 0 + & 1
  • Babies that are 9 – 18 kg = Group 1
  • Baby to child weighing 9-25 kg = Group 1 & 2
  • Babies and children weighing 9 – 36 kg = Group 1 to 3
  • Children weighing 15 – 25 kg = Group 2
  • 15 – 36 kg = Group 2 & 3
  • 22 – 36 kg = Group 3

What are i-Size child seats?

The EU brought in i-Size child seats and were introduced in 2013, they only apply to Isofix car seats. They are designed to keep children rear facing for longer (up to 15 months) and offer the best protection from side collisions. They also give better protection to a child’s head and neck. As opposed to weight guidelines- i-Size is based on a child’s height.

baby car seats i-size
The i-Size Logo

Because i-Size is based on height rather than weight, it makes it easier to choose the correct seat for your child. Many cars are iSize compliant but do check with your car’s manufacturer to see if it is able to take an i-Size car seat.

*Note Cars without IsoFix fixings, will not be able to take an i-Size seat.

3 and 5 point harness

Car seats come with either a 3 point or 5 point harness. The harness of a child car seat is designed to keep them in the seat if an accident happens. The differences are;

A 3 point seat harness

A 3-point harness has 3 points of contact with your baby. Those contact points are at the shoulders and crotch. With a 3 point harness, there is potential that a child can be forced out of the seat in an accident. Because of this you may want to consider a seat with a 5 point harness.

A 5 point seat harness

A 5-point harness car seat is the safest and more secure option. A 5 point harness system means the car seat harness contacts your child in five points. The contact points are The shoulders, on the hips and at the crotch. These are the strongest points on a baby or child’s body. A 5-point harness spreads potential forces from a crash evenly over the child than a 3 point system.

What is an Isofix car seat?

Isofix car seats replace having to use the cars seat belt to secure the seat. Cars come with Isofix points in the rear seats (check your car’s manual that you have these and how to find them). They are solid metal loops that are part of the car and located between the bottom and back cushion. The car seat then ‘clip’ to this loop making it very secure.

Isofix seats are also better because they have less chance of being incorrectly fitted, compared to seat belt fitted seats.

What is a Top tether in a car?

The Top tether is simply a way of further securing the top of the car seat to stop movement. It is a strap fixed to the back of the top of the car seat. It is then secured to the top tether anchor point behind the seat usually in the boot of the car. Check your car’s manual for exact location. Check the child car seat manual for instructions on how to fit it properly.

Rear-facing car seat

Rear-facing baby car seats reduce the chance of death or injury in the event of an accident by 90%. The rear-facing seat can usually be put into front seats but they are safer when fitted in the rear seat. You can buy special mirrors that fit the rear seat headrest. This way you can see your child in the rear view mirror of your car. REMEMBER if you do put a child into a front seat you must turn off the airbag.

Backless booster seats

These seats tend to be combination group 2/3 but have been proven to not be as safe as seats with a back in tests. This is because they don’t offer the same protection to the sides or head as a seat with a back. Backless booster seats are only approved for a child that weighs more than 22 kgs or is over and 125 cm height. The regulations regarding backless boosters in February 2017 and manufacturers will no longer be producing new models.

You can view some of the best selling car seats here.

Buying a second hand baby car seat

The general advice on buying a second-hand car seat is not to. This is because you can’t easily tell if it’s been damaged in any way. It may have been in a collision in the past and this will compromise its effectiveness and safety. If you do decide to buy a car seat second hand you should;

  • Check it over thoroughly and check under the fabric (most come off and are washable anyway)
  • Check on the manufacturer’s website that it will fit your car
  • Make sure you test that it fits your car
  • Check it is the right size for your baby and meets current standards
  • Check out reviews online

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