I need to buy a child car seat. What should I be looking for?

Buying a child car seat isn’t a difficult thing for a parent to do; buying the right one for their car and child most certainly is. Here we look at the basics of what parents should investigate and where they could potentially slip up.

How to choose a seat

Julie Dagnall of Road Safety Great Britain is an expert in child seats. She said: “The number of seats out there can appear intimidating so look at what you want the seat to do. For example: do you want it to recline or not? That will eliminate a lot of options. If you buy from a retailer with expert fitting knowledge, you’re paying for a service rather than just a seat.”

What markings to look for on a child car seat?

When you buy a child car seat, ensure the EU has approved it. There are two standards for this: ECE R44 which is weight based and the newer height-based ECE R129 or i-Size.

Child car seat

What types of seat are there?

Aside from front and rear facing, as above, there are two basic sorts of child seat fitment: those that are attached by the ISOFIX fittings built into the car and those that use the seatbelt.

These child car seats can then be split into two further categories: height based and weight based. Height-based seats are known as i-Size. These must be rear facing until the child is 15 months old. After that, they can be front facing. They must remain suitable for the child’s weight.

We show the categories of weight-based seats at the bottom of this page.

Where to buy a child car seat from

Nick Lloyd from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents explained: “Don’t buy a seat off the internet. Use a reputable retailer and get one of their specialists to fit the seat to the car.” If you do this, they will be happy for you to go back to them and get free advice as your child grows. Retailers the experts recommend include Halfords, John Lewis, Mamas and Papas, Mothercare, Toys R Us and of course, independent shops.

What are the problems with child car seats?

The trouble is largely human. Research shows that anywhere between 70 and 50 per cent of children aren’t properly restrained. Julie Dagnall who has conducted research among drivers explained: “The problem could be the seat is poorly fitted to the car. It could be the seat is correctly fitted but the child isn’t fitted into the seat properly. It might be the seat isn’t compatible with the car. The seat may be the wrong size for the child’s age. Or of course, there may be no seat at all.”

child car seat

What are the hardest to fit?

Invariably when police and road safety officers conduct research into child car seats, they find they can put around three quarters right at the scene. This is usually because owners haven’t fitted them properly. Of these, car safety belt-secured seats are the biggest culprits.

What is the law surrounding child seats?

All children up to the age of 12 or 135cm, whichever comes first, must be restrained in the correct size child seat. The law made booster cushions for children illegal in 2017 – unless parents already owned the cushions.

Weight-based child seat categories

Child’s weight Group Seats
0kg to 10kg 0 Lie-flat or ‘lateral’ baby carrier, rear-facing baby carrier, or rear-facing baby seat using a harness
0kg to 13kg 0+ Rear-facing baby carrier or rear-facing baby seat using a harness
9kg to 18kg 1 Rear- or forward-facing baby seat using a harness or safety shield
15kg to 25kg 2 Rear- or forward-facing child car seat (high-backed booster seat or booster cushion) using a seat belt, harness or safety shield
22kg to 36kg 3 Rear- or forward-facing child car seat (high-backed booster seat or booster cushion) using a seat belt, harness or safety shield
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