Choosing a child car seat

Caroline Cassidy

Your child's safety is no doubt of paramount importance to you and, whether you're a first time parent or have a growing brood, fitting a car seat for your little one is essential. The law states that all children travelling in cars should do so using the correct child restraint until they are either age 12 or reach 135cm in height.

choosing a child car seat
choosing a child car seat

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Just as cars have become safer and safer over time, so too have child cars seats but there are many things to consider when choosing the right one. Here are a few of the essentials you need to know.

Know your stuff

Your child's weight is the first consideration when it comes to buying a car seat.

There are five main weight categories as follows:

Group 0: 0-10kg. For new babies to roughly 11 months for boys or 14 months for girls.

Group 0+: 0-13kg. Newborns through to about 15 months.

Group 1: 9-18kg. For children from nine months to four-and-a-half years old.

Group 2: 15-25kg. From three years to seven years.

Group 3: 22-36kg. From six years to twelve years.

The age ranges given are approximate. It is the weight that counts. Some seats cover the whole weight range but the safest option is to change the seat as the child grows, but make sure that your child never exceeds the weight limit specified for your chosen seat.

Though most children will exceed the weight limit before they grow too tall for the seat, but if your child's head is higher than the top of the seat or their eyeline is level with the top, it's time to change.

Types of seats

Rear-facing seats
Many parents opt for a rear-facing seat for their new baby as they provide greater protection for the little one's head, neck and spine. For that reason, it is worth keeping your child in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible. Though they can be used in both the front and the rear of the car, the back seat is the safer option. Never put a rear-facing seat in the front passenger seat where there is a passenger airbag.

Isofix seats
The Isofix mounting system, which is standard for all new cars and seat manufacturers, is designed to make installation quick, easy and secure. Simply plugging the seat into the fixing points within the car means you won't need to use the adult seatbelt to secure the child, while an integral harness will keep them safe.

The majority of cars made since 2002 have two fixing points at the base of the seat but some newer models may also include a third fixing point, positioned behind the rear seat. This ensures the seat will not tip forward in a crash. Others will include a support leg to prevent the seat from tipping but it is worth noting that cars these are not suitable where the car has underfloor storage.

Seatbelt secured
Don't worry if your car does not have the Isofix system. There are many excellent seatbelt-secured seats but if you choose this option it is essential to check the seat in the car.

Booster seats
As your child grows, you may need to move to a booster seat or cushion. Most modern booster seats are designed for children weighing between 15kg and 36kg. These do not include an integral harness. The adult seat belt is used to secure the child and, for this reason, proper fit is of paramount importance.

As a guide, the belt should fit as tightly as possible, with the lap belt over the pelvic region and not the stomach, and the diagonal strap resting over the shoulder and not the neck.

Booster cushions, where there is no side or back, are also available but those with backs and, in some cases, side wings, may offer better protection.

Buying the seat
Armed with a good idea of what you want, it's time to head to the shops. Many retailers, including Halfords, Mothercare and Toys R Us, offer a seat fitting service, so do ask a member of staff to help you check the seat in situ. They should have received child seat training and be able to help if you are unsure which seat will fit your car.

Some stores have an in-store rig that you can try your child in and that will allow you to see how the seat fits and adjusts. However, there is no better way to find the right seat than to try it in the car. This will enable you to ask the assistant any questions you may have regarding installation, fitting and adjusting. Where this is not possible, make sure that you can return the seat if there are any problems.

Whatever seat you buy, check that it meets the United Nations standard Regulation 44.03 or 44.04. An 'E' mark will tell you whether or not it meets the regulations.

Lastly, do not be tempted to buy a second-hand seat. It may be an older version that does not meet current standards, or have been in an accident that has weakened it.