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Car Seats - before you buy?

Important Things to Remember

We are often asked which of the many car seats on the market is the best. The truth is, the best car seat is the one that fits your vehicle, your budget, your baby and one that you will be able to fit properly each time your baby goes out in the car. Here are some important points to help you choose which car seat is the best choice for your baby.

It is weight, not age that matters

It is essential that you use your baby's weight to establish the type of car seat that is most suitable. Once you have taken their weight into consideration you can then look at other issues, such as their development, height and character to help narrow down the options. Click here to see our table to help you decide which group of car seat you should be looking at.

As shown by the following case study, all babies are not the same, and so if you are uncertain about anything, please seek professional advice.

Case Study:

Nicky's baby girl Amelie is 9 months old, and all her friends' babies are already in forward facing car seats. Nicky's concerned because her baby's legs look squashed in her infant carrier. Should she move her baby into a Group 1 seat? All her friends think it is okay.

Nicky goes to the shop where she bought her infant carrier for advice. The fitter finds out that Nicky's baby is just 9kg, so could (in theory) move to a forward facing car seat. But, he notes that the baby is not all that confident sitting by herself yet. The baby's legs do look squashed, but explains that her head is not even close to the top of the seat and she's certainly not too heavy for the car seat. He recommends that Nicky wait another few months before buying a Group 1 car seat. Why?

The fitter explains it is much safer for a baby to travel in their rear facing car seat for as long as possible because it offers better support for the baby's head, neck and spine in a crash situation. Nicky gets the fitter to check which Group 1 car seats fit her car there and then, but delays her purchase. Three weeks later, Nicky's car was involved in a serious accident - fortunately because Amelie was in the right seat for her weight and stage she survived the crash unscathed.

Does the car seat fit you car?

With so many vehicle seat styles and seatbelt lengths it is not possible for all car seats to fit in every vehicle. It is therefore essential to find a car seat that can be installed so that it hugs the contours of your vehicle seats, can be fitted tightly (less than an inch of side-to-side wiggle) and at the proper angle with no buckle crunch (see Common fitting problems).

It is always wise to try before you buy; it may be that you need to try a few before you find one that fits properly. At Pushchairs and Car Seats we have RoSPA (Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents) accreditation and we offer a car seat fitting service. To find your local free Fit Check locations contact your Road Safety Officer or check out RoSPA's website. However, if you cannot try before you buy, always check the returns policy and be certain that you can return the car seat if it does not properly fit your vehicle.

Can you install and use the car seat easily?

The most expensive, feature-rich car seat will not be safe if you do not take the time to read the instructions and ensure that it is properly installed every time it is used. Make sure that you check the car seat fitting instructions to be sure that you can install and use the car seat as it is intended. Can you adjust the harness to secure your child in the car seat? Can you adjust the harness as you baby grows? Will you get the belt routing right and tight each time?

Are second-hand car seats safe?

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents strongly advises against buying second-hand car seats. Even if there are no visible signs of damage, the car seat may still have been involved in an accident. Hidden damage can occur to a car seat, even in the slightest of crashes. If subjected to a second crash, the seat may fail, putting the life of your child at serious risk.

A second-hand car seat is more likely to be older, to have suffered more wear and tear and also may not be designed to current safety standards. In addition, it is often the case with second-hand car seats that the instructions are missing, severely increasing the chances of it being fitted incorrectly. However, we know how tempting it is to buy a second-hand car seat, or to accept one from a friend, especially if you are on a tight budget. If you do decide to opt for a second-hand car seat, it is essential that you know and trust its history, that it comes with the complete, original instructions, and that it is not too old. If it has been involved in any sort of crash it is far more worthwhile to spend out on a new one, rather than putting the life of your child at risk.

If you do decide on a second-hand seat, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents asserts that you must:

  • Examine it carefully for damage (but remember, not all damage to child car seats will be visible)
  • Make sure the manufacturer's instructions are available
  • Check the manufacturer's advice about how old the car seat should be before it needs to be replaced
  • Make sure the car seat is suitable for your child's weight and height
  • Try the car seat in your car - if you cannot get it to fit securely, do not buy it
  • Check that the car seat meets the United Nations standard Regulation 44.04 - look for the 'E' mark
How long should I keep my child in a car seat?

Since September 2006, the law states that children must be secured in the correct child car seat (i.e. a Group 3 car seat) until they have reached their 12th birthday, or 135cm (4'5") in height. This means that your child needs to be in a car seat for longer, so it is important to choose car seats that will grow with them. We strongly advise you to keep your child in a car seat with side-impact protection until they have reached the age of twelve. Perhaps even more importantly, we strongly advise that babies should be kept in rearward facing car seats for as long as possible.

Many car seats today offer higher rear facing weight limits, and this is a good option to choose. Only move them to a forward facing car seat once they have reached the maximum weight for the baby car seat, or the top of their head is higher than the top of the car seat. Additionally, you should only move your child from a Group 1 car seat to a Group 2/3 car seat once they have exceeded the maximum weight for the car seat, or their eye line is level with the top of the seat.


Back to car seats: the definitive guide homepage

Buying Your Car Seat

Fitting Your Car Seat

This section includes information on the different types of car seat, explaining which seat is the right size for your child, what to look for, useful accessories and important things to remember before you buy. The car seat safety guide, sections on child car seats and the law, and car seats on test, provide the vital safety information that you need when buying your car seat. This section also includes information on fitting your seat, with a step-by-step guide to installing your car seat, a list of common problems and information on where to get help.

With most car seats in the UK being fitted incorrectly, it is crucial that you have access to the right information when selecting and fitting your child's seat. Our trained staff are all experienced car seat fitters and we have used their collective knowledge to put together this information. The golden rule is that it is absolutely essential that you get the fit checked if you are in any doubt at all.. Some manufacturers have car compatibility fitting guides on their websites, however it should be remembered that these are just guides and are not definitive lists. Not all car seats will fit all cars, and no car or car seat manufacturer can guarantee a secure and safe fit. All cars are different, even two of the same make and model can have different length seat belts!

It is therefore essential to ensure your car seat is fitted correctly, in order to secure your child's safety whilst travelling in the car. The showroom is based just outside of Wallingford and we are always happy to check the fitting of your car seat.

Three important points to remember about car seats are:

  • Always buy a car seat to suit your child's weight rather than height.
  • Not all car seats fit all cars; check the model you have chosen will fit your car. Seek professional advice if you are unsure.
  • Always buy a car seat because it has safety features that improve fit and protection, not because it has attractive fabric choices or good value accessories.

Useful Links

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