There aren’t many things more important, when keeping your baby safe, than a car seat. You only need to spend 2 minutes on Google to find the horror stories. So we’ve put together a buyers ultimate guide to choosing the best car seat. We’ve teamed up with Therese, from ‘A Rear Facing Family‘ blog and an expert in all things car seat! You can spot her expert comments as you work through this article, because I’ve quoted her.
Car seats are one of the biggest financial commitments you’ll make when preparing for a baby. Whilst there are cheaper options for car seats, they are still something that generally needs budgeting for.
Example of budgeting: The Joie Stages is £150 RRP. This can be used from birth to potentially 6 years old (rear facing 0-18kg. Forward facing 9-18kg harness and forward facing as high back booster from 18-25kg) *Don’t worry, all this mumbo jumbo will be explained so keep reading!*
That is around £2 a month if used from birth. Even if used as a Group 1 seat, say age 1-6 years that is still only £2.50 a month.
The Joie Tilt is £70 RRP – can be used from birth to 18kg rear facing or 9-18kg forward facing. That is £1.50 a month if used from birth and even if not used from birth but lets say 1-4 years of age, it’s still under £2 a month.
‘Which car seat?’ is a big question and ultimately, we all want the best! Hopefully, with this guide, that question will be made a little easier to answer. We’ve split it into 4 sections for you.
- The most recent guidelines and laws about car seats
- Types of car seats
- Best prices and places to buy car seats
- Tips for Buying a Car Seat
Car Seat Laws and Guidelines
The law about forward and rearward facing seats is generally confusing at the best of times. If you go into a shop, the assistants will mumble an unconvincing answer filling you will little confidence. We’ve done the research for you and here’s what we came up with.
- The law says that all children travelling in any seat of a car MUST be in a size appropriate car seat until the child is 12 years old or 135 cm tall.
It is still recommended that children stay in the car seats until fully outgrown, and in a HBB to 150cm as most children will still not have a proper correct seat belt fit at 135cm when not using anything at all.
- Only EU approved child car seats can be used in the UK.
- Height-base car seats must be rear facing until your child is over 15 months old. This is the new ‘i-Size legislation.’
‘iSize’ is the name of the car seats not the regulation. R129 (Regulation 129) is the name of the legislation. In R129 it is required that the child is a minimum of 15 months and at least 71cm tall before they can legally forward face. But in some seats, like hte Nuna Rebl, the requierment for forward facing hight is 80cm. (It is still minimum of 15 months)
- Weight-based car seats must be rear facing until your child weighs more than 9kg.
The law states that it is illegal to forward face a baby who is not 9kg (ECE R44.04) that is correct, but it is not recommended to forward face any baby at such a young age. Most infant car seats on the market are Group 0+ which makes them rear facing to 13kg (29lbs) if you do not wish to go for a rear facing seat next, I would strongly advice that you use the infant car seat until it’s fully outgrown by height or weight, whichever comes first.
- You can only use a child car seat if your car’s seat belt is diagonally fitted unless the car seat uses ISOFIX points. The only exception are a few car seats specifically designed for use with a lap belt seat.
- You must disable any front airbags before fitting a rear-facing car seat in the front seat.
- You are not allowed to fit a car seat in a side-facing seat.
- It is highly recommended that all children under the age of 3 years must be strapped into the car seat with a 5-point harness.
So that’s the law. But there are some bits of jargon in there, you may not fully understand.
R129 Legislation – This does not replace any previous legislation aims to compliment it. The main point is the point made above about car seats must be rear facing until the child is 15 months old and a minimum of 71 cm, but some seats have a higher hight requirement. It basically aims to measure car seat suitability by a child’s height, rather weight.
ISOFIX – ISOFIX is the international standard for attachment points for child safety seats in passenger cars.
Knowing the weight and/or height of your child is therefore really important and I would encourage you to make sure you know so that you get their car seat right. It’s not worth getting it wrong what with the increasing amount of traffic and road traffic accidents on our streets. 15 Months can feel like a long time with your baby facing backwards, but is now the law. Some car seats accommodate this by producing car seats that cater from birth up to 4 years, there are also seats that are from 9-25kg harnessed.
Types of Car Seat[table “” not found /]
Please note that this is a basic table. There are many car seats that overlap between these groups creating groups such as ‘Group 1/2’ & ‘Group 2/3’ This table is designed to give you a rough idea but for more precise info, take a look here.
(From 2018 the R129 legislation will be fully implemented and replace the weight classifications, although the old R44.04 is still legal to use for many years onwards after 2018)
Within these 4 groups you can either buy a car seat that has ISOFIX fixings or uses the seat belt to secure the car seat. Which one you go for will depend on your car. Most new cars will have ISOFIX fixings so this is becoming more popular.
It’s important to note that there is no safety difference between ISOfix and belted install, it is the fact that ISOfix is more user friendly and therefore has less mis-use that makes it a “better” option. But isofix is still limited to 33kg which means that most seats are only up to 18 kg harnessed where as belted has options that goes up to 25kg harnessed. This is especially important in rear facing seats.
Car seats will also vary depending on whether you have brought a car seat as part of a travel system with a pushchair. The best thing to do is choose a car seat and then a pushchair that is compatible. Your car seat is paramount over the pushchair in terms of safety. My opinion is this, don’t worry about travel systems. In my mind moving your baby out of the car seat and into the pushchair is a good thing, other wise the baby could potentially spend a long time in the same position.
The 90 minute rule should always be followed, especially for babies.
Best Prices and Places to Buy Car Seats
The first thing to say is that you should never buy a second hand car seat. By all means go second hand on everything else, but not a car seat because you just can’t guarantee whether it’s been involved in an accident prior or damaged in some way. I said at the beginning that a car seat is a financial commitment that needs to budgeted for. You can’t escape the fact that you will have to spend some money on this. That being said, you can get some great deals and to save you time, we’ve found them for you. We’ve taken some of the most popular car seats on the market and found the cheapest price we could for you.
WARNING: We do however, recommend that you visit your local retailer to check out the car seats, learn how to fit it and then shop around online before committing online. It is also very important to check that your car seat is approved for your car as not all car seats fit all cars.[table “” not found /]
Tips for Buying a Car Seat
- Most shops that sell car seats will also provide a service that teaches you how to fit the car seat. Use this service! Swallow your manly pride and learn how to do it. Mis-fitting one would be potentially catastrophic. (It may be worth booking an appointment.)
- Avoid second hand purchases.
- Check that the car seat fits your car, especially if it’s ISOFIX, before you buy it. Our old Nissan didn’t work with our car seat!Most car seats today do have a vehicle fitting list, this is located often online or as part of the car seat manual. Make sure the shop checks for lists before selling you the seat.
- I wouldn’t suggest getting a travel system with car seat included. Whilst this has many benefits, it can also encourage leaving your baby in one position for too long. Be aware of this if you do go for a travel system.
- Know the weight & height of your child!
- You should be able to get 2 fingers between the harness and your child’s collarbone – then you’ll know if its tight enough.Also extremely important to point out that you should not use any coats or snow suits in the car seat as the compress on impact. Fleece is a good option to the outdoor coat, and on the coldest of days you can put the coat on backwards after you have secured the child correctly in the harness.
- For rear facing car seats, you can buy some great mini mirrors that fit on the head rests allowing you to see your child’s face easily. We have one and it is excellent. You can buy it here.
- If a car seat is being sold in a shop, it will have passed EU regulations. It will be safe. Don’t think that the lesser known brands are any less safe; they’re not.But you still get what you pay for in car seats and some times price equals testing. More expensive car seats are often tested to a higher standard which might include side impact testing for example, this is not tested for in ECE R44.04. R44.04 is also tested to the low speed of 30mph where as ADAC for example tests at 40mph frontal impact. But some times you can get very affordable car seats that have a good crash testing score above the minimum. But it is something I would always advice to have a look at, even though all seats have passed minimum standard to be sold.
Some ERF seats are ‘PLUS’ tested which is the strictest crash test in the world and the only one that measures the child’s neck load in a crash. No forward facing car seat can pass this test because the neck load forces are too great.
- To save money, you can get car seats that cater (with padded inserts) from birth to 4 years. This saves you buying a new car seat when you hit the 15 month mark! That being said, it’s important to try and get as much use out of your car seat as you can. Just because your baby is now 15 months, does not mean you have to jump out and turn round to face the front!
- Use YouTube as a resource to help you figure extra bits out.YouTube also holds most installations of the car seats, so def. check to see if your seat has an installation video.
- Test out how easy it is tighten and release the straps. When it’s raining and you have to buckle them up and adjust the straps, you’ll be thankful for it.
Some last words from the exert!
Rear facing is the safest way for our children to travl and it is advised to keep children rear facing for as long as possible. Becase of this, many iSize car seats offer rear facing up to 105cm. There are also other ‘ERF’ car seats available on the market, offering rear facing up to 18kg (40lbs) & some all the way up to 25kg (55lbs).
-ERF resources: www.rearfacing.co.uk – www.goodeggsafety.co.uk – www.http://www.bmj.com/content/338/bmj.b1994
Gone are the days where ‘ERF’ seats are “so expensive”, you can pick them up now starting at under £100 that rear face from birth all the way to 18kg.
-My list of ‘ERF’ car seats under £200: http://erfmission.com/?page_id=662
I always advice that you contact a specialist when buying car seats. The aftercare is normally far better than high street as they will usually have you on file, and they often have better training. They are also most likely apointment based which means that you alone are the focus of their attention and you can therefore ask questions without feeling rushed.
Know your child’s percentile. If your child is very high on the percentile for hight &/or weight and likely to reach 18 kg (40lbs) before the age of 4 years old, I always advice to buy a rear facing car seat to 25kg, or if you truly do not wish to rear face, a car seat that harnesses to 25kg, though the options are very limited in extended harnessing in forward facing seats sadly.
Good Egg Safety also has a very good seat guide where you just put in your child’s age and weight, and they will show you what seat groups fits your child:
For example I put in my youngest who is 3 years old and 16kg and this came up: “Should rear face for best protection, can forward face if weighing 9kg and sitting unaided for more than 30 minutes. If weighing more than 18kg a booster may be used, provided the adult seat belt sits correctly over the child.”
And then there were links to the car seat groups he fits in.
Before I leave you, I’ll just point you in the direction of a great car seat that we used and reviewed. Take a read and see what you think.
Lastly, if you have any questions, I’ll happily share my opinions and thoughts with you, so get in touch. We also have a Dad Network Facebook group of over 2200 dads that will happily share their thoughts and their choices too. Sometimes it’s great to discuss such important choices with those who have already made them.