Helping you to find the perfect car seat for you and your little one.
Not only could it save your child’s life but it’s been the law to use one since an astoundingly recent 2006. A child must use some kind of car seat until they are 12 years old or 135cm tall, whichever comes first. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing the best car seat for you.
REAR/FORWARD-FACING CAR SEATS
i-Size seats are rear-facing for at least 15 months and many experts recommend this position is used for even longer as it gives a child’s underdeveloped body far better protection in the event of the more serious front collision. So for the safest possible option, the best car seats are ones that can be used rear-facing until your child is four. Some can be used this way for even longer, like the BeSafe Stretch.
There are also many R44 car seats which have an extended rear-facing life like the Graco Extend, which can be used until four years old.
If you want to keep an eye on a rear-facing child and check they are not slumped forward or eating a mouldy blueberry found in the folds of their seat, a car seat mirror enables you to keep an eye on them via your rear-view mirror.
The Doona is unique in that it is a car seat with flip-out wheels to convert it into a buggy. This could be for you if you use the car a lot or have a really small car boot which won’t fit a buggy.
LIE FLAT CAR SEATS
A baby should spend no longer than two hours in a car seat and this goes down to 30 minutes for a baby under four weeks old. This is because a semi-upright sitting position could cause breathing difficulties, especially if their head slumps forward, and it could also put a strain on their developing spine.
For very long car journeys it’s recommended that you take a 15-minute break every two hours.
ALTERNATIVES TO LIE FLAT CAR SEATS
1. The lie-flat carrycot. For example, the Maxi-Cosi Jade and Nuna Cari Next. Both these are i-Size and look like a cross between a Moses basket and a car seat. They are positioned horizontally across the back seats so one downside is there is less room for other passengers. Plus, they have a short life span of up to six months.
2. A car seat with a flat recline. Sometimes this can be used inside the car. E.g. the Joie i-Level. Others can be flat only outside of the car but this is still very useful if you have a travel system buggy or want to carry a sleeping baby undisturbed to your destination.
One of the most important considerations is safety and there are two types of safety regulation in the UK. R44 and the newer i-Size, which is part of R129.
One big difference with i-Size is the size of car seat required is decided by the child’s height rather than weight. Another is that i-Size car seats will always attach to the car by ISOFIX. (More on that later). They are also used rear-facing for longer and are tested for side impact protection.
From September 2023, R44 car seats will no longer be sold in the EU and Northern Ireland. There is no agreed date for the end of their sale in Great Britain.
2. SIZE OF CAR SEAT
Here are the size groups for car seats. There are single-stage seats and multi-stage seats, which will have a much longer lifespan.
The suitability of R44 seats is measured by a child’s weight in kg and i-Size ones are by height in cm.
i-Size seats have to be rear-facing until 15 months so some categories are R44 or i-Size only.
For long-term savings, it’s possible to only ever buy one car seat for your child as multi-stage seats can take them from newborn until 12 years old. The downsides are that they are much heavier and can’t be used on travel system buggies.
A car seat can be attached to the car in two ways. By using the adult seat belt or ISOFIX. An ISOFIX car seat has connectors on the seat or a base which lock directly into ISOFIX slots in the chassis of the car.
This is quicker and easier than fiddling around with the seat belt, especially if you are taking the car seat in and out a lot. They are also considered to be safer as there is much less room for error compared to a seat belt fitting.
Some car seats can be installed with both ISOFIX and the seat belt, which would be handy if you are ever using another car without ISOFIX points.
The ISOFIX connectors are usually on a base which the car seat attaches to. Ideally, this base will fit next-stage car seats from the same brand as it is often sold separately adding a hefty chunk to your bill.
There are also car seats, like the Nuna PIPA urbn, which have integrated ISOFIX connectors, which make it really easy to swap between cars as there’s no heavy base to move.
For extra security, there may also be a supporting leg and/or top tether.
If your car was built before November 2014, it may not have ISOFIX slots so check first. Annoyingly, even if your car does have ISOFIX, it may not be compatible with the ISOFIX connectors on your car seat.
Other things to consider when choosing a car seat.
Unless you have a bulky multi-stage car seat, it’s likely that you will want to lift the whole car seat in and out of your car and a lightweight model will make this easier.
If lightweight is particularly important to you, the Maxi Cosi Coral has a detachable inner carrier which can be lifted out of the shell and weighs a minuscule 1.7kg.
If you will be carrying the car seat a lot, also look for an ergonomic carry handle.
Someone not in control of their bodily functions is ideally going to need a seat with removable and machine-washable materials.
If you’ll have a baby under six months during the summer months, when comparing car seats look for fabrics which are breathable and temperature-regulating like Merino wool and bamboo.
Lighter colours will also absorb less heat. Although these will definitely need to be washable!
Nobody wants to sing a comforting Baa Baa Black Sheep 186 times to a continuously crying baby on a long car journey. The more comfortable your baby is, the better. Most car seats designed for babies will have some kind of newborn insert. This is primarily to allow it to fit but will also keep a baby comfortable.
A car seat which can be easily reclined will make it more conducive to naps. And for a multi-stage car seat to remain comfortable as your child grows, it will need adjustable straps and headrest.
A secure harness is a must as you don’t want any Houdini-like children breaking free on the motorway. But it also needs to be easy for you to use, especially when your child puts up any resistance to getting in the seat.
Remember that a child should not wear their coat or pramsuit in the car seat. To effectively restrain a child the harness needs to be fitted close to the body without any puffy material in the way.
Some Cybex car seats can be paired with an app which sends alerts if:
They’ve been left alone in the car. (In case you forget you have a baby. It does happen).
Pick a budget that you’re comfortable with and stick to it.
Buying a bundle can work out cheaper. It’s often possible to get the pram chassis, carrycot, pushchair seat, car seat and other accessories together to save you money.
Measure your car to ensure any car seat you pick will fit.
The best way to decide which car seat is right for you is to see it in person. The Baby Show has all the top UK brands in one place and there’s even a buggy track for you to take your favourites for a test drive.
Take along this downloadable checklist of questions to your nearest Baby Show event so you don’t forget to ask anything important.
Check out car seat brands at The Baby Shows in 2024*
*correct at time published
Book your tickets to our next show so you can compare, try, buy and save on all these brands in-person!
A checklist for you to help you answer your questions when buying a car seat
You can also download the checklist of questions here and print at home or save on your phone to have these questions ready when you're at the show.
Is the car seat i-Size?
Does it attach to the car with ISOFIX, the seat belt or both?
If it’s ISOFIX, does it connect to the car with a base and is this included?
Does the ISOFIX base also have a supporting leg and/or top tether
Can the ISOFIX base be used with the next stages of car seat?
Are the ISOFIX connectors compatible with your car?
How long will the car seat last for?
How long is it rear-facing for?
Does the car seat have a flat recline?
Does it have any other reclines?
Can the car seat swivel?
How heavy is the car seat?
Does it have an ergonomic carry handle?
Is it compatible with your travel system buggy?
Are the fabrics removable and machine washable?
Are the fabrics breathable and temperature-regulating?
What colours are the fabrics available in?
Are the fabrics made from recycled materials?
How comfortable is the car seat?
Is the harness easy to use?
What side impact protection does the seat have?
Is the sun canopy extendable and does it have SPF50+ protection?