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Choosing child car seats

Buying child car seats can be confusing. Read about UK laws, rear and forward facing car seats, safety information and see our checklist for choosing a baby's car seat.

If you have a car, choosing a child car seat can feel like a daunting prospect with so many types available and different factors to consider. Taking the time to choose the right baby car seat - and fitting it properly – are crucial though in making sure you keep your child as safe as possible when travelling.

Baby car seat safety

All babies start off in rear facing car seats, as travelling backwards is an important part of preventing injuries in a crash. In a frontal impact - the most common type of crash - a rear-facing seat pulls the child into it, supporting their fragile head and back, and limiting the movement of their head on their neck.

Babies can move into a forward facing car seat (Group 1) seat when they reach 9kg; but it is safer to leave them rear-facing until they are 13kg or 15 months old (see more about weights and car seats below).

Don’t feel in a rush to turn your child’s car seat forward facing too soon. Seats that let you keep your child rear-facing until the age of four are actually becoming more common. For more information, read our article which discusses the law on child car seats.

Checklist guide for choosing a child car seat

  1. Make a shortlist of car seats you like and the cars you might use it in, for example grandparents’, as well as your own.
  2. Find out if the child car seat will fit in the cars you'll be using – check with the manufacturer and the vehicle maker for compatibility.
  3. Select a retailer. Many car seat retailers will have advisers on hand to help you choose the right one.
  4. Try before you buy. Arrange for an appointment to check whether these seats will fit in your cars and other vehicles that you use regularly. A qualified fitter might not be available if you turn up out of the blue.
  5. Only buy a seat which carries the ECE R44.04 mark (though it's important to be aware of the new i-Size standard).
  6. Even if your child isn't born yet, try the seat in your car anyway. If you're planning to give birth at a hospital, remember that most won't discharge you unless you have a child seat in your vehicle.

It’s also a good idea to read the fitting instructions yourself and make sure you know exactly how to fit the seat. While it’s helpful for high street retailers to show you how to do so; it’s also important that you’re confident with all the fittings.

Never buy a second-hand child car seat

It can seem cost-effective to get a second-hand car seat but they will have wear and tear that could affect their safety, or they could have been weakened in a crash.

They could also be too old to comply with the latest safety regulations or be missing the instruction booklet that tells you how to install and adjust the seat safely.

What your child wears in their car seat can affect their safety

Child car seats are tested with the dummy in light clothing, and using the seat in a way that it has not been tested, can reduce its effectiveness. For a child to be safely strapped in, the harness should be level with their shoulders, with the harness fitting snugly around them – you should be able to just slip two fingers between your child and the harness (if you can’t get the straps level with your child’s shoulders, then they may dip just below the shoulders when rear facing, or sit just above the shoulders when front facing).

As a result, you should also be aware that it's not advisable for children to wear thick, padded clothing when in their child restraint, as it creates a gap between the child and the harness. This gap can reduce the effectiveness of the harness and, in a collision, it may not protect a child as it should do.

Wearing thick, padded clothing may also cause the harness to be fastened incorrectly, which also puts a child at increased risk of injury. It might seem strange to consider taking off your child's coat or padded all-in-one when the weather's cold but also bear in mind that a child wearing a winter coat or jacket can also overheat in a car, once it has warmed up. Find out more in this car seat safety video.

Fitting your child car seat

Once you’ve found one that’s suitable for your child, you’ll need to fit it safely and securely in your vehicle. The process of fitting a child car seat isn’t always as easy as you might think so read our article here for help and information.

This article was written using information provided by Which?

Further information

NCT’s helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Good Egg Safety has a complete guide to your child’s automobile safety

Good Egg Safety host or support checking events across the UK every year. Find one near you

Find out more about keeping babies safe

Read about common features of different seats

Children vehicle weight groups explained

Find out about Kids in the vehicle - a campaign encouraging parents to be aware of the impact their driving behaviour has on even the youngest children.