different car seats

With so many types of baby or child car seats available and buying one can be confusing. Here’s a handy checklist to help you decide which one to choose.

Add the huge choice of car seats to the large load of legal and safety information, and no wonder choosing a car seat is daunting. Yet choosing the right child car seat and fitting it properly is crucial to keeping your child is safe in the car. So you’ll want to take your time and consider all your options.

Here are some helpful tips on choosing the right car seat for you…

1. Narrow it down

Make a shortlist of car seats you like and any cars you might use it in, for example yours and any grandparent’s car. Talk to friends and family with children and ask if you can take a look at any child car seats they have. Ask them what the benefits are of the type they have chosen, as this could give you an idea of what you like and what’s important to you.

You can also look up features of specific car seats and read safety reviews of particular models online to help you make a shortlist (RoSPA, 2018).

2. Compare car seats

Make sure you’ve done your research and compared a number of different car seat types and brands. There may be a particular feature you find you like or need, or your budget might be a significant factor to consider in your decision.

"It’s best to actually try a few car seats in your car, if you can, before making the final decision to buy one."

This gives you the chance to compare how well it fits as well as the ease of putting it in and taking it out of your car.

Newborn babies will need a rear-facing car seat to begin with (NHC, 2016). All babies start with a rear-facing infant car seat because travelling backwards is an important part of preventing injuries in a crash (Which?, 2018).

3. Check the details

Making sure the car seat you’re buying is the right size or type for your child’s current height and weight is important. Check our online car seat table as a guide to help you choose the correct type of car seat.

All car seats should be EU approved – look for the ‘E’ mark label on the seat. Many modern cars have isofix connectors built in to them. Isofix is designed to make installing your car seat quick and easy. So it’s worth checking for the isofix connectors in your car – they might be hidden in the cracks between the padding of your car seats (RoSPA, 2018).

4. Try before you buy

Find out whether the car seat will fit in the car or cars it’d go in to. You can check the car seat manufacturer information and your car vehicle information to make sure they would be compatible.

Some retailers will have trained staff in their store who will be happy to help you fit and test a car seat in your car. You may need to ring the store in advance and pre-book an appointment for this service (NHS, 2016).

5. Install it and test it

Even if your baby hasn’t yet been born yet, it’s a good idea to practise fitting the seat beforehand. If you're planning to return home by car from where you gave birth, remember that they won't discharge you unless your vehicle has a child seat (NHS, 2016).  

Practise putting the car seat in, adjusting it and taking it out again ahead of your baby’s due date. It’s not worth the frustration of struggling with a new car seat when your newborn baby has already arrived. So make sure you’ve tried it out a few times beforehand. That way you’re confident and comfortable with how it all works (NHS, 2016).

Second hand car seats

Don’t be tempted to buy a second hand car seat. This is because it could have been damaged in an accident and might not have all its parts, including important fitting and safety instructions. Other reasons are: it may not be the most up to date, safest or most user-friendly model and it might not fit in your car properly (NHS, 2016).

Exceptions to accepting a second hand car seat are:

  • if it’s from close family or friends
  • you know its history and know it hasn’t been in a car accident that could have damaged it and rendered it unsafe to use
  • if it’s not too old and it comes with full instructions.

(NHS, 2016)

Next steps

Choosing a car seat can take time. If you are still unsure about which car seat to go for it is worth reading our guide to car seats or visiting the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA)’s website.

This page was last reviewed in May 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 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.

More information is available from the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) or call RoSPA’s free life line 0808 801 0822.

BBC News. (2016) Child car seats: Will you be affected by rule changes? Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38182298 [Accessed 24th May 2018].

GOV.UK. (2018) Child car seats: the law. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/child-car-seats-the-rules [Accessed 24th May 2018].

NHS Choices. (2016) Choosing a baby car seat. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/child-car-seats-and-child-car-safety/ [Accessed 24th May 2018].

RoSPA. (2018) Types of seat. Available at: http://www.childcarseats.org.uk/types-of-seat [Accessed 24th May 2018].

Which? (2018) Which car seat do you need for your baby or child? Available at: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/child-car-seats/article/how-to-buy-the-right-child-car-seat/which-car-seat-do-you-need-for-your-baby-or-child? [Accessed 24th May 2018].

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