As a parent, choosing a car seat for your child is one of the most important things you can do, it’s a responsibility that takes time and consideration. An appropriately-chosen seat will provide comfortable, safe transport, minimizing the risk of injury in a crash.
Our 2016 child car seat buying guide will help you select the ideal seat for your child. And to make things even easier for you, we’ve hand picked the best car seats for each of the main groups- see our top picks below.
Maxi Cosi Cabriofix
Britax Duo Plus Isofix
Maxi Cosi Rodi Air Protect
Safety Starts Early
Did you know that your vehicle must be equipped with a car seat before you leave the hospital with your newborn? In fact, it’s illegal – and for good reason – for an infant to travel any distance in a car without being in a car seat.
Preparing for the arrival of a new born baby takes planning. Your list may include bottles, nappies, clothing and toys. But a good car seat should be at the top of your list, without one, you won’t be able to get your baby home. Even if you don’t own a car you will need a car seat to take your new born baby home from the hospital – get one before your baby is born.
Car Seats, Like Children, Don’t Stay the Same Size
Car seats are classed by group – the lower the group number, the smaller the seat, and the smaller, lighter and younger a child the seat can accommodate. Though group sizing begins at 0, size 0+ is most appropriate for the majority of newborns.
So-called “multi-group” seats can accommodate children over a wider range of developmental stages. Though using multi-group seats may be more affordable than purchasing several differently-grouped seats as your child grows, it’s important to note that a multi-group seat may not offer the same level of protection.
Always ensure that whichever seat you choose is appropriate for your child’s current stage of growth.
What Does I-Size Mean?
I-Size is the new European child car seat standard, belonging to regulation ECE R129. i-Size was created in order that any car seat will fit in any vehicle equipped with Isofix – an attachment system that directly connects child car seats to a vehicle’s frame. Beyond greater versatility, i-Size seats are easier to fit correctly, which is both more convenient, and safer.
There are two ways to fix child car seats in your car, which are by using the rear seat belt to hold it in place or through the use of Isofix anchors and tethers. If your car is fairly new, then it is likely that it will have Isofix mounts. If your car was made after 2002 then it should definitely have them.
The Isofix Standard
There will be two Isofix mounts located in the padding of the back seats. It might take a little searching to find them but they should be there. Contact your car manufacturer or refer to your vehicle user manual if you’re unable to locate the mounts.
The Isofix standard has been adopted by most car manufacturers and child seat manufacturers. Isofix is all about safety and ease of installation.
If your car has the Isofix mounts then take advantage of this. Look for a car seat that is compatible with the Isofix system, as this will be a lot easier to install and safer than using the seatbelt. The retailer you’re purchasing your car seat from will explain how this fitting system works.
Child Car Seat Size Grouping
In the United Kingdom, child car seats are divided into specific groups mainly based on the weight of a child. The range covers children from the ages of 0 to 12 years old.
When car seats are manufactured they are tested for minimum safety requirements for a child of a certain height and weight range that the seat covers. You need to take these factors into consideration when choosing a child car seat.
- Group 0 seats are appropriate for infants weighing 0-10 kg, from birth to 6-9 months of age.
- Group 0+ seats are appropriate for infants weighing 0-13 kg, from birth to 12-15 months of age.
- Group 0+/1 seats are appropriate for infants and children weighing 0-18 kg, from birth to 4.5 years of age.
- Group 1 seats are appropriate for infants and children weighing 9-18 kg, and 9 months to 4.5 years of age.
- Group 2/3 seats are appropriate for children weighing 15-36 kg, and 3 to 12 years of age.
- Group 3 seats are appropriate for children weighing 22-36 kg, and 6 to 12 years of age.
- Group 1/2/3 seats are appropriate for infants and children weighing 9-36 kg, and 9 months to 12 years of age.
- i-Size seats are height-based, and appropriate for infants and children between 40 and 105 cm in height, and from birth to 4 years of age.
You Get What You Pay For
Consider a car seat an investment in your child’s life. Though it can be tempting to cut back on costs, doing so – in this case – isn’t advisable.
Remember, even a child car seat that costs hundreds of pounds works out to only a few dozen pence a day, over the usable life of the seat.
If ever there’s a time to save money, it’s when your child is older and bigger, and can fit in a Group 2/3 seat—but even then, ensure that the seat you purchase is well-made, supportive, and correctly-sized.
Avoid Second Hand Car Seats
Never purchase a secondhand car seat as normal signs of wear may not be apparent, and damage incurred during an accident may be invisible. Saving a few pounds isn’t worth the risk. Always purchase a brand new car seat, and if the one you’ve been using has been involved in a crash, replace it.
You may think it’s fine to borrow a car seat from a well-meaning family member or friend, but even this is not advisable. You just don’t know the full history of a used car seat.
The instruction guide is something that you will definitely need with a car seat as it is critical that it is fitted properly and securely. You will not always get this with second hand seats (or even borrowed seats) so the best thing to do is buy a new one. It is understandable that a lot of families are on a tight budget, but if there is one thing that is worth making sacrifices for it is a new child car seat.
Choosing a Child Car Seat: What to Look For
Proof of safety.
The United Nation determines car seat safety standards. Always purchase a car seat labeled with an “E” mark of 44.03 or 44.04. New i-Size car seats feature an “R” mark of R129.
A good fit for your car.
The majority of cars manufactured after 2002 feature Isofix anchoring points, which allow i-Size seats to be used. If your vehicle can accommodate i-Size car seats, it’s recommended that you use them—they’re safer, and easier to fit.
Note, too, that all vehicles manufactured as of November 2012 should include a top mounting point for a tether. Car seats affix to this third tether point, preventing the seat from falling forward during a collision.
It’s also a good idea to measure your vehicle’s seat dimensions, and compare them to any car seat you’re considering purchasing. Trained staff at retailers such as Halfords and MotherCare should be able to provide guidance on installation, specific to your vehicle.
A good fit for your child.
Carefully measure and weigh your child, and compare their measurements to the group sizing specifications provided above, as well as to each individual car seat you may wish to purchase.
Where’s The Best Place To Fit The Car Seat?
Front passenger airbags are an important safety feature in any vehicle – but the force of an airbag’s activation can pose a serious risk to children placed in rear-facing, Group 0+ car seats.
However tempting it may be, never install a front facing child car seat in the front of the car.
While it is possible to deactivate the passenger air bag in some cars, this is not advisable. There could be issues with your insurance for a start, and you may just forget to activate it again when an adult is travelling in the front.
Just a minor, or otherwise harmless bump and activation of the air bag could cause serious injury. Always install your rear facing, Group 0 / 0+ car seats in the back.
To maximize your child’s safety, always install the car seat in the back.
Do you need a car-seat “travel system”?
A so-called travel system combines a newborn-appropriate car seat with a push-chair. The car seat is detached from the push-chair frame, and set up in the vehicle, while the push-chair frame can be transported in the boot of the car.
If you opt for this type of system, bear in mind that travel system car seats can be bulky, and can’t be accommodated by all vehicles.
Bells and whistles.
Some child car seats include extra features, like trays and cup holders. While by no means essential, such features are convenient, and worth considering if your child is often thirsty, or needs a space to put snacks or toys on long journeys.
Infants and young children typically have heads that are large and heavy in proportion to the rest of their bodies. As such, a car seat with dual, EPS (extruded polystyrene) foam-lined head wings provide extra protection to the head in the event of a collision.
Steel-framed car seats with aluminium-reinforced side walls offer excellent durability. Also, look for seats that feature EPS padding throughout – extruded polystyrene foam has excellent impact absorption and shock reduction properties.
Quality and brand reputation.
Your child’s life is precious. Help protect it by choosing not only the most appropriate, but the best-quality car seat available, from a highly-regarded, well-reviewed brand.
As you can see, there’s a lot to think about and some homework to do before making that purchase, from group sizing to features, materials and more. We hope our guide will help steer you in the right direction. If you’re looking to buy online, you’ll find some of our best child car seat recommendations below.
Our Child Car Seat Recommendations
Maxi Cosi Cabriofix
The Maxi Cosi Cabriofix Group 0+ Car Seat, also known as the Black Raven, is actually part of a complete travel system for your child. The seat weighs just 3.6 kg which makes it one of the lightest baby carriers available. There is extra padding for comfort and a seat reducer is included for babies.
The seat comes with a side protection system which is an enhanced safety feature. If you have a Maxi Cosy or Quinny pushchair then this car seat is compatible. The seat can be transformed into your child’s travel system very easily.
The Maxi Cosy is easy to install and you can use Isofix or the rear seat belt method. Be sure to choose the right option for your vehicle. This is a very high quality child car seat for infants and is highly recommended.
Britax Duo Plus Isofix
For a Group 1 child seat we highly recommend the Britax Duo Plus Isofix Forward Facing Car Seat, also known as the Black Thunder. This child car seat can be installed with the Isofix system or it can be safely used with a 3 point seat belt, which means that it can be used in a variety of cars.
There are deep wings on the side that provide extra impact protection and these are softly padded. The seat has an adjustable harness and headrest, so that you can change the seat as your child grows.
The seat contains a pivot linking system which prevents the seat from tipping forward in the event of an impact. It is fairly lightweight at around 9 kg which means that it is easily transportable. The padded cover is easily removable for cleaning. This is an excellent choice of child car seat.
Maxi Cosi Rodi Air Protect
The Maxi Cosi Rodi Air Protect Car Seat, also known as the Black Raven, is our choice as the best Group 2/3 child car seat. It is available for both Isofix and the 3 point seat belt securing systems.
There is a high side impact protection system, and it has an Air Protect built into the head rest. These will help to reduce the force encountered with any impact. Air will be released to protect your child’s head and their body.
The height and width of the seat can be adjusted to suit your child’s growth. It has a strong but lightweight design weighing around 5 kg, which means that you can easily transport it from one car to another. With excellent safety and comfort this is a very good child car seat and it is highly recommended.
Once your child reaches the Group 3 age, then the Little Tikes Booster Car Seat is an ideal choice. The booster seat is very easy to install, and will provide your child with additional height and comfort.
The seat is backless and will provide the most optimal seating position for your child. This means that the seat belt will fit your child properly, especially across the shoulders and hips. There is a guide for the seat belt that will further ensure the correct position.
This booster seat is a high quality product that will protect your child by ensuring that the seat belt will fit them properly. It is fully recommended by us.