Buying and fitting a child car seat

Written by Hejab Azam

19 June, 2019

With so many child car seats on the market and extensive car seat rules to take into account when driving, it can be difficult buying and fitting the best seat for your child. Choosing the right seat and fitting it correctly is crucial to keeping your loved one safe in the car, so it’s important to take some time to consider all of your options and make sure you adhere to child car seat rules.

The child car seat law in the UK stipulates that you must provide a car seat for your child in cars, minibuses, vans and other goods vehicles. Drivers must ensure that any child under 12 years old uses a seat belt or other child restraint that meets EU safety standards. But what makes a good child car seat, and how do you know that it adheres to safety guidelines? This handy guide has all the information you could need and more to keep your child safe.

Child car seat regulations

If your child does need a car seat it’s important to adhere to car seat laws in the UK. You should select an appropriate seat based on your child’s height or weight, as well as the position they will be occupying in a car. When browsing online, it’s worth noting that car seat group numbers will be listed alongside the overall seat category (e.g. forward-facing). These groups are based on the weight, age and height of your child, and are as follows:Group 0: 0-10kg, birth to 6-9 monthsGroup 0+: 0-13kg, birth to 12-15 monthsGroup 1: 9-18kg, 9 months to 4 yearsGroup 2: 15-25kg, 4-6 yearsGroup 3: 22-36kg, 6-11 yearsGroup 0 seats tend to be lie-flat position and feature a protective shell, head support and padding, as well as a three or five-point harness to restrain a child. Some Group 0 and Group 0+ child car seats can be removed from the car and placed on the frame of a pushchair to allow parents to easily transport their baby around. Group 1 toddler seats are usually forward facing and are secured to the car via a base or the seat belt, with the option to recline some seats to offer a comfortable sleeping position.Group 2 and 3 car seats are designed to elevate children up from the car’s existing seat so that the adult seat belt can be positioned across their pelvis and chest. Some seats in these categories also offer adjustable side-impact protection and reclined positions.

Choosing the right child car seat

As well as selecting a car seat based on your child’s age and weight, you should also consider the overall car seat categories that will suit their needs. All babies must be in rear-facing seats until they are approximately 15 months old, to help them withstand the pressure of a head-on collision, with group 0 and 0+ being rear-facing seats.

Combination seats can be adjusted as your child grows and often cover more than one group, for example 1, 2 and 3, which are suitable for children between 9-26kg and cover ages from one to 11. Many offer the flexibility of being either forward or rear-facing and can be a good investment if you don’t want to keep upsizing every few months.

Group 2 or 3 high-backed booster seats are appropriate for children who have outgrown a group 1 forward-facing seat. They don’t have an integral harness to hold the child in place, instead utilising the car’s seat belt to go around the child and the seat. Some have an adjustable back or head rest that can be raised to accommodate the height of the child.

You also need to check that any car seats you’re considering are EU approved – look for the ‘E’ mark in a circle label on the seat. There are two European standards for child restraint systems – these are Regulation 44 and Regulation 129 (or i-Size). Regulation 44 child car seats are based on weight with an age recommendation, while 129 child car seats are based on height, length and a maximum weight.

If you opt for a Regulation 129 child car seat you’ll need to check that your car is fitted with Isofix anchorage points. Isofix is generally considered to be the safest method of car seat installation as it makes for a firmer-feeling seat and allows minimal movement while driving. These anchorage points are found in the back of a car between the upholstery, and there may be additional insertion aids for the connectors to lock into the points on the seat.

How to fit a child car seat

When fitting a child car seat, you should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and consult your car’s user manual to identify any Isofix points. It’s safest for a child to travel in the rear seats rather than the front, as placing them in the front seat could place them in danger if the passenger airbag were to activate. If you must fit a forward-facing car seat in the front, ensure that the car seat is placed as far back as possible so that your child is away from the dashboard.

The middle back seat is generally considered to be the safest place to put a child restraint, especially if it has a three-point seat belt. If the middle rear seat has a lap-only belt, be sure to check the car seat instructions to see whether it can still be installed. If the car seat can’t be installed in the middle seat, choose the car seat behind the front passenger rather than the one behind the driver, as this means you can take the child in and out of the car on the pavement side.

Some seats feature a base, top tethers or foot props that can be used for rear-facing or forward-facing car seats. There may also be an internal harness or impact shield and built-in locking clips. It’s important to fit the car seat as firmly as possible, allowing for minimal movement. Ensure that the buckle of the adult seat belt lies clear of the seat’s frame, as it may snap open during a collision.

You should adjust the harness of the car seat before and during every trip. If there’s too much slack, it won’t fully protect your child in an accident – you should be able to fit no more than two fingers between the harness and your child’s chest. The harness buckle should sit as low as possible to keep the lap section of the harness across your child’s pelvis, and all pads must be correctly adjusted according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

When fitting Isofix child seats, you need to check that your Isofix seat is approved for use in your particular vehicle, as these seats will not fit in every car with Isofix points. Once you’ve located the anchorage points on the rear seats, push the two-pronged connectors into the corresponding slots in the car seat. There should be an audible click and/or a visible indicator that signifies that the child seat has been securely attached.

Child car seat accessories

There are a number of additional features available that can improve the safety of your child’s car seat. While the seats sold by reputable providers will meet existing government safety guidelines, there are some extra features that you may have considered looking for in your next purchase. These include:

  • 5-Point Harness. These are fabric harnesses that fit over the child seat, reducing the size of the arm holes to make slipping arms out of shoulder straps much harder. They’re generally considered to be the most secure type of harness available on the market.
  • Car seat protector. Although car seat protectors can be a good way to protect your car from scratches that could be caused by your child car seat, it’s important to only use those that are recommended by the car seat manufacturer. Adding additional padding or material between the seat and its fixing could mean that the seat is not as firmly fitted as it should be.
  • Mirrors. When your child is in a rear-facing seat you can’t see them when you are driving, so some new parents may buy mirrors that attach to the back seat’s headrest to get a glimpse of their baby from the rear-view mirror. However, it’s recommended that these are only used by passengers in the front seat and not the driver, as they may be deemed a distraction.

Before installing any additional car seat accessories, you should consult your car’s manual and the seat instructions to ensure that you’re not impacting the safety of the car seat or risking distracting the driver. If you’re ever in any doubt as to whether your child’s car seat looks secure, either start again or ask a professional for help.

In summary…

Choosing the right car seat for your child can take time and it’s important to make sure that the model you’re considering meets child car seat regulations before purchasing. The earlier you can start looking for a secure car seat, the better, particularly if you’re an expectant parent, or are considering purchasing a new car.

If you’re ready to kickstart your search for a new lease vehicle, or would like some advice on which models are the best for a family, contact our experienced team on 0113 333 9527, to discuss your requirements.

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