How to pick the best children’s car seat?
Picking the correct safety seat for your child can feel overwhelming! There’s an abundance of choice and, from cup holders to extra padding etc., they all come with a variety of features.
At the same time, not every child safety seat will be appropriate for your child’s age or size. Then there are also the safety regulations to consider for your country. Not all seats will pass muster - and not all seats will be equally safe or the safest they can be for your child at his or her particular age.
You may be doing car seat shopping more than once as your child grows and evolves. It’s painful!
Being parents ourselves, we’ve been down this rabbit hole. Where to even start?
Here’s our step-by-step guide to choosing the best car seat for your child:
Step 1: Safety first!
Looking at lists of features can get distracting. The entire reason you’re looking for a car seat is to ensure the safety of your child on the road. So, this should be your starting point.
To evaluate whether a seat meets your safety requirements, consider the following aspects:
Your child’s age, weight or height.
Research has proven that being rear-facing is the safest position for your child from the age of 9 to 18 months and it is recommended to keep them in this position for as long as possible. This configuration improves your child’s safety by up to 80% in the case of accidents versus a normal seat belt.
When they’ve outgrown this position, it’s time to turn them around, using a front-facing children’s car seat from the age of one and a half up to the age of 5 years. Beyond the age of 5, children should be using a booster. New safety regulations coming into effect will require these to have a hard back and side protection to ensure correct installation of the seat belt and reduce injury in the case of side impact. Using the appropriate front-facing seat or booster will increase your child’s safety by up to 52% versus a car seat which only improves the odds by 19%.
Your child’s age is typically a good guide for which configuration is suitable for their weight or height. If your child falls outside the norm, you may also need to look at those parameters.
Safety features and easy installation
Here’s a scary statistic: Up to 80% of all car seats are incorrectly installed!
Correct installation is critical to ensuring a child safety seat works as intended to keep your child safe. This becomes especially important, if you’re relying on not only your own installation skills but also those of others taking care of your child, such as grandparents, nannies and babysitters, even taxi drivers. The easiest way to ensure correct installation is through ISOFIX, as this ensures a guided process that can easily be followed by anyone across all modern vehicles.
Also look out for a 5-point harness to lock your child down properly in rear-facing or forward-facing seats or guides and a hard backrest in the case of a booster that will ensure the correct placement of the seat belt. Lastly, confirm if the seat is made of shock-absorbing materials that will protect your child in the case of impact.
The age of the car seat.
Car seats have a shelf life. Not only is our knowledge in this filed constantly evolving to develop better seats that are safer, but also, depending on the materials used, your car seat may become less safe with age.
By rule of thumb, never use a car seat that’s older than 10 years and also NEVER use a car seat that has already been in an accident, since the impact may have compromised key materials, making them less durable and shock absorbent.
It may not be wise buying second-hand!
Regulations in your country.
Different countries (and even provinces, states or regions) have different regulations when it comes to children’s car seats.
EU safety regulations are the most stringent and most widely applied, but some countries will have their own, such the US, Japan and Australia. Before you invest in a car seat, make sure the model will be suitable for the country you live in.
Using an EU certified seat in the US or Australia will not make it any less safe, however in the case of accidents, this may give rise to sticky situations with your insurance provider.
Step 2: Convenience
At this stage buying the biggest, most padded seat on the market probably seems like a great idea. However, before you make that investment, make sure this really works for your lifestyle.
Many parents have child safety seats, but they never use them, because they are simply impractical and too difficult to install. At this point, safety becomes a choice and it is actually one of the biggest threats to children’s safety on the road.
So, think carefully about your situation and what you need out of a car seat:
If you own a car, your car seat will always stay in place and you’re confident of being able to install it 100% correctly, having a big bulky seat might be right for you.
However, if you travel by taxi or other ride hailing/car sharing services, need a seat that will be uninstalled and reinstalled often, because of different uses of your vehicle or if you travel a lot, this may not be the best option. Something that is safe, yet portable and compact may be a better fit for you.
Whatever you decide, make sure the car seat you buy ticks all your boxes in terms of safety AND convenience. Why should there be a compromise?