When you’ve got young children, it’s essential to find a great car seat for them, that you’re certain is safe and secure. But knowing which type and size to choose isn’t always easy, and can mean scrolling through loads of regulations and size charts! To help make the process a little simpler, we’ve outlined the basics of car safety seats below!

Why Are Car Seats Important?

A car seat, also known as a child safety seat, does exactly what the name suggests. They protect your kids from getting hurt in a car, from car crashes to sudden braking. Because car seats are known to save lives, it’s the law that children less than 135cm tall and aged 12 years or under use an appropriate child restraint. 

As a driver, you’re also responsible for ensuring that any children in your car aged under 14 are wearing seat belts or other forms of safety restraint. The penalty for not adhering to this is a £100 fixed penalty notice. For more information on child car seats and the law, you can visit the government website.

ISOFIX Car Seats

You may have heard of ISOFIX car seats - they were introduced in the early 2000s to address the challenge of properly fitting a child safety seat into a car. Seat belts are not designed for fixing car seats into place, so the idea was to introduce other attachment points to all cars, for child seats with universal latches to lock into. 

Unfortunately, not all cars have the standard attachment points required, nor is there such a thing as a universal child seat. It’s therefore a good idea to check whether the car seat will fit in your car before buying it. 

ISOFIX seats are classed either as ‘universal’, which means that it should fit into any seat with three specific attachment points, or ‘semi-universal’, for which you’d need to check your car against the models listed in the seat’s application list. The seats furthermore come in different size classes, in the same way other safety seats do. 

child car seat

What Size Car Seat Should You Buy?

There are three main groups when it comes to car seat sizes, which will depend on the age and weight of your child. The NHS has provided guidelines on which ones to use - these are as follows:

  • Group 0+ - These are rear-facing seats best suited for babies, aged around 15 months and below. Alternatively, you can gage whether these seats are suitable by the weight of your baby - this is up to around 13kg (29lb)
  • Group 1 - These are forward-facing seats suitable for children aged between approximately 9 months and four years old. In terms of weight, Group 1 seats can be used by children between 9kg (20lb) and 18kg (40lb)
  • Group 2/3 - These chairs are for older children, aged from about 4 to 11 years old. They are high-backed booster seats suitable for children who weigh between 15kg (33lb) and 36kg (79lb)

You can also buy combination seats, which allow children to use the same seat for longer. This includes 0+/1 seats, which can be used by children from birth to four years old. However, such combination seats may not offer the same level of protection as the three main groups, even if they are more economical.

Is it Safe to Buy Second Hand Car Seats?

Children can grow out of car seats fairly quickly, and the seats can be a large expense. It’s therefore understandable that people are tempted to buy second-hand. However, this does come with some level of risk.

The NHS advise that you avoid buying second hand car seats, as you won’t know whether it’s been previously damaged, or if it comes with all the appropriate parts. The instructions could be missing too, which can make fitting the seat challenging. Older models may additionally be less safe than newer ones, not to mention the fact that there’s no guarantee that the car seat will fit your car properly. 

Despite these warnings, the NHS have stated that you should be able to accept a second-hand car seat from friends or family, as long as you know its history and it comes with instructions! The seat will also need to be a relatively new model, to ensure that it meets current safety standards.

car seats

Car Seat Buying Tips

If you are looking to buy a car seat, one of the best things you can do is try a few out in your car before making a purchase. Admittedly, not every retailer will allow you to do this, so you may have to try a few places! Ideally, you’ll have a member of staff trained in fitting car seats to help you out too. When testing out child safety seats, you can also check whether your car has ISOFIX connectors already built into it - they can often be found in between the padding of your car seats.

In terms of front or backward facing seats, the AA recommends that to ensure the safety of your child, it’s best to keep them in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible. Try not to rush them into bigger, front-facing seats. The size guide listed above should give you a good idea of what sort of seat you’ll need.

You may also want to do some research on which car seats other parents have found to be of a high quality. Many websites will display reviews, and as these come from customers and not the manufacturer, they are unlikely to be biased. Just don’t let one negative review stop you from buying a particular car seat, as that way you’re unlikely to find anything suitable!