How to buy your first car seat
Choosing a car seat can often be one of the more difficult decisions to make as a new parent.
Some hospitals won’t let you take the child home without a suitable car seat, so it’s often a decision you have to make early, and with so much technical jargon and many options to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start.
So where do I begin?
Safety is the most important aspect of choosing a car seat. This covers making sure it’s tested to one of the current safety standards (R44/04 or i-Size), that it fits your vehicles, as well as thinking about how often you’re going to use it, as there can be a risk of oxygen desaturation. Many people quote the two hour rule, where it’s safe to keep your child in a car seat as long as it doesn’t exceed two hours, but oxygen desaturation can begin as soon as 20 minutes for newborns.
This is due to how a child is positioned at an angle in most seats, rather than flat like in a cot, which can partially close their airways. There are seats designed to be flatter to help prevent this, but you are fine using any type of seat as long as you are sensible by using the seat only for travel, taking breaks and keeping an eye on your child as much as reasonably possible.
We strongly recommend you don’t buy a second hand seat, even if it looks fine to the naked eye. You can’t guarantee that the seat hasn’t been dropped or in a crash that could seriously compromise the structure and safety of the seat.
What’s the difference between the safety standards?
Every seat sold in the UK must adhere to one of the two safety standards, whether it’s the older R44/04, or the new R129 or “i-Size” standard. Both R44/04 and R129 standards test for a front impact, a rear impact and a roll over, with R129 also include side impact testing and a more advanced dummy.
R44/04 seats are based on the weight of the child rather than age, which can cause confusion as a parent doesn’t always immediately know what their child weighs. R129 otherwise known as “i-Size” is designed to make choosing a seat simpler. Height is used to set the limits of seats rather than weight, as parents are more likely to know the height of their child offhand compared to their weight! Knowing the child’s height or weight is important for knowing when they’ve outgrown their first seat, and what type of seat to move them into next.
Another difference is low long the law states you need to keep the child rear facing. It has been proven that having a seat that faces the rear of the car is safer, as forces from an impact are spread through the back of the seat and away from the child faster, compared to if it was facing the front of the vehicle. R44/04 states children must stay in rear facing seats up to 9kg (9 months approximately), with it being extended in R129 as they must stay rear facing up to 15 months.
As R129 is the safer standard it will eventually replace R44/04. Current estimates say this won’t happen until 2018 or even later. Until that point, R44/04 and R129 are both currently safe and legal standards and seats of either type can still be used until further announcement from the Government.
How do I know if a seat fits?
It’s always best to check if a seat fits in your car, by checking manufacturer’s fitting lists and getting a retailer to fit it for you where possible. Seats can be installed in a variety of ways, and the three most common types are using a vehicle’s seat belts to hold it in place, clipping it to the car directly with ISOFIX, or attaching it to a base you install in the car.
All cars manufactured after 2007 have ISOFIX anchor points as standard, and many before that do have them. Check if your seats are labelled or your vehicle handbook to see if you have ISOFIX points.
No installation method is safer than any other, ISOFIX and bases were designed to make installation simpler and quicker particularly if you want to switch seats between cars frequently. It’s more common for ISOFIX seats to have compatibility lists, and a more consistent fit, as car seat belts can vary even between two cars of the same model made in the same year.
When looking at your first car seat for a newborn, you have a potential of three types of seat to choose from.
The Carrycot (Group 0)
These look like a carrycot that goes on a pushchair, and can be used that way as well. Designed to have a true lie flat surface to help prevent oxygen desaturation, they keep your baby safe with a harness, and are installed sideways across two seats in the car with the vehicle’s seat belts.
Suitable for children of 0 to 10kg (approximately birth to nine months)
Brands to consider: Jané and Stokke
- Lie flat environment better for long journeys
- Saves space if you want to use it as a carrycot
- Ideal for older cars with flat seats and no ISOFIX points
- Takes up two rear vehicle seats – Not great for families with multiple children
- Short life span –Limited weight capacity, and child can grow out of it quickly
The Infant Carrier (Group 0+)
This is the most common type of car seat that parents start with. Like the carrycot type they have a handle which is great for carrying to and from the car or pushchair. Many infant carriers are compatible with pushchairs, turning them into handy travel systems, and they don’t always have to be from the same brand.
The baby is cocooned securely in the seat with a three or five point harness and facing the rear of the vehicle. As there are so many options, things to consider are bases (there can be belted or ISOFIX versions), whether they have a next stage up seat that uses the same base, or other extra features like a near lie flat environment, or convert from a car seat into a pushchair!
Suitable for children of 0 to 13kg (approximately birth to 12-15 months)
Brands to consider: Cybex, Kiddy, Maxi-Cosi
- Rearward facing – the safest position for a car seat
- Decent life span – longer than a carrycot, and can go straight into the next stage
- Pushchair compatibility – Packages often available when you get a matching pushchair
- Base compatibility – You can have belted or ISOFIX bases, which makes installation as simple as clicking the seat on and off, and some bases will also work with a second type of seat designed as “the next stage up” once your child has outgrown the infant carrier!
- Risk of oxygen desaturation – Keep travel to a minimum, take breaks and remember that time on a pushchair still counts as a risk
The Combination Seat (Group 0+/1)
These seats have the longest use of all the types suitable for newborns. Typically covering up to four years, they’re a great solution for people who want to get the most value out of a seat if they’re not worried about putting them on a pushchair.
They’re sometimes called convertible seats, as many can go either rear or forward facing in the car. Features to look out for are lots of removable padding as the child grows, adjustable headrests and a good recline. They can come with ISOFIX built into the seat, and a variety of restraint methods like five-point harnesses or an impact shield which acts like an airbag.
Suitable for children of 0 to 18kg (approximately birth to four years)
Brands to consider: Britax, Diono, Joie
- Rearward or forward facing – You can often keep them rear facing until four!
- Longest life span – Great for those on a budget
- Can stay in the car – No need to keep taking it in and out to put on a pushchair, you can keep it in the car and only worry about checking it periodically (over long periods of time seats can eventually work their way loose if fitted with a seat belt)
- Great option for grandparents
- Can have ISOFIX built in
- Not compatible with pushchairs
- Bulkier/heavier than other types
- Risk of oxygen desaturation – Again, keep travel to a minimum, take breaks and stay alert
Visit the Uber Kids website for more information and to shop your car seat today