Child car seats: how to buy the best seat

Despite the coronavirus crisis, there are still safe, easy ways to shop for a child car seat. Here’s how to ensure you get the correct one...

best cars for three child car seats

How to check your child car seat fits properly

Although online seat fit checking tools provide a good guide, they can’t take into account all the factors that can affect how suitable a child seat is for a particular car. Here, we outline the most common factors to consider

Driver and front passenger position

If you or your front seat passenger need to slide their seat back a long way to get comfortable, this could impinge on the space in the back for a child seat. Some rearward-facing infant carriers are designed so the child seat can touch but not push on the back of the front seat, but others need to have a gap of around 10cm between them and the child seat.

Check this with the seat maker and ask them for the seat’s dimensions so you can assess how well it will fit. The same issue could arise if you’re using an Isofix seat base with a support leg; it might need to have a gap between the support leg and the back of the front seat. 

Headrests 

Child car seat fitting – are you putting your children at risk?

If your car has bulky rear headrests, you might need to raise them upwards or remove them altogether so the back of a forward-facing child seat can sit flush with the rear seatback. Putting a child seat in front of a headrest could compromise its safety by pushing the seat forward and making it difficult to secure using a seatbelt. If you are struggling to find a suitable seat, look for one with a shaped back and an adjustable head restraint rather than a seat with an upright, solid back. 

Number of children 

If you have two or three children who need to use car seats, you’ll need to find seats that are narrow enough to fit side by side on the rear bench. This shouldn’t be a problem in a large MPV or SUV, but it will be an issue in many smaller cars. Find out more about the cars that can accommodate three child car seats in our online advice guide. 

Seatbelts 

Child car seats

Some vehicles have shorter seatbelts that won’t stretch around bulkier child seats, so check the length of your car’s belts and the seat dimensions before you buy. Although most newer cars have seatbelt buckles that sit flush with the seat bases, some older ones have buckles on long stalks, and this can mean the buckle sits on a corner of the child seat; this compromises safety, because the seatbelt could snap open in a crash. If this is an issue, and your car has Isofix child seat mounts, switch to an Iso x seat so you don’t need to use the seatbelt to secure the seat into the car. 

Seat shape 

The seat bases of some cars are curved, with high side cushions, and it can be hard to fit a child seat securely onto them. To get around this issue, look for a child seat with a small base or one with a separate base and leg support to add extra stability. 

Top tether anchor points 

If you’re considering a child seat with a top tether strap, check your car’s handbook to find out if it has them and where they’re located. Don’t mistake luggage hooks for tethers, because they aren’t fixed to the structure of the car and therefore aren’t as strong. In some older cars, the tethers are hidden behind the upholstery on the rear of the back seats, and you might need to cut the fabric to get to them.

Under floor storage compartments 

Child car seats

Don’t use a child seat with a leg support if it has to stand on an under floor storage box, because the floor won’t be strong enough to support the leg in a collision. Instead, look for a seat with a top tether strap. Some car makers have blocks that can be used to fill up a storage compartment, so check with the manufacturer of your car about this. 

What Car? says…

Buying a child car seat online, without first trying it out in your car, is no longer the wrong thing for parents to do. As long as you research seats up front and buy from a seat maker or retailer that offers a good level of advice and support, as well as a generous returns policy, it is possible to buy the best seat for your child without leaving your home.


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