Choosing a car seat can be a complicated business as there are a lot of car seats on the market and there are blurred lines between the car seat categories as different seats are suitable for different aged babies and children. However, I have attempted to create a simple guide to the different car seat categories and how to choose the right car seat.
In the UK:
- all children from newborn babies to 12 years old (or 135cm tall, whichever comes first) need to use a car seat
- the car seat needs to be from the correct seat category for your child’s age/weight/height
- the car seat needs to meet EU standards: R44 and R129. The R129 standard is the new EU regulation the I-size, which is based on height rather than weight. From everything I have read, it sounds like the R44 car seats will eventually be phased out but it isn’t clear when this will change.
Rear-Facing Car Seats (Group 0)
Most commonly, these are for babies from newborn to about 9months (22lbs), although more and more Group 0 car seats are extending this to 12/15 months (29lbs)…
When your baby is about 9 months old and 22lbs you can move him into a forward-facing seat if: he can sit unaided and if he has outgrown it – so the top of his head is above the seat. If the top of his head is lower than the seat, it may be best to keep your baby in this seat for as long as possible.
If your baby has outgrown his first car seat, your options are:
- get a larger rear-facing car seat
- move him into a forward facing car seat
However, the guidance now states to keep your baby rear-facing for as long as possible. Why rear-facing for longer? Testing has shown that in a front impact crash (the most common type of crash at 60%) a baby in a forward-facing car seat may have more force placed on their neck whereas, in a rear-facing car seat, the baby is pushed further into the seat, providing more support their head and their neck.
All babies need to start in these Group 0 car seats so if you are choosing one right now it could be beneficial to look into the car seats that keep your baby rear-facing for longer.
Combination Car Seats (Group 0 +1/2)
This range of car seat adapts as your baby grows – some are suitable from birth to 4-6 years old and other car seats are designed to be used from birth until your child is about 12.
This combination option means you can keep your baby rear-facing for longer, moving the car seat into a forward-facing position when they are older and bigger. It also means that you investing in a car seat that aims to last for longer.
Forward-Facing Car Seats (Group 1)
Unless you have bought a combination car seat (which will become a forward-facing car seat) you will need to buy a forward-facing car seat when your baby has outgrown his rear-facing car seat.
This type of car seat can be used with children aged between about 9 months old (22lbs) and 4 years old (about 40lbs)
The current guidance is to keep your child in one of these car seats until they have outgrown the 40lbs weight limit.
Booster Seats (Group 2)
These high-backed booster seats raise your child higher so that your car’s seat belt can be used safely. They are suitable for children from 4 years (when he has outgrown his forward-facing seat) to about 12 years old or 135cm tall, whichever comes first. Although RoSPA state that it is best to wait until your child is 150cm tall before moving them to just the seat belt.
The high backs and the side wings of these booster seats protect children from injury and new regulations state that children should now only use a booster seat with a back.
i-size car seats
This is the latest safety regulation (R129) which aims to ensure that all car seats fit all cars – but currently you would need to check whether an I-Size car seat would fit in your car.
This category of car seat is based on height rather than weight, it ensures that your baby is rear-facing until 15 months, it requires an Isofix and these car seats have to pass the side-impact test before they can be sold. According to Which? Magazine, 25% of collisions are side-impact accidents.
Currently the main I-size car seats available are for babies and children up to 105cm which is about 4 years old, although some manufacturers do make car seats to fit older children.
It sounds like i-size car seats will eventually become the only car seats available but, for now, the R44 car seats are still being made. Having had a look in Mothercare and Halfords, the i-size car seats will proudly tell you that’s what they are, so that might ease any confusion as to what type of car seat you are looking at.
What are the differences between the R44 and the R129 (i-size) car seats?
My understanding of the main differences are…
R44 car seats:
- are based on the weight of your baby/child
- can be used with an isofix or the car’s seatbelt
- baby must be rear-facing until about 9 months
- must have passed front and rear impact tests
R129 (i-size) car seats:
- are based on height of your baby/child
- can only be used with an isofix
- baby must be rear-facing until about 15 months
- must have passed front, rear and side impact tests
So, what now?
There are lots of options when it comes to car seats but now you have some idea of what the different categories mean, you can do some more research and go look at some car seats. If you can ask questions, double check what fits in your car and make more of an informed decision, hopefully you won’t feel rushed and you can get the right car seat.
Check out the Which? Child Car Seat Reviews