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High on the to-do list of all new parents is buying a car seat. But with so many options out there, it’s difficult to know where to start.
How long do they last? How do you determine how safe they are? And what about all the extra features on offer: which are worth paying for, and what do you really need to make your life easier?
What are the legal requirements?
The law states that your child must be in a car seat until they’re 12 years old or 135 centimetres tall: whichever comes first. Babies must sit in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 15 months old to offer extra protection, and can use a forward-facing child car seat from then on. There are two safety regulations car seats must follow: ECE R129, also known as i-Size, and ECE R44.
When is it time to buy?
If you’re expecting your first baby, we’d recommend buying and installing your car seat before your baby is born, and getting to know its features and how to use it well before your little one arrives. Car seats can be fiddly at the best of times, so knowing in advance which button to press when, and how to secure it safely, is one less thing to figure out once you’re enjoying sleepless nights.
While it’s always tempting to get a discount, especially on such an expensive item, it’s also recommended not to buy a car seat second hand, as you can never be sure if it’s previously been in an accident. It’s safest to buy one new.
How old is your child?
The first thing to consider when buying a car seat is what age you’ll be buying for. There are five groups based on your child’s weight, with the first group, 0, suitable for babies from birth to 10kg, and the last group, 3, suitable for children from 22kg to 36kg.
Many car seats are suitable for multiple groups: you’ll just need to follow the instructions to adapt them as your child grows. This can be a great money-saver. Many parents, however, like to opt for a Group 0 (0kg to 10kg) or Group 0+ (0kg to 13kg) seat for their newborn, as these are more lightweight and often come with features catered towards overwhelmed new parents, such as stroller wheels or a lie-flat function, and can easily be attached to a pushchair chassis with the right adaptors.
Where will you be driving?
You should also consider your lifestyle. Do you normally make long car journeys or are you more likely to make short trips and need to pop in and out of the car often? Do you tend to get a bad back and need all the help you can get when strapping the baby into the car? Are you on a budget and would you prefer a car seat that will last till your child is older, or would you rather splash out on a more short-term car seat that will make your life easier for the first year of your baby’s life? There’s no right or wrong answer to these questions, but being honest with yourself before shopping will make sure you end up with the perfect seat for your family.
Isofix: what is it, and is it worth the cost?
While many car seats can be installed correctly using only the seatbelt, buying an Isofix base, which uses fixed anchor points to secure the seats in place, can be a worthwhile investment. They’re often more secure and less fiddly than using a seatbelt, and many brands have bases that last across the car seat groups, so they can last many years. Many bases will have safety indicators which turn from red to green when you have installed them properly which will bring anxious parents peace of mind. Before buying a base, make sure it is compatible with your car.
We tested six of the best car seats, taking into account their safety measures, appearance, value for money and standout features. We included car seats across a range of budgets and with a variety of features so whatever your lifestyle, you’ll find one to suit your family.
Cybex Cloud Z i-Size Group 0+ Baby Car Seat
Suitable from: Birth to 13kg
All parents will know the dilemma you face when your baby is fast asleep in their car seat. You know you can’t leave them in there for too long, but you also don’t want to wake them in the middle of a deep sleep. Enter the Cybex Cloud Z, a genius bit of kit you won’t regret investing in.
It’s seriously stylish with a futuristic design, premiere crash protection, and also has a lie-flat function so that snoozing babies need not be woken up from those precious moments of sleep, but can carry on napping past the usual car seat time limit, whether at home or on your pushchair chassis.
Another element our tester couldn’t stop raving about was the seat’s Isofix base (sold separately): its clever rotating mechanism makes it so much easier to put the car seat in your car, a time-saving lifesaver for sore backs.
RAC Port Isize 0+ Car Seat
Suitable from: Birth to 15 months
Deciding which car seat to buy is normally the domain of planning parents, but we guarantee that children will be just as excited as adults about the range of car seats from British brand Cosatto and motoring company the RAC.
Both the Port Isize 0+ Car Seat, from birth to 15 months, and the RAC Come and Go i-Rotate i-Size Car Seat, which lasts from birth until four years old, come in a range of adorable prints that your child is sure to love and which will make car journeys much more fun.
Aside from the eye-catching design, the Port i-Size is also light to carry and practical to use, while the high-quality materials, rigorous safety testing and four-year guarantee will bring peace of mind to anxious parents.
Doona Car Seat & Stroller
Suitable from: Birth to 13kg
When you see the Doona in action, it’s a marvel that this kind of genius idea hasn’t been around for longer.
Any parent who has had to manually lug around a heavy car seat or fiddle with car seat adaptors on a pushchair chassis while your baby screams blue murder should immediately put the Doona on their wish list.
This isn’t an ordinary car seat, but converts to a stroller thanks to its integrated wheels with the simple push of a button, making getting in and out of the car a doddle and standing in for your pram on shorter journeys, on the school run or for quick trips in and out of the shops.
We absolutely loved how this transformed what would have otherwise been stressful trips out of the house into super-simple journeys: it’s a real game-changer for stressed parents.
Ickle Bubba Mercury i-Size Car Seat with Isofix Base
Suitable from: Birth to 15 months
If you’re after a simple, stylish and easy to use car seat for your baby, you can’t go wrong with the Mercury i-Size Car Seat from Ickle Bubba. Our tester found it simple to use and was impressed by the advanced side impact protection and four-year warranty which offers peace of mind for parents.
It comes with a memory foam newborn insert and headrest cushion to keep even tiny babies secure and snug in their seat, and can also be used with most pushchair brands with easy-to-use car seat adaptors, making it simple to pop onto your chassis once you reach your destination.
Maxi Cosi Pebble Pro Group 0+ i-Size Car Seat-Sparkling Grey
Suitable from: Birth to 12 months
Trusted car seat brand Maxi Cosi is synonymous with efficient, smart and safe products, so it’s no surprise our tester was impressed by the Pebble Pro i-Size. Our mini tester looked super comfy in the car seat thanks to its ergonomic deign and cushioned headrest, while it’s simple to use both with and without an Isofix base.
While the 3WayFix base is sold separately so represents a further investment, we recommend that it’s a worthwhile purchase as when your child grows and needs the next size car seat, the Pearl Pro i-Size, you can still use the same Isofix base, so it’ll last you till your child is four.
Our tester also liked how light it was to carry compared to other popular car seats on the market.
Graco Enhance Group 0+/1/2 Car Seat
Suitable from: Birth to seven years old
Kids grow up so fast, so if you want to make a longstanding investment without having to replace your child’s car seat every other year, the Graco Enhance Group 0+/1/2 Car Seat is the product for you.
Costing just £100, this clever product will last you from your child’s birth until they weigh 25kg, growing alongside them and offering both rearward and forward facing options from birth.
There are step-by-step instructions and videos to watch to help parents adjust the seat, harness and headrest for each stage, and the seat offers some seriously comfy-looking padding for kids.
A really affordable, long-lasting choice that takes all the worry - and expense! - out of buying multiple car seats.