The Insider: Children's car seats

Don’t scrimp on safety if you're strapped for cash
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The Independent Online

If you’re carrying a child aged 12 years or under in your car, it’s a legal requirement in Britain to have a child car seat for them to sit in. And because the seat you buy for your child when they’re an infant won’t fit them all the way through to their 12th birthday, you can expect to have to buy at least two different seats as your children are growing.

With the average seat costing somewhere between £100 and £200, this can be an expensive business. But if you want to ensure your child is safe and comfortable – while not breaking the bank – you need to do some research.

“Choosing the right child car seat always starts with your child’s weight,” says Richard Headland, the editor of Which? Car magazine. “It’s safest to buy a specific seat to suit your child’s weight as they grow, rather than try to buy one that covers a wide weight range.

“Because the belts and the passenger seats in cars differ greatly from model to model, child car seats work better in some cars than others – check with the seat manufacturer to make sure the seat you are considering is suited to the cars you want to use it in. It’s also a good idea to try before you buy and take advice on how to install the seat properly. Between 60 and 80 per cent of child seats are wrongly fitted, and that can compromise their safety.”

Although all car seats sold in Britain must pass European safety standards, Which? believes that these requirements are not stringent enough. It has carried out tests on 50 seats, the results of which can be found on their website (www.which.co.uk) – although you’ll need to subscribe to read the full report.

Among seats for newborns, Which? ranked models made by Maxi-Cosi as the best. Their tests look at how the seats fare in crashes from the front and from the side, as well as how easy they are to install, and how comfortable they are. The Maxi-Cosi CabrioFix, which costs £200, came out top in the newborn category, scoring highly on all features, while the Maxi-Cosi PrioriFix (pictured), priced at £240, was top in the 9kg to 18kg category.

In the 15kg to 36kg category, Britax’s Evolva, at just £120, was found to be the best all-round seat – proof that you can get a good seat for a good price. It is also possible to get good seats for under £100; the Maxi-Cosi Rodi XR, for children aged four to 12, costs £80 and received a score of 75 out of 100 in Which?’s recent tests.

However, plenty of seats look good value but didn’t do well in Which?’s tests. The worst offender is the Mamas and Papas Teko chair (pictured), designed for children aged one to 12 and costing just £80. It scored just 16 out of 100 – leading the testers to conclude that children in these seats could sustain serious injuries in a car crash.

Where to buy

As ever, the best prices are to be found on the internet, using sites such as froogle.co.uk, whichcompare.co.uk and pricerunner.co.uk. The downside to buying on the net is that you don’t get the help and advice of a shop assistant. At Halfords, someone will help you fit your seat for free, ensuring it’s installed properly and that you know how to remove and refit it.

Nevertheless, the instructions on the best models tend to be good enough for you to manage on your own – but be sure to read them carefully. To find out more about the UK’s car seat rules, visit www.childcarseats.org.uk.

Five questions to ask

Will it fit in my car?

Some makes and models suit certain cars better than others. Don’t assume that all car seats will be right for your vehicle.

How heavy is your child?

Seats are classified in five categories, ranging from class zero for newborn babies through to class three for children weighing between 22kg and 36kg. Make sure you’ve got the right size.

Isofix or belted?

Isofix seats slot into a fixed base, and tend to be easier to use than seats that need to be strapped in with the seat belt each time. However, not all cars have Isofix mounts.

How much does it weigh?

Seats can weigh anything from 3kg to 13kg. If you’re always fitting and removing the seat, you may prefer a lighter model.

Is it easy to install?

Some seats are notoriously fiddly to fit – but getting the installation wrong could be fatal.

The Insider is written in conjunction with the consumer group Which?. For more information on child car seats visit www.which.co.uk/childcarseats or buy a copy of ‘Which? Car’ on sale at Sainsbury’s for £3.99. To get three issues of Which? magazine for £3, call 01992 822800 and quote INADVICE

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