Along with a pram, cot and an unending supply of muslins, if you own a car, a car seat is likely to be high up on your list of must-buys for baby from birth. But navigating what you need in one and the things to look out for is far from straightforward.
Recent legislation means that children now need to be in a car seat until they’re 135cm (4ft 5in) or 12 years old – whichever they reach first – and these must have back support until they’re 22kg or 125cm (around 6-8 years old).
There’s new i-Size regulations around the corner too, so it’s best to get clued up on everything now.
We’ve pulled together all the information you need, along with some of our favourite car seats you can buy in 2019, to help make your buying decision a little easier.
What size car seat do I need?
The first thing you need to do in your search is determine what size car seat you need for your child. You will likely need to upgrade this at least once in your child’s life.
Traditionally, the majority of car seats on the market are separated into groups, which determine the weight limits a seat can accept, and the approximate age this correlates to.
The weight grouped car seats approved for use in the UK should be labelled ECE R44.03 or ECE R44.04.
|0+||Birth up to 13kg/29lbs||Birth up to 12-15 months|
|0+/1||Birth up to 18kg/40lbs||Birth up to around 4 years|
|1||9-18kg/20-40lbs||Around 9 months to 4 years|
|2/3||15-36kg||Around 4-12 years|
|1/2/3||9-36kg||Around 9 months - 12 years|
|3||22-36kg/48-79lbs||Around 4-12 years|
Newer i-Size seats (labelled ECE R129) come with height recommendations instead of weight, though you’ll probably find that many i-Size seats also come with a traditional car seat grouping as well, as the standards run side by side.
Whatever seat sizing method you go for, it’s important to always go by the weight or height recommendations, and not the suggested ages, as these are for guidance only and not as accurate.
What is i-Size?
i-Size is a new European-wide car seat regulation, and the first phase of a safety standard called R129, which aims to make car seats safer.
As well as offering height recommendations over weight, i-Size seats have children rear-facing until at least 15 months old (the only age classification with i-Size), with some rear facing all the way until a child is 4 years old. This is due to Swedish research that found rear-facing car seats can offer up to 75% more protection in a car accident.
i-Size seats also need to have been tested for side impact protection. While a lot of standard seats do offer protection from side collisions, the regulation only requires them to be tested for situations when the front or back of the car is hit. i-Size will change that, and uses newer crash test dummies to boot, with more sensors to better reflect how a child’s body would react in an accident.
Finally, i-Size seats must be installed into your car using ISOFIX, and not seat belts. This is a car seat fitting system that makes it a lot easier to ensure the seat is fitted right. Research by Maxi-Cosi suggests that 94% of parents using an ISOFIX are doing so correctly, compared with only 20% of those using seatbelts. Eep.
The only thing is not all cars are ISOFIX ready, so it’s important to check if yours is before buying an i-Size car seat. Most cars manufactured after 2006 are, but check your manual to be sure.
When should I move up a car seat size?
You should keep your child in the lowest group seat for as long as possible, and only move up once they are at the maximum weight or height recommendation for that seat.
This is preferable to swapping as soon as they reach the minimum recommendation for the next size up, because children at the bottom weight of each group are more at risk of injury in an accident.
If you’re keen to make a move to a new seat sooner, consider buying one that spans the group your child is currently in and the next one or two up, to give you some flexibility.
What other things should I look out for?
This sounds like an obvious one but plenty of people get caught out. Not all car seats are compatible with every car, so do check with the manufacturer or seller to be sure it’ll fit before you buy.
It’s also worth considering the car seat design that will suit you and your situation best. For example, most 0+ seats will be lightweight enough to take in and out of the car with ease, but bulkier 360-degree options are proving popular now too. They can’t be removed from the car, but swivel around to make it easier to get your baby in and out of the car.
How much should I spend on a car seat?
There are no two ways about it – car seats aren’t cheap. But then, perhaps you wouldn’t really want them to be, considering the important job they do.
Still, you might find it more economical to fork out a more considerable amount for a seat that will last a few years, rather than one focused at a single group.
Expect to spend upwards of £100 for a simple group 0+seat, and all the way up £400-500 for the very best. Remember ISOFIX bases will likely need to be purchased separately if you want one, unless you buy an i-Size seat, where they are often included in the price.
Other things to remember:
- Don’t travel with a child in a car seat for more than two hours. Try to work in stops on long journeys to give them at least a 15 minute break before setting off again.
- Be careful of using snowsuits or other similarly padded coats with car seats. Not only are they too warm for a car journey, the padding can also make baby harnesses less effective.
- You need to adjust the harness so it is fitting correctly – you should only be able to get one to two fingers between your baby’s chest and the harness.
- Recommendations state you should not buy second-hand seats, unless you can be absolutely certain it hasn’t featured in an accident. Damage to a car seat isn’t always visible but can seriously affect it in use.
Best car seats 2019
Age range: Group 0+/up to 85cm, 13kg
i-Size compatible? Yes
The Joie i-Level is a first-size car seat that doubles as a carrycot for car-ride snoozes. That’s because it offers three recliner options, and while it doesn’t go completely flat, it looks a lot comfier than non-reclining options.
It comes with a memory foam multi-height headrest, a large sun canopy for blocking out the sun and a zipped ventilation panel for when the weather gets warmer. There’s also a three-point harness, which adjusts automatically with the headrest so there’s no faff of rethreading straps when you need to make adjustments to the fit.
It’s compatible with a number of Joie prams (namely mytrax, chrome and litetrax), or with travel systems using Maxi-Cosi adaptors. You’ll need to be sure it is compatible with your car first though – it’s an i-Size seat and comes with an ISOFIX included in the price.
£187.50, John Lewis
Maxi-Cosi Pebble Plus
Age range: Group 0+/1
i-Size compatible?: Yes
Maxi-Cosi is one of the biggest car seat manufacturers on market, and this is an upgraded version of its best-selling Maxi-Cosi Pebble, which now includes i-Size compatibility. This means it is suitable for your child from birth until 15 months, in the rear-facing position, when used with Maxi-Cosi’s 2wayFix base.
While this base is an extra cost, it allows you to upgrade to the 2WayPearl and keep your child rear-facing until they’re around four years old.
The Pebble Plus is pretty lightweight, meaning taking it in and out of the car when baby is dinky is easy, plus with the additional adapters it is compatible with most of the big-name travel systems, including iCandy, Egg and Silver Cross.
It improves on the entry-level Cabriofix by being slightly slimmer, making it airline approved, and having a better harness, being easier to adjust and also to get baby in and out.
£159.99, Baby Planet
Joie Every Stage fx
Age range: Group 0+/1/2/3
i-Size compatible: No
The Joie Every Stage is one of only two “forever” car seats on the market that cover Groups 0+/1/2/3, allowing you to adjust the car seat to grow with your child from birth to 36kg.
This makes it hugely cost effective, but even moreso when it’s not that expensive in the first place.
It has three different modes, transitioning from rear-facing infant car seat (birth to 13kg) to forward facing 5-point harness seat (up to 18kg) and into a high-back booster for the remaining time. There’s the ability to hide the harness away at this later stage, so the standard seatbelt can be used instead.
It can also be used rear-facing up until 18kg if you prefer, with 6 recline positions – two when rear facing and four when forward facing.
Despite not being an i-Size seat, it comes with additional side protection, with a reinforced steel inner shell for peace of mind.
The Joie Every Stage is compatible with ISOFIX when in forward-facing Group 1 mode, which is what pips it to our favourites list over the Graco Milestone. That seat is a little cheaper though – but also less stylish.
Britax Baby SAFE2 i-Size
Age range: Up to 83cm/13kg
i-Size compatible: Yes
If it’s good enough for royalty, it’s good enough for us. This car seat is the upgraded version to the one that Wills and Kate have used for all three of their children, so you know it’s got to be a good one.
It’s also surprisingly affordable, considering it is i-Size compatible, but it can also just be secured using seatbelts if you prefer.
It comes with a newborn insert to get a more ergonomic position for when baby is brand new, plus if used with the Britax Flex base, you can achieve an even better, near-flat position in certain cars.
Elsewhere, its sides are super padded for maximum comfort and safety, it features a 5-point safety harness and is reasonably light for taking out of the car with you at 4.8kg.
Joie Spin 360
Age range: Group 0+/1
i-Size compatible?: No – but an i-Size version is available, called the Joie i-Spin (£280)
The third Joie seat to make it into our list is the popular Joie 360, which can be used from birth, or as a next-stage seat when making the move from a travel system-compatible seat, like the Maxi-Cosi Pebble Plus, or the Joie i-Level.
As its name would suggest, the Spin 360 swivels around 360 degrees, making it easier to get your increasingly heavy child in and out of the car. The seat can’t be removed though, so you’ll have to take your child out in your arms wherever you’re going.
It’s well-padded for plenty of comfort, but the built-in side ventilation should keep baby cool.
It can be used rearward from birth all the way through until its 18kg weight limit, or moved to be forward facing from 9kg if you prefer. There are five recline positions for either.
The Spin 360 is ISOFIX compatible, which is included in the price. The only downside is that you’ll need to upgrade this seat again once your child is 18kg, or around four years old.
£175, John Lewis
Simple Parenting Doona
Age range: Group 0+
i-Size compatible?: No
This car seat is the first of its kind, and is able to transform from car seat into lightweight buggy in seconds, thanks to its fully integrated wheels. This really saves on space if you’ve got a small car.
Suitable from birth until 13kg, it’s designed to face rearwards, and is compatible with ISOFIX (available separately) or can be secured with seatbelts.
It’s not an i-Size seat, but does come with higher side-impact protection, plus has a five-star frontal impact rating, so you can be rest assured it’s as safe as any of the more household names.
It might look expensive for a car seat, but when you factor the extra cost of a pram into it, it’s actually quite a bargain. It probably won't be the smoothest ride on rough terrain but a good all-in-one solution all the same.