Car Seat Buying Guide: What to look for when buying a car seat

Alongside typical parental purchases such as baby grows and cots and cribs, a baby car seat is one of the most important investments a parent can make - and choosing the right seat can be a stressful experience. With a mass of car seat brands on the market, each offering its own set of features, it can be tricky to find a seat that is right for your little one.

Whether you’re completely new to parenting and on the market for your newborn or looking for a car seat to suit your toddler or even an older child, Direct4Baby’s guide on what to look for when buying a car seat covers everything from what type of car seat to buy to which car seats we personally recommend, as well as answering some frequently asked questions to help you make the safest choice for your child.

How do I choose a car seat?

First things first, you need to know your child’s needs and what style of car seat they require. There are three basic types of car seats for infants and toddlers: rear-facing, forward-facing and convertible car seats, which are reversible to provide both a rear and a forward-facing position. As your child grows, you may need to change the direction of your car seat due to regulations, or even switch to a booster seat if they eventually outgrow their car seat. Keep reading to discover our age-by-age guide on the variety of car seat categories, to give you a better idea of what is suitable for your child when looking to buy a car seat.

Rear-facing car seats

For the first few months of their lives, newborns must face the back of the car. This reduces the risk of death or injury in a crash by 90% - 95% compared with being unrestrained.

Direct4Baby’s range of rear-facing car seats provide greater protection for the baby’s head, neck and spine, which is essential for the earlier months of their life. Rear-ward seats are recommended for children up to 18 months and parents should only consider moving their child to a forward-facing seat once they are able to sit up unaided, or they have exceeded the maximum weight allowance.

If you’re considering purchasing a rear-facing car seat for your little one, make sure you take the time to get to grips with the five-point harness structure. This harness enables your baby to be comfortably strapped in for a pleasant, safe journey. Be sure to check your harness fittings before setting off each time you and your little one take a trip in the car, as different types of clothing can affect how snug the harness fits.

Forward-facing car seats

As your child grows, you’ll need to change the direction that the car seat faces and how they sit in it. Legally, parents can consider changing to a forward-facing car seat once their baby weighs 9kg, and they must also be able to sit completely unaided for a minimum of 30 minutes. However, Direct4Baby recommends using the rear-facing car seats for as long as your child safely fits, as they often provide much better protection for babies.

Forward-facing car seats are suitable for children weighing between 9 - 18kg, which is approximately around 9 months - up to 4 years. Children using these seats are much less likely to be injured in a crash than children who are using seat belts, or are completely unrestrained. Forward-facing car seats provide impact protection, with the inclusion of the same five-point harness rear-facing car seats typically feature.

Convertible car seats

The ideal purchase for new parents is a convertible car seat, more commonly referred to as a 3-in-1 car seat. A convertible car seat allows parents to put their newborns in a rear-facing position, which can then be switched to a front-facing position as they grow.

The convertible car seats available at Direct4Baby are a great option for parents that want to invest in a seat that will last throughout the years, as many reversible car seats even have a feature to use as a booster seat for older children. So if you’re a parent on a budget - it may be worth investing in this type of car seat, as they can take you from day one - all the way up to infancy.

However, it is worth noting that combination car seats are often not designed to be portable and instead they remain fixed in the car. So if a convertible car seat is a top contender for your family, it may be worth investing in a baby carrier too, to safely transport your child to and from the vehicle.

What are the different baby car seat groups?

Just as car seats are separated into forward-facing, rear-facing and convertible, they are also categorised by weight and size into car seat groups. These groups are numbered from 0 to 3, each number spanning a specific weight or height range, but some seats can also span across multiple age groups. These multi-group seats, not unlike the combination seats, are designed to grow with your baby and allow the car seat to last much longer.

What are the groups for car seats?

  • Group 0 - 0 - 10kg (22 lbs)
  • Group 0+ - 0 - 13kg (29 lbs)
  • Group 1 - 9 - 18 kg (20 - 40 lbs)
  • Group 2 - 15 - 25 kg (33 - 55 lbs)
  • Group 3 - 22 - 36 kg (48 - 79 lbs)

What is i-Size?

The exception to the rule, the i-Size car seat is measured by height instead of weight and is suitable from birth up to 105cm and, as they’re both suitable for newborns, i-Size car seats are also often in car seat groups 0 or 0+. Another notable difference between standard car seats and an i-Size car seat is that the latter is compatible with ISOFIX bases. Considered safer than simply securing a seat with a standard adult seatbelt, ISOFIX bases secure the infant seat directly to the car’s chassis, giving them additional protection in the case of a crash.

Multi-group car seats

If you’re looking for a car seat that will suit you and your family for longer, investing in a multi-group car seat that spans across numerous seat groups is the most cost-effective option available. At Direct4Baby, finding a multi-group car seat for your child’s age range is simple, as you need only filter by car seat group in the dedicated Car Seats and Travel collection.

How much should I spend on a Car Seat?

The price of car seats can vary quite dramatically from model to model, depending on the features on offer and the type you choose. The typical price points of both rear-facing and forward-facing car seats at Direct4Baby range from £70 up to £440 - with the majority of seats priced around the average £200 mark. Combination car seats tend to have a slightly higher price point, which is to be expected as these seats are essentially a hybrid of both rear and front-facing car seats.

Whilst it’s beneficial to be mindful when it comes to how much you’re spending on a car seat, cheaper seats don’t tend to fare as well as the higher priced seats in crash tests. When it comes to deciding which car seat is right for your child - it’s worth taking your time to research your preferred models according to both your own and your child’s specific needs. Look at existing car seat reviews to ultimately make sure you’re making the most of your money.

Are expensive car seats worth it?

By law, each car seat has been manufactured under the newest car seat regulations, and has to meet up to date safety standards - so essentially even the cheapest car seats are safe, to an extent. These car seats won’t break your budget, but it’s important to keep in mind that the cheaper seats won’t come with all the added extras and accessories that you may find in a slightly pricier model and may not last as long.

Often, what separates the cheaper car seats from the pricier models aren’t just higher safety standards either, with many of the higher end car seats such as the Cybex Cloud Z i-Size Plus Group 0+ Car Seat and the Silver Cross Balance i-Size Car Seat offering a higher level of comfort for your little one and impressively stylish designs for you.

Should I buy a used car seat?

It is recommended that you do not purchase a second-hand car seat and there are a number of reasons why this is the case. One is that you can never be fully certain of the seat's history - as it may have previously been involved in an accident and the underlying damage may not be visible to a new parent. More often than not, second-hand sellers won’t keep a copy of the car seat’s instructions, which makes it more difficult for parents to be sure that they are properly securing their child. Another issue with second-hand car seats is that the plastic may be expiring. A typical car seat’s life-span is around six years and after that, the plastic can become brittle - making it more susceptible to breaking in the event of an accident.

What is the safest car seat 2021?

Every year, we see brands release new car seats that are sleeker, more comfortable and, most importantly, safer than their previous models. In 2021, we’ve already been excited about the release of Cybex’s Cloud Z i-Size Plus Group 0+ Car Seat which has seen a recent refresh of both safety features and colourways including Soho Grey, Mustard Yellow and Mountain Blue.

With fully adjustable features that allow the seat to adapt to your growing child and keep them comfortable and safe through every stage of their infancy, the Cloud Z car seat is representative of the leaps and bounds baby safety design has made. With clever features such as a near flat lying position, which helps reduce the risk of breathing difficulties in newborns, integrated side impact protection to ensure their safety in the event of a collision and a rotating mechanism that allows for incredibly easy boarding.

How long can a baby be in a car seat?

Leading expert advice suggests that a baby should not be left in a car seat for longer than 2 hours within a 24 hour period as staying in the upright position for longer than this can risk placing undue strain on the newborn's developing spine. Another risk for the health and safety of a newborn left in a car seat for too long is that their breathing could be negatively affected, especially if their head is allowed to flop forward.

How to put baby in car seat

The first step to putting your baby in their car seat safely is to ensure beforehand that the seat itself is safely secured, either through an adult safety belt or, if your car is compatible, through an ISOFIX base. Most ISOFIX bases, such as the Simplifix Isofix base by Silver Cross also feature a red/green traffic light system that will illuminate green once all contact points are fixed properly, making them an excellent option for safety conscious parents.

Once you’re sure the car seat has been properly fitted, your next step is to put your baby into it and secure them into the harness. This can be a slightly distressing situation for some babies, so don’t be overly concerned if they begin to cry while you pop them into their seat - just make sure the harness isn’t pinching their skin. The harness should also be loosened and tightened each time to ensure it is fitted exactly to your baby on a daily basis depending on their growing size and the type of clothing they are wearing.

How to clean baby car seats

Cleaning your baby car seat may be an unpleasant task, especially considering the volume of bodily fluids babies are somehow capable of producing, but to protect your baby’s sensitive skin and keep your car from smelling it's also a necessary one.

Start by removing the seat from the car, cleaning may take a while and leaning over could strain your back. If you can, hoovering is the fastest way to remove any loose debris like crumbs and dirt before moving onto washing the fabric with a damp cloth (you can use soapy water on the fabric itself but, for the harness, it is recommended you avoid using soaps or sprays with harsh chemicals as this will be in contact with your baby’s sensitive skin). For the plastic base, use more soapy water then leave the car seat to dry fully before using again as the damp fabric could chafe your baby’s skin.

Find the right baby car seat for your family at Direct4Baby

At Direct4Baby, we have the expertise and experience to help every parent find the right car seat for them and their child and, with all the best baby brands and the newest models to choose from available online, they can also be assured that they have their choice of the safest and most comfortable baby car seats on the market.

Ready to start your research? Take a look at the collection of baby and toddler car seats available at Direct4Baby and filter by group to narrow down your search to those that’ll fit your child.