How to choose the best car seat for your baby (or toddler or child). Your key questions answered.

Are you suffering from car seat confusion?

The car seat is one of the most important baby products you’ll ever need to buy for your baby. How do you find the right type, the right size and above all, the right level of car seat safety for your smallest travel companion?

Here are some answers to your car seat FAQs – a road map to steer you in the right direction and help you find the perfect car seat. Whether it’s the very first one for your newborn, or time to move up to a larger size for your bursting bambino.

What’s the best way to buy a car seat?

Which car seat to go for? There are so many different types of child car seats available, it’s worth doing some serious finger-clicking research. Check out makes and models on websites and read all the reviews and crash test reports you can find.

But it’s also good to get out there and see the seats for real. Take your child and your car, and if you can, find a retailer with trained staff who’ll help you try before you buy. Note: all car seats do not fit all cars! Some are wider, some smaller, so it depends on your family situation and car which one will fit.

What are the different models?

So many car seat groups and car seat sizes, seats fitted using seat belts, ISOFIX seats, seats with and without harnesses, rear facing or forward facing car seats, extended rear facing car seats, swivel car seats, rotating car seats, booster seats. Is your head spinning yet? And all you wanted was a safe car seat!

Let us get help you through the maze!

What size do I need?

You’re looking for a seat that’s a comfortable fit for your baby, toddler or growing child. Meaning it will be a safe place for them to travel. Car seats aren’t sold by age (although you may see suggested age ranges in the descriptions). You need to look for the Group size that matches your child’s weight, or suitable for their height if you’re buying an i-Size seat.

What are Group sizes?

In this sizing system, car seats are sold by group depending on the weight of your child. Some models are designed to be flexible and cover more than one group, giving you a longer lifetime. It may seem like a good way to stretch your budget, but changing seat more often might be a safer option.

Here’s a list of group sizes and standard combined sizes. Remember, the ages are just a rough guide. Everyone’s little one gets bigger at a different rate so it’s the kilos that count, not the birthdays!

  • Group 0/0+ – Newborn to 13kg (0 to 15 months)

  • Group 0+/1 – Newborn to 18kg (0 to around 4 years)

  • Group 0+/1/2 – Newborn to 25kg (0 to around 7 years)

  • Group 0+/1/2/3 – Newborn to 36kg (0 to around 12 years)

  • Group 1 – 9kg to 18kg (9 months to 4 years)

  • Group 1/2/3 – 9kg to 36kg (9 months to 12 years)

  • Group 2/3 – 15kg to 36kg (4 years to 12 years)

  • Group 3 – 22kg to 36kg (from 5 or 6 years and more than 125cm tall)

Air Layer: What size do I need?

Air Layer size group 0+
Group 0

Car seat (from birth

Air Layer size group 1
Group 1

Car seat for ages 1 to 4

Air Layer size group 2/3
Group 2/3

For car seats for ages 3 to 12 that use your car's 3-point seat belt

Air Layer size group 2/3 with buckle
Group 2/3 with legs

Car seats for ages 3 to 12 with a 5-point harness

Air Layer size group B
Group B

Buggy or stroller

What are i-Sizes?

When you buy an ISOFIX compatible car seat, its i-Size will be based on the height of your child, rather than weight. Here’s a brief breakdown of the three different i-Sizes and their approximate weight-based, Group size equivalents.

  • 0-85cm (Group 0+) – rear-facing seat using a harness

  • 0-105cm (Groups 0/1/2) – rear-facing until your child is 15 months old (or at least 76cm if that comes later), then forward facing

  • 100-135cm (UK)/150cm (ROI) (Groups 2/3) – forward-facing child seat

What size and seat are right for my baby?

Newborns and infants:

You’ll probably buy your first car seat before baby even arrives! How else are they going to get home from the hospital?

Baby car seats are all rearward facing, so your newborn will be travelling with their back to you. Research has shown that it’s safest for babies to travel in this position for as long as possible, even when they’re legally allowed to switch to front facing.

How do I know I’ve put my newborn in their car seat correctly? Here’s how to take some of the stress out of those first few journeys… Read the seat manufacturer’s manual. And your vehicle manual. Twice. Make sure your newborn meets the minimum size requirements, that the seat is the right size for your baby, and that it’s been installed correctly. Follow all instructions about straps and buckles, make sure they’re not twisted and never leave any undone. Your baby’s bottom and back should be firmly against the seat, no slouching. It’s always an option as well to get your car seat installed by a professional.

Babies and toddlers:

When your little one is not so little any more, they may, legally, be able to move up to a front facing seat. But it’s worth knowing that rear facing is still considered by experts to be the safest option for tender young necks and spines. So you might want to consider an extended rear facing car seat, specially designed for toddlerdom and beyond. Many are specified up to the height or weight of a typical four year old, some may even take you all the way to five and beyond.

Up to 12 years old:

When your child is ready to move up from Group 1 (or the i-Size equivalent), they’re at the booster seat age. The next step is buckling up for themselves using an adult seatbelt in a Group 2/3 high back car booster seat. Another option is to continue using the five points guard in the booster seat until they are a little bit older. The cheaper Group 3 backless booster seat option might well appeal to your thrifty side (assuming your child is tall enough for one). But it’s worth knowing that, without the back and ‘wings’ these don’t offer anything like the same level of protection for the neck and chest in a side-on collision.

Combination car seats

If you like the idea of one size fits all, there are an increasing number of car seats on the market that will take you all the way from birth to 12 years old. With fully adjustable supports and multi-height head rests, the fit grows as your child does. Look for swivel car seats that can be rear facing until it’s time to turn around and face front. (Rotating car seats for babies can make it easier to get your little one in and out, too. Just pop them in frontwards and spin them round to rear facing ready to roll.)

How do I know when it’s time to upsize my car seat?

The exact moment you need to trade up in size will depend on whether you have a weight-based (Group) or height-based (i-Size) car seat – check the upper limits for your particular make and model. Generally speaking, it’s best to wait as long as possible before moving up to the next size. Your little one will fit better, travel safer and you’ll have had the maximum return on your not insignificant investment! Often car seats will also have indications that mention the maximum height of the shoulders. If your child’s shoulders are above these lines, then it is time to move the head rest up, or change to a different car seat.

What is an ISOFIX car seat and why do I need it?

An ISOFIX car seat is designed to work with the ISOFIX seat locking system, the latest internationally recognised standard. Instead of your car seatbelt to secure it, the car seat simply plugs into built in metal clips. Quick and easy to use, it’s also safe and secure.

Included in new cars since 2006, 60% of all European cars now come ISOFIX ready, meaning they have the built in metal clips. You can check yours either by looking at the car manual or looking for the ISOFIX logo between the base and back of the back seat.

Baby seats need a separate base – which has the advantage of a quick unclip with minimal disturbance for your little sleepyhead.

What’s the difference between ISOFIX and Isofit?

ISOFIX car seats use built in fixing system to attach directly to your car chassis. So no weaving seat belts in and out of loops or relying on your child’s weight to hold the seat in place. Plus an ISOFIX seat will have its own built in 5 point seatbelt to keep your little one buckled up.

Isofit seats use the same ISOFIX anchor points to secure the seat to the car. But they use the car’s own adult seatbelt to hold your child in place. So Isofit seats are only available for older children, not for tinies.

What is the law for car seats?

This is one area where ‘what works for you’ just won’t cut it. Like seat belts for adults, car seats are a legal requirement for children, but the exact rules and regulations may depend on which country you live in.

For instance, in the UK, children must use a car seat until they're 12 years old or 135cm/4ft 5in tall, whichever comes first. In Ireland and some other European countries, including Germany and France, children can only use a seatbelt when they get to 150cm/4ft 11in. The age at which your little one can switch from rear to front facing will vary, too. Check here to find out what applies to you, and make sure you’re staying the right side of the law!

It's worth knowing that only EU-approved car seats can be used in the UK, and that EU-approved seats can't be used in other countries, such as the US – just in case you’re thinking of jetting across the Atlantic taking your own car seat!

Do I go for car seat position by age?

Rear facing v front facing? Whatever car seat you’re buying – for your precious newborn, terrible two or older offspring, you’ll be buying it based either on their weight (Group sized seats) or height (i-Size seats) – never according to their age.

That’s because car seat safety depends on fitting well, and as you know, children’s height and weight can vary massively within the same age group.

Confusingly, i-Size (R129) regulations are age based! In an i-Size car seat, your baby can travel facing forward once they reach 15 months (as long as they’ve reached the minimum height for a forward facing model). In a weight-based, Group sized car seat (R44-04), the switch around can happen at 13kgs. Although you may prefer to keep your baby rear facing beyond the legal minimum height or weight, just because it’s been proven to be safer.

Should I buy a second-hand car seat?

Buying pre-loved is generally a great way to save on baby gear (and save the planet’s resources while you’re at it), but it’s really not worth taking the risk with something as critical as a car seat. You have no way of knowing what might have happened to it in its previous life. If it was involved in a crash, even if there’s no visible damage it could have been weakened and be unsafe to use for your precious cargo.

A few handy hints…

How can I find out how to put my car seat into the car? 

You’ve bought the safest seat your hard earned pennies can afford. But for maximum performance and protection, it needs to be properly fitted into your car. Every time. Research has shown that far too many car seats are simply not installed correctly.

So… top tips for safer seats:

  • Ensure you have the right car seat for your child and your car.

  • If there’s anything you’re not sure about, go back to the retailer or contact the manufacturer.

  • If you’re not confident about installing it yourself, use the fitting service offered by your retailer. Peace of mind is priceless!

  • If you’re doing it yourself, don’t rely on trial and error. Read the manual. Read it again. Watch the video.

  • Follow all instructions to the letter.

  • Don’t EVER throw those instructions away! Keep them handy, ideally close to the car seat. (Some have a pocket just for that.)

  • Regularly check the fitting and fittings to make sure they’re all working as they should be.

Which car seat accessories are most useful?

A car seat liner is your number one must have. Such as AeroMoov’s Air Layer , with a unique 3D mesh to keep air circulating around your little one, keeping them cool and absorbing moisture. No more sweaty baby! It’s handily machine washable, and there’s an Air Layer for every make and model.

Next up, a mirror that attaches to your back seat will let you keep an eye on your little one while you're driving, so you can make sure they’re safe and happy.

You may want to invest in sun blinds, too, to protect your little one’s skin and eyes from the heat and glare.

On-the-go car toys can make a long journey shorter. Just keep it simple and soft, and never tether a toy to any part of the seat as it could prevent it from functioning. Attach toys to the car or to your child using pacifier clips. Dropped toys cause tears!

How long should my baby spend in their car seat?

There are no hard and fast rules or regulations that say how long your child should spend in their car seat, not even an agreed newborn car seat time limit. But healthcare professionals recommend no longer than two hours on the go, with lots of breaks on longer trips for everyone stretch and move around. Grown ups too!

It’s a good idea to check on your baby regularly (in your car seat mirror, if you have one) – if they slump forward, stop straightaway and reposition them.

And remember, car seats are designed for travelling in, not for sleeping in indoors.

How do you clean a car seat?

It happens! If you’re travelling with a baby, little accidents, spills, sickness or simple sweatiness are only to be expected. Always check your manufacturer’s manual before reaching for any super-powered cleaning products (which could potentially ruin the seat or harm your baby). Soap, water and baby wipes might be all you need. Even better, cover up. A removable car seat liner like the AeroMoov Air Layer not only protects your beautifully upholstered seat but also keeps small travellers cool and comfortable all journey long. And it washes clean in the machine at 40ºC.

Happy choosing, safe using

Hopefully, this has answered a few of the big questions about how to choose a car seat. Or pointed you in the right direction to find out more. Just put safety first. Shop around and try before you buy. Make sure you buy a model that fits your car. Check the manufacturer’s claims and their quality. Buy the best you can afford, and if possible, get it fitted by an expert. It’s a big, serious purchase. But get it right, and it’s fun all the way, on every car journey!

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