We all know buying the correct car seat can be a difficult and stressful task. With endless products to choose from, confusing terminology and often conflicting safety messaging, it’s no wonder parents can be left scratching their heads.
In this no-nonsense guide, our car safety expert Hamish McPhillips answers those burning questions, from choosing the best seat to the latest i-Size regulations.
How do I choose a newborn car seat?
When buying a first stage seat for your newborn, there are two main options - a traditional infant carrier, like the Silver Cross Dream i-Size or Simplicity Plus, or a multi-group combination car seat, like the Silver Cross Motion All Size 360.
An infant carrier can be used to carry your baby from home to the car or used with your pram, creating what’s known as a travel system. An ISOFIX base can be purchased separately to make it easier to fit and remove the infant carrier from your vehicle.
Depending on your baby’s rate of growth, infant carriers tend to accommodate them for around the first year to 15 months. On i-Size seats, look for height ranges given in centimetres. The largest infant carriers can accommodate babies up to around 85cm. Remember, however, the maximum baby weight limit for an infant carrier is 13kg.
Another popular option is a multi-group combination seat, which will accommodate your child for longer, normally up to a maximum weight of 18kg or height of 105cm which is around four years of age. The new Silver Cross Motion All Size 360, however, lasts from birth to approximately 12 years of age - a first to market 360 rotating seat which meets the latest R129 safety regulations.
The rotation function on these multi-group seats makes it easier for parents to get their little ones in and out at an optimum position to the vehicle door, while ensuring everything is installed correctly. These seats are heavier, due to the extra structure needed to accommodate a larger child, and do not detach to fit onto your pram.
Don’t forget, it’s not recommended to leave your baby in any car seat longer than two hours.
Shop: Motion All Size 360
Choosing a baby car seat which can grow with your child
During the first 15 months, your baby’s weight and stature will change significantly so look for car seats which offer a good amount of padding and have inserts to give a good snug fit at first, but can be adjusted and removed as your baby grows. These seats offer the best fit, comfort and safety for your little one. Most baby seats will also have adjustable headrests, so it’s important to keep an eye on the position and adjust as the baby grows.
How do I install a baby car seat?
Child car seats can be installed using either the adult seat belt or the ISOFIX system. ISOFIX makes fitting easier and reduces the chance of misuse, ie. getting the seat belt routings the wrong way around or leaving too much slack on the belt. Latest studies show the risk of incorrectly fitting the seat is 2.3 times lower with ISOFIX than using an adult seat belt. Adult belted seats are safe when fitted correctly, but take more time to fit and can loosen, meaning more regular checks are required. Also, as the lap belt section will go across the front of the baby, it can make it harder getting them in and out of the seat, often meaning removing the belt for better access.
We always recommend using ISOFIX where possible. ISOFIX fittings were introduced in cars as early as 1997 and became mandatory for new vehicles from 2012. Your child car seat brand will be able to supply a full list of compatible vehicles. Alongside the ISOFIX fittings on the seat, there should be either a support leg or top tether to ensure the child seat is completely secure.
Using the adult seat belt fitting is great if you’re using taxis, for example. Typically for infant carriers, the lap belt will route through two guides on each side of the seat nearby the carry handle, with the diagonal belt routing round the back of the seat shell. It’s important not to get these routings mixed up as it significantly reduces the safety performance.
TOP TIP: On newer infant carriers these belt guides will be marked in green, however for older seats they will be in blue.
Shop: Motion All Size 360
Can baby car seats forward face?
Current UK car safety laws require a baby to be rearward facing in the vehicle until they reach 9kg, which typically equates to the weight of a 50 percentile 9-month-old. The requirement is based on a crash testing standard called Regulation 44, introduced in the 80s.
Since then, our understanding of car safety alongside the technology available to safety test child car seats has moved on considerably. The newer Regulation 129 testing standard requires little ones to be rear facing until at least 15 months. The Silver Cross range goes beyond this, offering rearward facing seats up to 4yrs /105cm, with no seats in the range offering forward facing use until at least 15 months of age.
Check out the latest car safety laws here: www.gov.uk/child-car-seats-the-rules
Being rearward facing in the vehicle provides greater protection for baby’s head, neck and spine. Often parents think it’s important to turn the child forward facing to keep them stimulated and entertained during journeys, but it’s recommend using the rearward facing seat until at least 15 months and longer where possible.
Check out the latest car safety advice: www.rospa.com/road-safety/advice/vehicles/car-seats#rearward-facing
What is i-Size?
When looking for your first child seat, you’ll be sure to come across the term “i-Size”, but what does it mean?
i-Size is a term taken from the latest European child car seat safety regulation (Regulation 129). It was introduced in 2013 to offer better compatibility between the child and the car seat, using the height of the child. The previous regulation was purely based on weight, not accounting for the varying stature of children. Due to the loading limits of ISOFIX points in the vehicle and the adult seat belt, there are still upper weight limits for the child seat, but the height range is intended to fine tune the sizing. The new regulation also includes additional side impact testing, the latest crash test dummy technology and the requirement for rearward facing for longer (up to 15 months of age).
What other testing standards do I need to know about?
In addition to the standard testing requirements of Regulation 44 and Regulation 129 there are other testing protocols to be aware of. The most recognised is the ADAC child seat ratings. These are extremely rigorous and impartial, with seats being selected and purchased from stores by the test house directly, with no input from brands. Testing takes into account crash safety, ease of use, ergonomics, chemical content and ease of cleaning to score the car seat - the lower the score the better. Our Dream infant carrier is the best-ever scoring product with a 1.5. when used with the ISOFIX base.
There is also a Swedish Plus test which focuses on rear facing only seats, however this uses an older family of crash test dummy. Brands can supply their products direct to the lab to conduct the testing.
Which side of the car should a baby seat go?
Typically, the safest position in the car would be the middle seat in the rear bench, as it’s most protected during a collision. However, not all vehicles have a middle seat and those that do often don’t have ISOFIX fittings. It can be harder fitting the child seat in the middle and could lead to a poor fit, so the rear passenger side position is considered the best. This allows safer loading into and out of the car on the pavement side and not onto incoming traffic. Also, the passenger seat can be moved further forwards enabling more space and easier access to the baby seat, without impairing the driver’s seating position.
How do I know when my baby has outgrown their newborn car seat?
Traditional infant carriers have an upper weight limit of 13kg, with newer i-Size seats having a height limit normally between 70-85cm depending on the model, so look out for when the baby reaches these upper limits. Other seats allow extended use, such as the Silver Cross Motion All Size 360 which can be used up to 145cm (whichever the child reaches first), which is generally about 12 years of age.
It’s important to adjust the headrest and inserts as the child grows and on multi-stage seats like Motion All Size 360 and the Silver Cross Balance i-Size, you will need to stow the harness and use the adult belt once the child reaches the max weight for the harness. This is 18.5kg for Motion All Size 360 and 20.5kg for the Balance i-Size.
Shop: Motion All Size 360
Five-point harness or three-point harness?
When researching, you may come across products with five-point or three-point harnesses. Three-point harness systems can be easier when putting your baby in the seat, but aren’t as effective at managing energy in an accident due to the lower number of contact points. That’s why all Silver Cross car seats have a five-point harness systems. Generally, the more contact points the better and, as a guide, formula one drivers and fighter jet pilots are secured in using six or seven-point harnesses.
Get familiar with the product before baby arrives
We’d always recommend visiting a store to check the fittings and functions on the newborn child seat. Whilst vehicle fitting lists are available, nothing beats physically trying the seat in your vehicle. Make sure you’re comfortable with how to install and remove it. Don’t rely on YouTube videos - give it a go yourself! It’s best to get familiar with the product in a nice calm environment before your little one arrives.
For ultimate peace of mind, Silver Cross has developed a first-of-its kind app providing an easy-to-follow five-step fitting guide for each of its new car seats.