Choosing a car seat can be a very daunting process with many options available to you. Which of the “car seat features” are just marketing slang and which are the essentials that you truly need? Our experts weigh in on which car seat features are necessities and which are the “nice-to-have’s”.
Car seat features that you need
Firstly, there is no “safest” seat. All of the car seats in South Africa follow the same European standards and are tested to ensure that they are safe. By passing the ECE R44/04 you can be assured that the seat will keep your little one protected. The only difference between the different seats are the car seat features. The safest seat will be the one that fits your vehicle, child, budget and lifestyle, regardless of the car seat features.
Not all vehicles are the same and so not all car seats will fit in the same way. A big SUV will be able to accommodate a larger car seat than a small car. Our best tip for finding a car seat that fits is to visit your nearest speciality baby store (like Baby City) and asking a friendly sales person. Stores that specialise in baby carry a wider range of car seat options for you to choose. Often they will advise you best on what car seat will fit and even install the car seat for you. Check the space between the seat and the passenger or drivers seat, ensuring that the gap is comfortable. Some vehicles may include sensors for the airbags so be sure to consult the manual for your vehicle.
Make sure that the recline angle is correct. The vehicle seats in cars are not all the same, some seats slope more than others so not all car seats will fit in the same way. Newborns need to be at a sufficient recline to keep their head from falling to their chest as their neck muscles are not yet developed. The angle of your vehicle’s seat will often determine the full extent that your car seat can recline.
In some cases you may need to invest in a product like the Diono Sit Rite (available from Baby City stores) to ensure that the recline is correct. Some car seats have a recline indicator to ensure that the recline is correct. When buying a car seat take note of how many recline positions the car seat has and test the angles of the recline. Booster seats will not have recline as a car seat feature, as these seats are made for older children.
For younger children, you will need to ensure that your car seat has a 5-point harness system. As your child grows they will switch to a Booster seat that uses the vehicle’s seat belt. Many new car seats have an harness that adjusts automatically as you adjust the headrest. This means that you no longer have to manually rethread the harness every time you lift the headrest up which can be a great time saver. Also take note of where the harness can be tightened – either it will be front adjust or rear adjust. Front adjust has a release in the front of the seat where the harness fits in, this is more convenient than rear adjust.
Today there are many options for installing a car seat. Consider the type of vehicle that you have first. For example if you car does not have ISOFIX, you will not be able to install an ISOFIX car seat. In this case you can install the car seat using the vehicles seat belt. Make sure you read through the installation guide to ensure that this is done correctly. The car seat must be secure and should not be able to move, you can try the test by pinching the seat belt. If this is done correctly – the seat belt should be tight and you should not be able to pinch a large section of the belt. Some seats include locking clips to ensure that the belt remains locked in place.
ISOFIX comes in many forms – ISOFIX, ISO-latch, ISO-catch, etc. The original ISOFIX is a solid bar that clips onto your vehicle’s ISOFIX. The other options are clips that have the same function. By connecting to the ISOFIX of the vehicle, this ensures that the car seat attaches directly to the vehicle’s chassis and will remain connected in the case of an accident. ISOFIX also means that the install is very simply as the indicators will change from red to green when the seat is correctly installed.
In all cases the most important feature in choosing a car seat is one that fits your child. Always ensure that you child is in the correct car seat for their weight range. There are 4 groups of car seats:
Group 0+ – birth to 13kg
Group 1 – 9 – 18kg
Group 2 – 15 – 25kg
Group 3 – 25 – 36kg
There are many combination seats available that cover a few groups, such as a seat from birth until 25kg (or 7 years). Consider the weight of your child in terms of the car seat group. Every child is different and so may be more or less than the average, by using the weight class for groupings you can ensure that your child is safe. The new iSize regulations base the correct seat on height rather than weight. This has not become the standard in South Africa yet, but there are many iSize seats available.
Length of use:
Consider how long you would like to use the car seat for. Many car seats are available that cater for the various groups, some even cater for all the groups so that you only need 1 car seat. Therefore consider the long term value of these seats. Choose a seat that gives your little one plenty of room to grow. A newborn needs to fit snugly to be safe. Position the harness straps at or below the shoulders.
Side Impact Protection:
Many seats come equipped with side panels that function as side impact protection in the event of a collision. The side panels absorb the force of the impact and protect your child. Consider the shape and size of the panels and the vehicle that you have.
While many seats now offer rear-facing, you should consider extended rear-facing as a cars seat feature. This is usually until about 18kg. Many experts advise rear-facing for as long as possible, up to about 4 years old. Consider whether this feature is important to you. For more info on rear-facing for longer – read our blog post on Rear-facing for longer.
With so many options and so many car seat features available – one should consider your budget. It will not mean that your child will be less safe if you do not have all the additional features. Consequently, by defining your budget it can help you narrow down the choices.
If you have any questions about car seat features – please contact us so that our reps can assist you. Furthermore, your nearest baby specialist store will be able to offer guidance and advice in choosing the perfect car seat with the perfect car seat features for you.by