Buying a car seat is one of the most important choices any parents can make, since it‘s all about your child’s safety on the road. To put this in a local context, anyone who has ever traveled on Chinese roads knows that they aren’t known for having the safest and most attentive drivers one could wish for. Choosing the right car seat is a difficult choice, especially since parents are faced with a variety of brands and models that are categorized by weight.
The four most widely-used seat classes are divided by age range:
- Group 0+: for babies up to 13kg/29lb (roughly from birth to 12-15 months)
- Group 1: for children weighing 9-18kg/20-40lb (roughly 9 months-4 years)
- Group 2/3: for children weighing 15-36kg/33-79lb (roughly 4-12 years)
To complicated things, there are also the following features to consider:
- Combo models that stretch over two age groups
- Different ways of installing a car seat (e.g. through the car’s seatbelts or Isofix/Latch)
- Different ways to secure a child (e.g. through a five-point harness or an “impact cushion“)
- Direction of installation (forward or rear-facing)
Newborn car seats
These must allow the child to lie flat. They’re installed in a rear-facing direction, which allows the body to be better supported by the shell. Choose an infant carrier-style car seat that can carry up to 13kg. The window of use might be limited, but keep in mind all the developments that your baby goes through in the first year of life.
Infant carriers are lightweight, so you can carry your baby in it or pair it with a stroller. They work as an altternative to stroller bassinets for baby to sleep in when you’re outdoors. Make sure to buy a stroller and car seat model that work together. Many stroller manufacturers provide special adapters, but these tend to be brand-specific.
A few brands also have combination car seats for Group 0+ and 1 that can carry up to 18kg. These are initially rear-facing and give children 9kg and over the option to lie flat. You can face the seat forward when the child is able to sit upright.
Group 1 car seats
Once your child outgrows the first car seat and can sit unassisted, you can switch to Group 1 seats. At this point, the child can be secured using a five-point-harness. Car seats grow with the child, so make sure the car’s seatbelts are flat at shoulder height. By changing slots or adjusting the seatbelts through the headrest, you adjust the car seat to your child’s height.
Group 2/3 car seats
Kids can use Group 2/3 car seats around the age of 4. The child is now using the car’s seatbelts; they can be adjusted to go over the child’s shoulders rather than the neck. If you use a backless booster seat (essentially a raised seat), keep in mind that the seatbelt cannot be adjusted and your child has no extra side protection. In Europe, kids are required to use a booster seat until they reach 1.50m in height.
The pros and cons of different car seats
The biggest change over the last few years has been the introduction of the Isofix installation method. Isofix attaches the car seat via two metal hooks directly to the chassis of the car. This simplifies the process and avoids a false installation. New car seats are often equipped with Isofix anchorage points. To find out if your car is equipped with Isofix, check your car’s user manual. In the US, a similar system called Latch is widely used.
The idea behind the development of Isofix was to avoid an incorrect installation. That doesn’t mean conventional car seats aren’t safe, but Isofix has clear advantages from an installation point of view. Group 1 and Group 2/3 car seats can be directly equipped with Isofix. For Group 0+ seats, you can buy an Isofix base, which can also often be used for Group 1 seats.
The safety of two other systems has been widely-discussed: impact cushions and rear-facing car seats (commonly used in Scandinavia). Compared to a convential harness, an impact cushion secured to the front of the child will spread the impact over a wider area. This system was proven to be very safe in independent crash test, but it’s best to check if the child will be comfortable, since this method provides less space to move.
Rear-facing car seats are becoming more popular outside of Scandinavia. In an accident, the burden on the neck is up to five times lower than that of forward-facing car seats. However, the car seat takes up more space and becomes more complicated to install. Using Isofix can simplify the installation, but the advantages of a rear-facing seat are lost in the event of a rear-end collision.
The final say
The truth is, there‘s no perfect solution to finding the right car seat. However, the following steps can help you come to a more informed decision:
- Visit a retailer whose competence you trust
- Review the results of independent product tests
- Consider the different options and ask yourself which model best fits your needs and taste
- Most importantly, determine which car seat your child feel most comfortable in
Buying a car seat is like buying life insurance for your child, so it‘s worth investing both time and money into finding the right model.
baby international was founded by an international parents to provide high-quality products to Chinese and expat families. With shops in both Shanghai and Beijing, as well as an online store, the author can be reached for questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.