What To Look For When Buying A Child Seat

How to get the right seat for both your child and your own needs.

Your children are the most sacred things in the world, so when it comes to transporting them in a car, you want to make sure they’re as safe as they possibly can be. Here’s how to buy the right car seat for the job.

  1. Choose an approved car seat

All child seats sold in Ireland must conform to EU standard UN ECE Regulation 4403/04 or Regulation 129 – however, there is currently a one-year ‘phase-out’ of the former of these, known as R44, which will conclude by September this year and mean R44 seats will no longer be on sale.

The difference between the two was that R44 seats have been tested in both forward-facing and rear-facing collisions, while R129 means it has gone through side-impact tests too. Any car seat which meets these regulations will be marked with a yellow ‘E’ symbol, which will be clearly displayed somewhere on the frame of the seat, or on the orange labels you’ll see either R44 or R129 accordingly.

The reason R44, which originated in the 1980s, is being dropped by the EU, however, is that it places greater emphasis on a child’s weight rather than their height, while R129 – a newer and more stringent rule which arrived in 2013 – is the other way around. And focusing on the height of the child is now considered to be the safest way of choosing a car seat, as R129 stipulates that children travel in rearward-facing seats up to a minimum of 75cm tall; this is when they’re approximately 15 months old.

R44 advocated that children should only travel rearwards until nine months old, but research has shown that making them stay rearward-facing until they are older gives them time to develop and ensures that their neck is strong enough to support their head.

R44 seats are still safe for your child, incidentally. It’s just that they are no longer type-approved by the EU post-September 1, 2023, and therefore manufacturers have been given a year to sell all their existing stock of R44 seats – hence why R129 will become the sole standard for new car seats going forward from this September.

  1. Choose the right seat for your child’s height

Child seats were previously grouped according to the size of infant they can accommodate by weight. With Group 0, 1, 2 and 3, it all depends on your child’s weight, but with the adoption of R129 there will be no more child groups – instead, parents choose a seat depending on the height of their offspring, as well as how they will be mounting the seat in the car (with ISOFIX or using belts). By law, children should sit in some form of car seat until they are at least 150cm tall.

  1. ISOFIX and I-Size

All child restraint system (CRS) seats can be fitted into a car safely using nothing more than the three-point seatbelts, including rear-facing baby seats. But both ISOFIX and I-Size are methods of fitting a CRS seat into a car more easily and quickly than using the seatbelts alone, and they also have easy-use systems to prevent incorrect installation. ISOFIX is more common and most production family cars since 2002 - when it became the norm - will likely have two or more ISOFIX fittings incorporated into their structure. The location of ISOFIX mounting points is marked by small circular logos on the seatbacks of the vehicle in question, so they’re easy to find and use. I-Size only appeared in 2014 and is a European standard that can be fitted to most ISOFIX systems, but I-Size provides better support for the child’s head and neck, as well as improved side-impact protection.

  1. Choose a seat with adaptability

To prevent you having to go car seat shopping on a regular basis, buy one of the ‘straddling’ seats that can adapt with the child’s growth stages. Make sure these give the greatest safety and comfort throughout the whole period of use, including being height-adjustable, possessing adaptive side-impact protections and (if possible) having an adjustable reclining position. One of the key considerations is legroom, because one of the most common reasons for parents switching their child seats to forward-facing orientation too early is a shortage of legroom for babies. You’ll also struggle if you pick a really large and bulky forward-facing child seat in a car that doesn’t have a huge amount of rear legroom anyway, as taller kids will find kneeroom to the back of the front seat ahead of them restrictive in such instances.

  1. Check the physical size of the seats themselves

You don’t want them to be too hefty, if you’re having to lug them in and out of the car on a regular basis, and – if you have more than two children – then one of the key concerns for any family vehicle is whether they will get three child CRS units across the second row of seats in the car. The number of vehicles that can actually achieve such a thing is remarkably small, while vehicles with three ISOFIX fittings on one row are in even shorter supply. If you already have two kids with their own CRS seats and you’ve just had another baby, you need to try and fit the rear-facing baby seat you’re looking at into a car between the other two seats; so the larger and bulkier each CRS seat is in itself, the less chance you’ll have of getting all the kids safely buckled in to the car.