Child Car Seats

FAQs

 


Q: Does my child have to be in the child seat's weight range?

A: Yes. Child car seats are designed for children within specific weight ranges. If a child is too big for their child seat, it will not protect them properly and may even injure them in a crash. They will also be uncomfortable in the seat. If a child is too small, they may slip under the seat belt or harness ('submarine') and thrown about inside the vehicle, or even thrown out of it, in a crash, or the seat belt may injure them.

Always make sure that your child is the right size and weight for the seat they are using. Do not be tempted to put a child in a restraint that is too big for them on the grounds that they will grow into it.

 


Q: Is it okay if my child seat is loose?

A: No. One of the most common fitting mistakes is to leave the child seat held loosely by the seat belt. If it is not held securely, it will be thrown forwards in a crash and the child may be injured.

Make sure that the seat has been fitted according to the manufacturer's instructions.

If possible, use an Isofix seat or an i-size seat that is approved for your car as it will be easier to fit and will be more secure.

If the child seat is secured by the car's seat belts, check that the seat belt has been fitted through the correct route guides on the child seat (blue for rearward-facing and red for forward-facing) and that it has been pulled tight. Many seats have a lock-off device to prevent the seat belt slipping once it has been tightened - make sure this is in the lock position.

Check that the child seat rests on the car seat properly.

If you cannot fit it securely, check with the child seat and car manufacturers that the child seat is suitable for your car. If not, use a different child seat (or car) that is compatible.

 


Q: What do I do if my child seat does not rest properly on the car seat?

A: The shape of car seats varies between different models. For instance, some rear seats curl up at the sides, the length of the cushion differs. And the size and shape of the base of child seats differ. Therefore, some child seats will not fit certain car models. If your child seat cannot rest properly on the car seat, it will be difficult to hold the child seat securely. You may need to replace the child seat with one that will rest squarely on the child seat.

Check with the child seat and car manufacturers that the child seat is suitable for your car.

Try the child seat in other positions in the car to see if there is a better fit.

If not, use a different child seat (or car) that is compatible.

 


Q: What do I do if the seat belt will not go around my child seat?

A: The length of seat belts differs between cars, and some child car seats are bigger than others. Generally, rearward-facing baby seats and combination seats need longer seat belts than forward-facing child seats.

If possible, use an Isofix seat or an i-size seat that is approved for your car as it will be easier to fit and will be more secure.

If this is not possible, check with the child seat and car manufacturers that the child seat is suitable for your car.

Try the child seat in other positions in the car to see if there is a better fit.

Some seats have an 'alternative belt route' that can be used when the belts are too short for normal installation.

If using the front seat, put the seat as far back as it will go.

In some cars, it is possible to adjust the height of the seat belt (on the door pillar) - try lowering the height adjuster if one is fitted.

If not, use a different child seat (or car) that is compatible.

 


Q: How do I avoid buckle crunch?

A: If the seat belt buckle lies across the frame of the child seat it will be under pressure and may spring open in an impact. Only seatbelt webbing should be in contact with the frame of the child seat.

If possible, use an Isofix seat or an i-size seat that is approved for your car as it will be easier to fit and will be more secure, and it will avoid the problem of buckle crunch.

If this is not possible, make sure you have fitted the child seat according to the manufacturer's instructions and that the seat belt has been fitted through the correct route guides on the seat.

If the child seat has an 'alternative belt route' for use with shorter seats belts, see if this route avoids the buckle crunch.

If using the front seat, put the seat as far back as it will go.

In some cars, it is possible to adjust the height of the seat belt (on the door pillar) - try lowering the height adjuster if one is fitted.

Try the child seat in other positions in the car to see if there is a better fit.

Check with the child seat and car manufacturers that the child seat is suitable for your car. If not, use a different child seat (or car) that is compatible.

 


Q: There is an active passenger airbag in front of my car: can I put a rearward-facing baby seat in the front passenger seat?

A: No, it is dangerous and illegal to put a rearward-facing baby seat in the front if there is an active airbag fitted on the passenger side. The back of the baby seat would be very close to the dashboard and if the airbag deployed in a crash it would strike the baby seat with considerable force. This could cause serious injury to your child.

It is safer to put children, including babies, in the rear of the car. If you feel (for medical reasons, for example) that the baby needs to be constantly monitored, find an adult to sit next to the baby in rear.

It may be possible to de-activate the passenger airbag, although this means that any adult passenger sitting in the front will no longer have the extra protection offered by the airbag.

Check with the car manufacturer and follow their advice. You should also consult your insurance company before deactivating an airbag.

 


Q: There is a passenger airbag in front of my car: can I put a forward-facing child seat in the front passenger seat?

A: Yes, although it is safer for children to travel in the rear of the car.

If you must put a forward-facing seat in the front when there is an airbag present, make sure that the car seat is as far back as possible and the child seat is securely held to maximise the distance between the child and the airbag.

It is better not to place a forward-facing restraint in a seat with an airbag; try to avoid this if possible. If it is not possible, then check the advice of the vehicle manufacturer. Find out how far the airbag extends when deployed and ensure that your child is well outside the expansion area. Ensure that the passenger seat is as far back from the airbag as possible, that the child seat is very securely fitted and the child is securely held by the harness or seat belt.

 


Q: Can I put a child restraint next to a side airbag?

A: Side airbags are usually a curtain airbag which deploys downward to provide protection to the head and are not as powerful as the front ones. They should not pose a risk to a child in a child seat in the rear, but provide added protection.

Make sure that the child seat is fitted properly and your child is using it correctly. Try to prevent the child seat leaning close to, or against, the door or window. Of course, children often fall asleep in child seats but seats with side wings will help to stop a sleeping child's head resting against the side window.

If concerned, contact the vehicle manufacturer to ask how far the side airbags come out if they deploy and whether they are likely to contact a child restraint in the rear outboard seats. EuroNCAP tests include assessing the safety of child seats in a side impact, so check www.euroncap.com to see if your vehicle model is one of those that has been tested.

 


Q: The Instructions for my Child Car Seat are missing; what can I do?

A: Instructions for fitting and using child restraints are essential. Without them, it is difficult to be sure that the child seat has been correctly fitted. Check the manufacturer's website as many publish copies of their instruction manuals, which you can download. If the instructions are not available online, contact the manufacturer to ask if they can provide a copy.

 


Q: The harness does not fit my child; what should I do?

A: Baby seats and child seats usually have a five-point (or three-point) harness to hold the child in the seat. This is a very important part of the protection the child seat provides. If the harness is loose, the child could be thrown from the seat in a crash, or work their way out of the harness while you are driving. The harness buckle should not rest over the child's tummy.

If the harness does not fit your child, use the child seat's instruction booklet to check that it is adjusted correctly. On most seats the height of the harness can be raised as the child grows. The top of the harness should be about 2cm below the shoulder of a child in a rear-facing child car seat, and about 2cm above the shoulder of a child in a forward-facing child car seat.

Also make sure that the harness is not twisted or tangled.

The harness should fit snugly, so that only one or two fingers can fit between the harness and the child's chest. The child's clothes can also affect how snugly the harness fits. For example, if a child was previously wearing a bulky, the harness may need to be loosened.

If you cannot adjust the harness to fit your child correctly, you should change the child seat.

 


Q: Do I need to replace a child seat that was in the car when I had an accident?

A: A child car seat that was in a car when it was involved in an accident should be replaced, even if there is no visible damage. It may have been weakened to such an extent that it will not provide the same level of protection in another accident.

The seat belts and seat belt attachments, especially ones that were in use at the time of the accident, should also be carefully checked to ensure that they have not been damaged. Include the replacement cost in any insurance claim.

It is very difficult to judge how severe an impact needs to be to damage a child car seat. It may not be necessary to replace the child seat if:

  • It was a very low speed impact
  • There was no, or very little, damage to the car
  • There was no child in the child seat when the impact occurred.

Some manufacturers give advice about the circumstances in which a child car seat should be replaced.

However, if in any doubt, it is better to be safe than sorry - replace the child seat.

If your insurance company is reluctant to agree to replace the seat, this letter (PDF 37kb) may help.

 


Q: Is it safe to use a second-hand child seat?

A: The best advice is not to use a second-hand child seat. You cannot be certain of its history. It may have been involved in an accident and the damage may not be visible. Very often the instructions are missing from second-hand seats which makes it more difficult to be sure that you are fitting and using it correctly. Second-hand seats are also likely to be older, to have suffered more wear and tear and may not be designed to current safety standards.

It is far better to buy a new child seat. Prices range dramatically, and it is not necessary to buy the most expensive one. Ask your local Road Safety Department (part of your Council) whether they know of any child seat discount schemes.

If you must use a second-hand seat, only accept one from a family member or friend (don't buy one from a second-hand shop or through the classified ads) and then only if you are absolutely certain that you know its history, it comes with the original instructions and it is not too old.

Before you agree to accept the seat:

  • Examine it carefully for damage (but remember, not all damage to child seats is visible to the naked eye).
  • Make sure the manufacturer's instructions are available.
  • Check the manufacturer's advice about how old the seat should be before it needs to be replaced.
  • Make sure the seat is suitable for your child's weight and height.
  • Try the seat in your car - if you cannot get it to fit securely, do not buy it.
  • Check that the seat meets the United Nations standard Regulation 44.04 - look for the 'E' mark.

 


Q: How can I be sure which child seat is best for me?

A: There is a very wide range of different child seats. The most important thing is to make sure that the seat you choose is suitable for your child and for your car (or cars, if you use the child seat in more than one car).

Check the Types of Child Seats section of this website to see what type of seat is suitable for your child's weight and height. Take time to look through the manufacturer's catalogues and websites, and shops that sell child seats to assess a range of seats. You can also obtain information about the safety performance of some seats from surveys conducted by "Which", and magazines such as "What Car" and "Mother and Baby". Some seats are tested in cars the European New Car Assessment Programme (www.euroncap.com), so if your car model has been tested, choose a child seat that was used in their tests.

When buying, try to find a retailer who will help you try the seat in your car before you buy it. Ask whether they have staff trained in choosing and fitting child car seats, and try to make sure you are advised by one who has been trained. If this is not possible, make sure that you can return the seat, and replace it or get a refund, if it is not suitable.

Avoid buying a child seat online or by mail order, unless you are sure that it is suitable for your child and will fit your car.

Check that the seat meets the United Nations standard Regulation 44.04 (or later standard)- look for the 'E' mark, or the new i-size standard.

Remember, the seat needs to be suitable for your child's weight and size, and must be suitable for your car.

 


Q: How can I stop my child undoing the child seat harness?

A: Some children go through a phase of slipping out of the child seat harness or releasing the buckle, during journeys. This is extremely worrying for many parents and very frustrating. Once a child has learnt how to do this, it is very difficult to stop them. The good news is that it seems usually to be a phase which they grow out of.

A list of suggestions for preventing your child from escaping from their child seat during a journey is included in the FAQs section of this website.

 


Q: I have more Children to carry in my car than child seats; what do I do?

A: Children must be carried in an appropriate child car seat. The only exception is if there are two occupied child car seats in the rear but not enough room fit a third one, a child over 3 years can sit in the rear using the car's seat belt instead of a child car seat. However, children under 3 years must be in a child car seat, so if there is no room for a third child seat in the rear, the child must travel in the front seat with the correct child car seat.

 


Q: Is it legal for my child to travel in the front passenger seat?

A: Yes, but it is safer for children to travel in the rear seats.

If your child is under 12 years old they must use an appropriate child restraint, unless they are over 135cm in height. Once a child is taller than 135cm, they can use the car's seat belt, regardless of their age. It is the driver's responsibility to ensure that every passenger under 14 is in a child seat or is using a seat belt according to the law.

It is illegal to put a child in a rearward facing child car seat in the front passenger seat, if the is an active passenger airbag.

 


Q: Is it safe for my child to travel in the front seat?

A: It is safer for your child to travel in the rear seats. Therefore if you have the choice, put your child in a rear passenger seat.

If the middle rear seat has a three-point (lap and diagonal) seat belt, this is the safest place to put a child restraint (unless the manufacturer's instructions say it fits better in one of the other seats) because it is the furthest away from the sides of the car. If it only has a lap-only belt, check the child restraint instructions to see if it can be fitted with a lap-only belt. If not, fit the restraint on either side of the rear seat using the lap and diagonal seat belt.

If you are using an Isofix seat you can only use the middle rear seat if it has Isofix points.

Click here for advice on the best positions in the car for your child seat.

 


Q: Is a 3-point lap and diagonal seat belt better than a lap-only belt?

A: Yes, it provides greater protection in a crash. A lap belt is far better than no belt at all, but make sure it fits across the top of your child's thighs and around their hips, not across their stomach because in a crash this could cause damage to internal organs.

Some child restraints can only be fitted with a three-point lap and diagonal seat belt; always check the fitting instructions.

 


Q: I have 3 children, but the middle rear seat only has a lap belt. Should one child travel in the front seat with a 3-point belt rather than the middle rear seat, even though there is an active front passenger airbag?

A: Under no circumstances, put a rearward-facing baby seat in the front if there is an active passenger airbag.

If the third seat is a forward-facing child car seat that is fitted with a three -point seat belt you cannot fit it with a lap belt on its own - you must use a three-point seat belt. Therefore, you will have to put one of the children in the front seat. Make sure the passenger seat is rolled back as far as possible, that the child seat is very securely fitted and the child is securely held by the harness or seat belt.

Some child restraints (mostly group 1 seats) can be fitted using the lap belt only - check the manufacturer's fitting instructions.

If your car has Isofix points, use Isofix seats or i-size seats that are approved for your car, if possible. They will be easier to fit and more secure.

 


Q: My baby is not yet 9kg in weight, but his feet are dangling over the end of his child seat. Should I move him into a group 1 forward facing seat?

A: No. Child car seats are tested and approved for the child's weight not age. Provided that the top of your child's head does not extend above the back of the seat, s/he should remain in the rearward-seat until s/he is over 9kg and can confidently and comfortably sit up for a reasonable length of time (30 minutes or more is a good guide).

Do not rush to move your baby into a forward-facing seat, rearward-facing is safer and gives better protection to their head, neck and spine in a crash.

 


Q: My child often gets out of the harness, or undoes the buckle or seatbelt. Should I buy something to attach to the buckle, harness or belt to stop him doing this?

A: No. We do not recommend using any device which may interfere with the operation of the buckle or seatbelt. It is not known how such devices will behave in a crash and they could impede the emergency services in freeing your child from the vehicle. There may also be implications for your insurance if you have modified a safety feature like the seatbelt.

Follow our advice in the FAQs section of this website.

 


Q: Can I use a seat from another country in the UK?

A: Child seats used in the UK must conform to the standard ECE R44.04.

Child seats that meet the R44 standard will have a label with the letter E in a circle and a number (the number indicates the country in which the seat was tested and approved - the UK is 11). The standard applies across Europe and so seats manufactured in other European countries can be used in the UK, provided they meet ECE R44.04.

Child seats from other countries cannot be used in the UK unless they meet ECE R44.04, or the new i-size regulation.

 


Q: Is it better to keep my child rearward facing rather than move them into a forward-facing seat when they are 13 kg in weight?

A: Rearward-facing seats provide more protection for the child's head, neck and spine than forward-facing seats. It is common in some countries, especially Sweden, to keep children rearward-facing until they are four years old.

Group 0+ & 1 seats that keep the child rearward-facing until they are 18 kg in weight, which is roughly four years old are available in the UK. Some can be turned into forward-facing seats when the child has reached 13 kg in weight, or they can continue to be used rearward-facing.

However, because they are larger, there may not be enough space to fit them in some vehicles, or they may mean fewer other passengers can be carried. They may also more difficult to fit.