A car seat is an essential purchase for all parents who drive. These days, many car seats are clever components of all-in-one travel systems, easily clicking onto a buggy when you arrive at your destination.
It's worth noting at this point that much depends on the age of your child. Newborns and young infants should lie on their backs, and face the rear of the vehicle, whereas older infants can safely sit securely in a forward-facing seat.
As well as all-in-one transport systems, parents also tend to prefer the new-generation of car seats which rotate or swivel, for ease and comfort (they're easier on your back, as they prevent the need to reach over).
Many seats clip into your car securely with the help of an ISOFIX system. ISOFIX is the international standard system which fit car seats without the need for a seat belt. Since 2006, all new cars are required to be fitted with the system.
There has been some confusion among parents as a result of changing rules and guidelines when it comes to car seats, so if you are confused or unsure, make sure to check the government's website and refer to The Highway Code. A new rule came in last year for manufacturers, who are no longer allowed to introduce new models of backless booster seats for children shorter than 125cm or weighing less than 22kg. According to a statement released by the Department for Transport in February 2017, existing booster seats and cushions are not affected by the new rules, which came into force on February 9 2017.
According to the Child Accident Prevention Trust, twelve children under 10 are killed or injured as passengers in cars every day. Car seats prevent deaths and serious injury. "Adult seat belts are not designed for children as they don't sit across the right parts of the body. If a child isn't in the right booster or car seat, they can be injured by the seat belt in a crash," it explains.
Children must normally use a child car seat until they’re 12 years old or 135 centimetres tall; those over 12 or more than 135cm tall must wear a seat belt.
However, there are some situations where it is allowed for a child to travel without a car seat. For example, in private hire vehicles such as taxis and minicabs, if the driver doesn’t provide the correct child car seat, then children can travel without one – but only if they travel on a rear seat, wearing an adult seat belt if they’re three or older, or going without a seat belt if they’re under three. There are also different rules for minibuses, coaches and vans.
Here, we ask parenting influencers and real mums and dads to recommend their favourite car seats, booster seats, and all-in-one travel systems for newborns, toddlers and older children.
As always, let us know your favourites and feel free to share your recommendations, too.
1. Maxi Cosi Pebble and Maxi Cosi Axiss car seat
With the Maxi Cosi Pebble (£179.10, John Lewis) often considered to be the classic travel system car seat for babies (it can be used from birth to approx. 12 months, and is compatible with a number of pushchair and pram brands, including Bugaboo), many parents choose to graduate to the Axiss when they're little one reaches his or her first birthday, thanks to it's rotating swivel function.
"The Maxi Cosi Axiss car seat is absolutely our favourite," say Tia and Laura, the founders of parenting and craft blog Little Button Diaries. "It can swivel round to allow you to put your child in easily. All four of our kids have had one and we wouldn't change it for anything."
The Axiss is a 90° swivelling toddler car seat suitable from nine months up to four years. It has multiple recline positions, headrest and harness adjustment. A colour indicator lets you know when the Axiss is safely locked in forward-facing position.
"If you value your back and don’t fancy trips to a physiotherapist then this is the car seat for you," adds TV presenter and father-of-two Ben Hillman. "The amazing thing about this seat is that it swivels around to face the car door so that you can easily place your child in and out of the seat without having to twist your back."
2. Joie Every Stage car seat
"I recommend the Joie Every Stage car seat," says John Adams, founder of parenting, fatherhood and lifestyle blog Dad Blog UK. "We've been using them for two years now and as the name suggests, they have seen our kids through their toddler years well into their school years. The seats are solid and easy to adjust for the size of your child. They also have pockets for drink and snack storage, which is very important for a young child!
"Most importantly, they have all-round head protection in case of a side-on impact. I simply won't use car seats that don't have such protection."
You can find his full review here.
The Joie Every Stage is installed using the car's seat belt and is suitable from birth to 36kg (approx 12 years)
3. Dualfix I-size from Britax Römer
"I’ve personally tried and tested a grand total of four car seats to-date, and my baby is only nine-months old," says Ellie Thompson, editor of My Baba. "I’ve hated every single one of the first three, for pretty much the same reasons: difficulty positioning the baby, difficulty pulling the straps to loosen and properly tighten to secure the baby, and the constant tangling and twisting of straps.
"But then I met the one. The Dualfix I-size Britax car seat is designed to be used from birth to four years of age, it’s a purchase made to last and grow with your child. Considering the many repeat purchases you will need to make with your growing baby, a product that offers this sort of longevity is a godsend (the cover is machine washable). I’m being completely honest when I say that I love this seat.
"Besides all the fantastic safety features (of which there are many), the seat is luxuriously comfy and rotates 360 degrees, which means getting baby in and out of our car is a cinch. The straps feel like proper car seat belts, and they’re super-easy to loosen and tighten.
"The only downside of the seat is that it can’t be used on a chassis, and is a permanent fixture in the car. But to be honest, having had a C-section, I avoided using our previous car seats as part of the buggy, preferring to switch her from one to the other to avoid unnecessary lifting."
The Dualfix I-size from Britax Römer can be installed with Isofix connectors. It offers extended rearward facing for safer travel (up to four years).
4. Cybex Pallax M-FIX
Parenting influencer and model Eimear Varian Barry recommends the Cybex Pallax M-FIX, which she recently bought for her two-year old. The Cybex Pallax M-FIX is suitable from approximately 9 months up to 12 years. It can be connected to Isofix for extra stability and safety. It also boasts a comfortable one-hand recline function.
5. Cybex Sirona combination Isofix car seat
"After graduating from a Maxi Cosi Pebble Plus car seat (£148.50, John Lewis), our choice for the next stage (9 months to 4 years) is the Cybex Sirona Combination Isofix car seat," says Stephanie Withers, founder of parenting and lifestyle blog Chalk Kids. Importantly, this seat allows children to travel in the recommended rear-facing position for longer and can be used forward facing once your baby reaches 9kg.
"We also liked how the seat has a 360° swivel feature, making it easier to get your child in and out of the seat. One minus point is that the chair is rather bulky and is not the easiest to move between vehicles. In addition it has a higher price point than some of its competitors, however, considering the quality and numerous safety features our verdict is it’s worth the cost."
The Cybex Sirona car seat can be used in rear facing position from birth, and allows infants travel in the rear facing position for longer – until they reach 18kg (approx 4 years old). It can also be used in a forward facing position if preferred from 9 months to 18kg depending on height and size.
6. Recaro Young Sport hero car seat
Stacey Oakes, one half of the parenting blogger duo behind Beauty and the Mini Beasts, recommends a Recaro car seat. "As far as car seats go it’s pretty snazzy," she says. "It’s suitable from around 9 months right up until 12 years old. This was probably the biggest selling point for us. Who wants to buy multiple seats? The cushioned seat covers and strap covers are removable and can be slung in the washing machine.
"Every area in contact with the skin is really cushioned. It feels totally safe and sturdy. There’s no squeaking or moving. It’s solid. It’s easy to fit and it has some beefy side head protectors, which along with being a great safety feature, they also provide a lovely side head rest and stop their head bobbing about. The headrest is adjustable so you can alter it as your child grows."
The belt clip helps with safe and stable installation – even without an Isofix connection – and comfortable seating foam adapts well to the body shape to provide support.
The Maxi-Cosi Pebble (£179.10, John Lewis) is a brilliant first car seat. Suitable from birth up to 12 months, it's compatible with a number of prams. After that, the Maxi Cosi Axiss (£179.98, John Lewis) is an example of a toddler car seat suitable from 9 months up to 4 years that cleverly rotates, easing the strain on your back and meaning that you don't have to lean into the car every time you secure your child for a journey.
Tere are a number of exciting alternatives to the perennially popular Maxi Cosi: parents in the know with money to spend might want to take a look at Britax Römer, a stylish, functional brand; the Dualfix I-size Britax car seat (£430, Boots) is expensive, but it's designed to be used from birth right up to 4 years of age, so it's a smart buy; and the Cybex and Recaro car seats are also well worth considering.