Before choosing a car seat, bear in mind that not all car seats fit every car. This is mainly because child seats and cars’ rear seats can vary in shape; the child seat must sit flat and snugly against your car’s rear seat base and back. Also, unless you are using ISOFIX, where special connections attach the child seat to the car, you might find that your car’s seat belt isn’t long enough to fasten round the child seat as required by the manufacturer.
Another issue for child seats using the car’s seat belt is a situation known as ‘buckle crunch’. This is when a long seat belt anchor point places the seat belt buckle on a bend in the belt’s route through the child seat. This puts pressure on the buckle and, in an accident, can cause it to open and detach the car seat. Don’t be tempted to put a twist in a seat belt stalk to shorten it and avoid this problem, as this could also compromise the belt’s effectiveness in an accident.
Getting the match right
The good news is that it’s pretty easy to find a car seat that fits your car. The best method is to ask specially trained staff at your retailer to check that the seat fits your car (make sure you phone in advance to make sure the staff are available when you plan to visit). The member of staff will also be able to show you exactly how to secure the seat in your car yourself, even just to make routine refits to ensure the seat hasn’t worked loose.
Alternatively, the manufacturer of your car or child seat should be happy to check that both are compatible. If you buy online or via mail order, find out how long you have to return the seat and get a full refund if there’s a problem with the fit (the law gives you a minimum of seven days to do this).
It can be tempting to save money by buying or accepting a second-hand seat – but make sure you don’t skimp on safety when you cut costs. The seat should be a model that is still in production, so you can be sure it meets the current safety standards, and it should have all the necessary fittings and instructions (you can often download replacements from manufacturer websites). Another reason not to accept an old child seat is that some materials, such as plastics, can start to degrade over time, compromising the seat’s strength.
As with a new seat, a second-hand seat must also fit your car properly – check with your car manufacturer or the seat maker to check that both are compatible, as well as checking for yourself that the child seat sits flat and snugly against your car’s rear seat base and back. You must also make absolutely certain that the seat is genuinely as good as new. That means ensuring that it has never been involved in an accident, however minor, or any other type of damage (such as being dropped, even accidentally, while in storage); this could compromise its effectiveness in ways you may not be able to see with the naked eye, and it’s definitely not worth taking the risk. Also check the operation of any adjustors and signs of wear to straps. It is important all the original padding (shoulder pads, inserts..etc) are present and used as per the manufacturers instruction.