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How To Choose The Right Car Seat

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The purchase of a car seat is one of the most essential any parents face as its all about the safety of their child when the family is on the road. And to put this in a local context, everyone that ever traveled on Chinese roads knows that they are not characterized by the safe and attentive driving one would wish for. Yet choosing the right model is a rather difficult one as parents are faced by a vast variety of not only brands but also a diversity of car seat models that also split up according to weight.

The four most widely used classes for car seats depending on age re:

Group 0+: for babies up to 13kg/29lb (roughly from birth to 12 to 15 months)
Group 1: for children weighing 9-18kg/20-40lb (roughly from 9 months to 4 years)
Group 2/3: for children weighing 15-36kg/33-79lb (roughly from 4 to 12 years)

To make it even more complex there are combi models that stretch over 2 groups, different ways of installation (via the car’s seat belts vs. Isofix/Latch) and ways of securing a child (either via a five-point-harness or via a so called impact cushion), and the direction of installation (forward vs. rearward facing installation).

Let’s start with the first car seat you need for your child. For a newborn you need a car seat that allows your child to lie flat. Car seats for newborns are installed rearward facing as in this case the entire body is better supported by the shell. You can choose an infant carrier style car seat that you can use up to 13kg. The time of usage is limited but keep in mind the development your baby is going through in its first year of life.

Infant carriers are lightweight so you can carry your baby or use it with a stroller and they also work as an alternative to a stroller bassinet for baby to sleep when you’re outside. Make sure that you buy a stroller and car seat model that work together. Many stroller manufacturers provide special adapters to securely attach a car seat yet those adapters are brand specific so they will only work with certain car seat brands.

In addition, a few car seat brands also have car seats that you can use from birth to 18kg combining Group 0+ and Group 1. Those car seats are initially installed rearward facing and provide children the option to lie flat while above 9kg when the child can sit upright you can install them forward facing.

Once your child is outgrowing the first car seat and able to sit upright you can change to Group 1 car seats. Here you install the car seat in the car with the child using the car seat’s five-point-harness. Car seats grow with the child so make sure the safety belts of the car seat are always flat on shoulder height. By changing slots or adjusting the safety belts via the headrest you adjust the car seat to your child’s body height.

Group 2/3 starts around 4 years. The child is now using the car’s safety belts. You can adjust the position of the safety belts so they go over the child’s shoulders and not over the neck. If you use a backless booster seat (simply a raised seat) keep in mind that you can not adjust the position of the safety belt and that your child is not having additional side protection. In the EU children need to use a booster seat until the height of 1.50m.

After discussing the different models according to age let’s have a look at the pros and cons of different car seat systems.

The biggest change over the last years has been the introduction of the so called Isofix installation method. Isofix attaches the car seat via 2 metal hooks directly to the chassis of the car by this simplifiying as well as avoding false installation. New car seats are often equipped with Isofix anchorage points. To find out if your car is equipped with Isofix please check the handbook of your car. In the US a similar system called Latch is widely used.

Its important to note that the aim behind the development of Isofix was to avoid an incorrect installation. It does not mean that conventional car seats are not safe although from the point of installation Isofix has clear advantages. Car Seats of Group 1 and Group 2/3 can directly be equipped with Isofix. For Group 0+ its possible to purchase a so called Isofix base that can be used for this group and often also for Group 1 car seats so you can use the Isofix base longer.

Two systems that have been widely discussed for safety are a) the use of impact cushions and b) rearward facing car seats that are commonly used in Scandinavia. Other than with a five-point-harness a child will be secured by an impact cushion in front that will widely spread the impact energy compared to a conventional harness system. This has been proven as very safe in independent crash tests. Yet its advised to check if the child will feel comfortable as this method provides less space to move.

The use of rearward facing car seats is becoming more popular outside Scandinavia as in the case of an accident the burden placed on the neck is up to five time lower than compared with forward facing car seats. However, the installation of the car seats gets more complex and the seat will take up more space. The use of Isofix can simplify the installation significantly. The use of rearwarding car seats are mandatory until the age of 2 in the new European iSize standard.

The truth to finding the right car seat is that there is no perfect solution. Visit a retailer that you find competent, and go through the different options and ask yourself, which model fits your needs and taste, and most important, in which does your child feel most comfortable. Also have a look at the results of independent product tests. Buying a car seats is like buying a life insurance for your child so its worth investing into finding the right model.

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