Mum of two and founder of the Facebook page European Car Seat Nut, Nicola Hack, has so many people tell her that car seats are a minefield, they’re complicated to install, hard to choose (just look at all those options), and many people don’t actually know when their child has outgrown their car seat. Find out what you really need to know in this useful article from Nicola.
When is your child’s car seat outgrown?
This is one of the most asked questions. You’ve read your car seat manual until you’re seeing double and you still can’t, for the life of you, figure it out! Don’t worry!
First let’s take some deep breaths and look at your child’s car seat. Can you see the bright orange sticker on it (if it’s installed you probably can’t as they’re normally well hidden, yes I have no clue what car seat manufacturers are thinking with that)? Have a look to see which “group” your child’s seat is.
Group 0+ (Infant seats) are outgrown when your child is over the weight limit of the seat (13kg for 0+) or they are too tall for them. Now, when are they too tall? Is it when their feet hang over the edge? Nope! It’s when their head starts to poke over the top of the shell of the seat (when it’s not fully contained). Surprisingly, a lot of these seats will last children until 18 months.
Group 1 (“toddler seats” with integrated harnesses), again with the weight. If your child is too heavy for their car seat (18kg unless you have a 25kg rear facing seat or the Britax Advansafix) they need to move on out of it. You’ll also want to keep an eye on the straps, in a forwards facing seat, when the straps dip below the child’s shoulders they indicate an outgrown car seat. The final test is to look at the tips of their ears. Are they still contained in the shell of the seat? If not it’s off to the shop you go!
Group 2-3 (booster seats with and without backs) This is the last seat your child will probably need and they’ll outgrow them when the seatbelt is coming from below their shoulder in the highest position and can pass the 5 step test. If your child outgrows their backed booster before they can pass this test you’ll want to look into a backless booster to use.
Photo credit: The Car Seat Lady
ISOFIX is it safer?
ISOFIX was developed by Britax (Romer) along with VW to help reduce the level of missuess when installing car seats (in 2015 my friends at Good Egg Safety in the UK discovered that 71% of the car seats that they checked at events were incorrectly installed in the car!). ISOFIX does take some of the possibility of misuse out of the game (it’s not foolproof) but it doesn’t make your seat perform better than my seat that’s correctly installed with a seatbelt.
It’s winter, how do I keep my child warm in the car? Can they wear their coats?
Did you know that you and your children shouldn’t wear your coats in the car? I had no clue until my first child was born. When used in harnessed seats, coats can compress in an accident which can lead to children being ejected. When used in boosters and on adults they delay the timing of the seatbelt and in some cases the position of the lap belt can be altered so it rides up into an unsafe position.
So what do you do (other than running your car while it warms up)? One of the easiest things to do is to remove your child’s coat, strap them into their car seat and then put their coat on backwards. This gives them the opportunity to take it off once they and the car have warmed up. Other options are fleece blankets (ikea have great prices on them) or car seat ponchos which go over the top of the straps.
Rear facing vs forward facing?
I’m sure you’ve heard of it now – people are keeping their children rear facing past their infant seats. Children aged 2, 4 and even 6 are still sitting rear facing! Sweden has been doing this since the 70s so what’s the deal?
The most common accident on the road is a frontal impact accident. These are generally higher speed accidents too. For those of you that have been in one you’ll know (and generally everyone knows because, well, physics) you’re thrown forward in an accident. Our adult bodies have ossified bones in our necks and have a much more proportionate head in comparison to, say, a 2 year old. The combination of a more flexible neck and a bigger head means that in a forward facing seat a child’s head can be thrown further forward than the spinal column is able to take. This can lead to internal decapitation. In a rear facing seat the force of the impact is spread over the child’s back which is pushed into the car seat, there is no major neck load in rear facing.
How long should you rear face for? Presently the recommendation is to rear face to 4 years old. With rear facing seats becoming more mainstream it’s becoming easier and easier to rear face for longer. Even if you don’t want to purchase an extended rear facing seat you’ll be amazed at how long your infant carrier can actually last (my youngest was in his until 18 months).
My child is over 18kg but I don’t want to move them to a booster, what can I do?
Car seat manufacturers aren’t hearing us. Children are getting bigger. My daughter was over 18kg at 3.5, she wasn’t mature enough to sit in an adult seatbelt and neither was her skeleton (the pelvis doesn’t develop the correct structure to hold the seatbelt in place correctly until 4 at least, using an adult belt before this can result in a child “submarining” or slipping under the lap belt). Sadly almost every harnessed seat on the market has a maximum limit of 18kg.
So what do you do in these circumstances? Well, you have a few options. If you have your child forward facing and wish to continue you could look at the Britax Advansafix (make sure to check and see if your car is on their list of approved cars as it needs a few different things to install it correctly), you could look at the Britax two way elite, or if Diono hold up their promise we’ll be seeing their new Radian 5 in shops come March. If you are willing to, or want to rear face there are a number of nice options out there – the Britax two way elite (see, that’s why it’s the two way elite because it will harness to 25kg in both directions) and the Axkid minikid are two of the tallest options out there.
My car seat straps are twisted, what can I do?
This happens to even the most expensive car seat and it drives parents NUTS! Not only is it annoying but it’s also dangerous to drive with twisted straps. Follow these easy steps and you’ll be twist free in no time.
My child is a Houdini, what can I do to keep them in the car seat?
Life’s hard when you’re a child and you don’t want to be strapped into your car seat. Why won’t mum and dad just let you climb around the amazing play place which is the car? Some of them are tricky and can get out of their straps in an attempt at the great escape.
What do you do to fix the issue? If the child is older (say around 2.5/3 years old) you can work with them, talk to them and explain why they need to stay strapped in. This is the best course of action. If that doesn’t work there are two little devices that you may be able to use BUT not all manufacturers of car seats approve their use so please always check with them first.
The 5 points plus is a nifty little device that velcros onto the harness to reduce the amount of room a child has to slip their arms through and out. It’s easily available online.
Option 2 is the Besafe belt collector, it holds the straps together to keep children from getting their arms out the middle of the harness. This looks deceptively like a chest clip but is easily removed while undoing the straps so still complies with the European requirement for children to be released in one motion.
I hear that there is a new law coming out, what’s the deal?
Up until recently all of the car seats on the market have been tested to ECE R44/04 standards. In 2013 the beginnings of a new regime regulation was adopted by the EU this is ECE R129 or “iSize”. At the moment it’s still under development so the two regulations will run in parallel until ECE R129 has been fully developed. This has loosely been projected for 2018. When this happens ECE R44/04 seats will no longer be produced but will still be legal to use (ECE R44/03 that is still legal but not in production will then no longer be legal).
So what does this new regulation mean in terms of safety?
- Children will legally have to rear face until they are 15 months old
- isize seats will fit any isize cars (oh I didn’t mention that there will be changes in the car industry too did I?)
- Side impact protection will be required and tested
- New crash test dummies will be used which provide more data than before
Second hand car seats, are they ok?
It’s hard on your wallet having a kid, they need new shoes (90 euro for shoes that last maybe a month….), books, clothes, school equipment and a car seat. This means you start to look for better deals on things and you find a second hand car seat. It looks brand new! The price is under half of the original price, what’s there to lose?
Well, did you know that car seats need to be replaced after an accident? I had to replace my car after an accident last year, the frame of the car was twisted, my daughter’s door didn’t open – my car looked bad. I pulled the covers off of the seats that were in the car and checked them over. There was no way of telling that anything had happened to them. Most car seats look unharmed after an accident. That’s the problem with buying used car seats from someone that you don’t know. The seat may have been in an accident, it may have been in an accident unoccupied and the owner thought that was ok, they may have washed the straps or even left it out in the rain. There’s no telling.
Featured photo: various brennemans/flickr (file) Article: Nicola Hack, European Car Seat Nut