Baby, jump in my car – I wanna take you home … but first, we need a car seat!
Gone are the days when a wicker basket plus seatbelt equals a car seat. Thankfully, we now know a lot more about correct car safety and there are lots of options to help you get the best set up for your family. Do you just want to use a baby capsule for six months and then switch to a different seat? Do you want a baby seat that clips into a pram? What about that fancy pants ISOFIX stuff?
We’ve put in hours of research and come up with the most meaningful considerations you need to weigh up before taking the car seat plunge. So make that cuppa, and get reading – and don’t forget to print out our handy Car Seat Chooser Checklist before you hit the baby stores!
Before you decide what to buy, you need to know what you can buy and why. We’ve answered some basic questions for you to get your head around what’s out there and what you might need.
Is it essential: Yes
How much will it cost: $90 to $700
How long will you use it: Birth to 7 year
Should you purchase before baby’s born: Yes
Car seat accessories: Harness covers, window shades, mirrors, mobiles,
Can you buy secondhand: Yes. It’s recommended to only buy car seats that are less than six years old and never use a car seat that’s been in a car accident. If you don’t know the full history of a second-hand car seat, it’s best not to buy it.
Rearward facing car capsule
A capsule that can only be used rearward facing for a newborn through to six-month-old.
Convertible car seat
Begins life as a rearward facing capsule but can later be turned to forward facing and used until your child is up to four years old.
Includes lower attachment connectors that attach to dedicated car seat anchor points in ISOFIX fitted vehicles.
Pram compatible (travel system)
A baby capsule that can be attached to a pram using connectors.
Forward facing car seat
A forward facing child seat for use from 4 years old.
A seat that can be used by a child aged between seven and 16-years-old who are too small to be properly restrained by a seatbelt.
Your bub’s safety is the number one priority, but a smart buy can save you time and money down the track. Here are a few things to think about to help you choose what’s right for your family. And remember, drive the car you will be using to the baby stores and don’t be afraid to ask if you can test to see how the seat fits in your car.
Size really does matter when it comes to baby seats – both the size of the seat and of your car.
Things to consider:
How big is your car?
- Back seat – some car seats have a wide base, which can make it hard squeeze in other passengers and reach seat belts.
- Door angle – two-door cars make it harder to get a capsule in and out of. Check the opening of the door is wide and high enough to access your baby in the seat or lift a baby capsule through.
- Front seat positions – rearward facing car seats need more room so check you don’t have to move the front seats too far forward to fit.
- SUVs – are generally higher off the ground and you’ll be lifting a heavy capsule or wriggling baby in and out.
Where are you going to position your car seat?
- In the middle – this should be your first option, it’s the safest position. Some car seats have a wide base and make it hard to reach other seat belt slots in this position.
- Behind the passenger seat – handy to get baby in and out of the car, easier to look behind and see bub but direct sunlight will be an issue sometimes.
- Behind the driver’s seat – you may have to move the driver’s seat too far forward to fit a rearward facing car seat, particularly if you’re tall or the car is small. Being able to see and reach bub will also be an issue.
When are you having more children?
- Within the next 12 months: you’ll have two babies in rear-facing car seats or capsules, or a newborn in a rear-facing capsule and a bub older than six months in a forward-facing seat. Think about where they will go in your current car and if you can still fit another passenger in the back if needed.
- Within the next 18 months to four years: you’ll have two babies in rear-facing car seats or capsules, or a newborn in a rear-facing capsule and a child older than six months in a forward-facing seat with an inbuilt harness.
- Within the next four to eight years: you’ll have a newborn in a rear-facing car seat or capsule, and a preschooler or school child in a car seat or booster seat. Consider how large an older child is, plus their car seat or booster, and a newborn and capsule.
- Several children in the next four to eight years: consider each possible combination – two children in boosters and one in a capsule. Or two in capsules and another in a booster. Look at the slimmest car seats for your situation
Safe car seat – tick. Size – sorted. Getting it in and out of the car and adjusting it for your bub – a little trickier. Having a car seat that’s easy to use isn’t just better on your back and your sanity, it means your precious cargo will be safer.
Things to consider:
Do you need a travel system?
- Car to pram: baby capsules that connect to prams are a great way to transfer a sleeping baby from the car – you can let sleeping babes lie. Just take the whole capsule out of the car and clip it into the pram chassis (it is recommended that babies don’t sleep for long periods of time in their baby capsule). You’ll need to check how heavy the capsule is for you to lift out of the car, and how tricky it is to get it out.
- Pram to car: check how easily you can unclip the car seat and pop it into the car. You may have to climb right into the car, so think about possibly doing this several times a day.
How easy is the seat to install?
- More than one car: if you’re only getting one car seat but need it to service two cars, you’re going to become an expert in baby seat installation. If you don’t fancy that, go for a seat that’s a cinch to install like ISOFIX. You will need both cars to have ISOFIX anchor points.
- More than one family member: grandma will probably want to take baby to the shops at some stage, and no doubt in her own wheels. Check the seat can easily be transferred from your car to others.
How easy is it to adjust the five-point harness?
- Seasonal changes: not only do babies grow quickly, but harnesses often need to be adjusted to suit what bubs is wearing. Think about the time of year you’re having your baby and if they’ll be wearing extra layers some days. The straps need to be adjusted constantly, so check this can easily be done with the press of a button.
What anchor points does it need to attach to?
- Location of anchor points: check the position the anchor points are located. You may need an extender to reach them. If they’re in an out-of-reach spot you may need someone’s help to put the car seat in.
Car seats are designed to protect your precious cargo, so they tend to be heavy. It’s worth checking weights to see what you can handle if you’re going to be the one moving it in and out of the car.
Things to consider:
Where will the car seat be used?
- More than one car: if you know you’ll need to be swapping it into other cars, check it’s easy to lift and move.
- Home base: you can buy a spare base for some baby capsules which means you can install one in each car and make swapping super easy.
- Make room: if you need to transport your car seat while your bub isn’t in it, but need the back seat for carpooling, the car seat will need to fit into the boot of your car. It’s a good idea to check it fits if the pram is also in the car boot.
Planning on having kids close together or are you looking for a bit of a breather between offspring? It all makes a difference when it comes to choosing a car seat.
Things to consider:
When will you add to the family?
- Sooner rather than later: you’ll get good use out of a rearward facing baby capsule for newborns to six-month-olds. By the time the new baby comes along, you will have already purchased the next seat up for your first bub.
- Backseat room: make sure you can comfortably fit another car seat in the rear of your car down the track (check the size considerations above for more info).
- Waiting a while: consider investing in a convertible seat that can be used until your child is four. When you have your second child, it will probably be time to get a new seat for your first. Also remember manufacturers generally advise not re-use a car seat that’s more than six to ten years old. Keep this in mind if you’re thinking of a bigger gap between kids.
What is maintenance like?
- Cleaning: if you want to keep and store the seat between children, make sure all of the fabric parts can be removed for cleaning.
- Storing: a storage bag helps keep the dust off while the seat is packed away, check that a universal car seat cover fits your choice.
In Australia, there is a mandatory safety standard for all car seats. Always ensure your car seat meets these requirements, especially if buying second hand.
- Check the seat as a tag showing certification to the Australian standard AS/NZS 1754 (either 2004, 2010 or 2013).
- By law babies under six months must be in a rearward facing car seat or capsule.
- There’s a new standard that means some seats have been specifically tested for use by babies with a low birth weight or who are premature.
Car seat installation
Australian research has revealed an incredible 70 per cent of children are incorrectly restrained in their seats.
- There are authorised fitting stations that will help you install car seats correctly all over Australia.
- The safest spot for your newborn’s car seat is in the middle of the back seat.
- You may need an extension for your seat’s tether strap, depending on the location of your car’s anchor point.
Once you’ve got bub strapped in safe and sound, you might want to consider these optional extras for the ultimate smooth ride.
- Canopy/hood – a fabric hood that extends from the car seat, keeping the sun out baby’s eyes.
- Seat saver – keeps the seat of your car from becoming damaged – placed under the car seat.
- Mirror – so you can see baby and baby can see you!
- Support insert – a fabric liner will not only look pretty but keep the seat from getting dirty and can keep bub warmer.
- Belt pals – used to make the harness belts a little more comfortable for baby.
- Spare base for other cars – handy if you’re going to be transferring the capsule from one car to another often.
- Neck pillow – to make car naps a bit more comfy for your forward-facing toddler.
- Buckle guard – to stop little fingers undoing their seat belt.