One of our Good Egg Safety experts, Kat, demonstrates five of the most common car seat fitting errors that we come across at many of our child car seat checking events across the UK
Generally, child car seats come equipped with a 3 point or a 5 point harness in group 0+ seats, and a 5 point harness in a group 1 car seat. The job of the child car seat harness is to restrain the child in the child seat in the event of a collision.
Group 0+ rear facing car seats may have either a 3 point harness or a 5 point harness. In a collision the child is pushed back into the seat, which spreads the force across the whole seat back - putting much less force on the child and better protecting their neck and spine. The job of the 3 or 5 point harness is to hold the child in the seat.
A 5 point harness has additional hip straps to help spread the force of a collision. This is very important when forward facing as the harness takes a lot of force which is then spread across the child’s torso.
The child car seat harness is made up of two long straps, which attach to the buckle. The harness is secured at either end so that it sits over the strongest points of a child’s body – their hips and shoulders.
The hip straps on the harness are attached to the seat by metal hooks (picture below) which slot through a specific gap in the seat shell. These must always be attached completely and it is worth checking the harness is fully attached every journey.
The shoulder straps on the harness attach at the back of the seat, often to a ‘Y’ shaped metal hook (picture below). The straps should always be securely attached and only removed from the hook if you must re-thread the harness to change the harness height position.
Many car seats now come with a harness that you can simply click into a different height position, removing the need to unhook it – this removes the very high risk of the harness being misused.
Each harness strap will have a plastic attachment on it, which joins together to click into the buckle.
To set the correct harness height, the straps must come over the child's shoulders and down towards the buckle. The harness must be level with the child's shoulders, although this isn't always possible. If you can't get the straps level with the child's shoulders (due to them being between height limits, for example) then the following is how you can figure out the best height:
Rear facing: Level with, or just below the shoulders.
Front facing: Level with, or just above the shoulders.
You should be able to get two fingers flat between your child’s chest and the harness at collar bone level.
The pads on the straps of a car seat normally need to be pulled down the straps so they sit on the child's chest. You will often find the pads are attached to fabric, which ensures they are pulled down to the correct height.
The pads on this seat need to be pulled down onto the child's chest.
Other harness pads are attached to the top of the child seat, and will sit over the child's shoulders.
The pads on this seat are attached to the top of the harness
Every car seat in the UK which has a 3 or a 5 point harness must have a buckle to click into. Both pieces of the harness must come together first, before clicking into the buckle. This is to ensure that both parts of the harness are always attached. The button of the buckle is stress tested to ensure it can withstand the thousands of clicks and un-clicks it will go through in its lifetime. The buckle is also pressure tested to ensure most little fingers can’t un-click it, but that it is also easy to undo in an emergency.
What children wear when they go in the car differs with each journey, for this reason it is useful to loosen the straps before you take your child out of the car seat – the next time you buckle your child in you can pull the straps tight to ensure the correct tension every journey to suit what your child is wearing.
Puffy winter snowsuits, coats and jackets can cause big problems with the car seat harness – they should never be worn under the harness. The harness is designed to fit close to the child’s body, and it is tested in this way. Puffy snowsuits, coats and jackets create a gap between the child and the harness. Even if the harness feels as though it is pulled tight, in a collision it may still not work properly.
Children should be wearing light, thin layers when in the car seat – a thin fleece at the most. Remember, children heat up 3-5 times faster than adults and they do not regulate their body temperature as well as adults. It is very easy for babies and children to overheat in the car; so don’t be tempted to pad them out – your vehicle will soon heat up leaving you with a very hot and sweaty little one for the rest of your journey!
Car seats become grubby very quickly and wiping over them with a damp cloth isn’t always enough and a full wash is required! It is very important that the harness is not washed, as this can break down the fibres within the harness and weaken it.
When cleaning the buckle, again wipe over it with a damp cloth and remove any food that is in or around the buckle and red button – hoovering the buckle helps ensure most of the crumbs and muck is removed.
Some car seats have easy to remove covers and you don’t have to remove the harness at all to get the cover off – however there are still lots of car seats where you do need to remove the harness to get the cover off!
When removing the covers, it is very easy for the harness to become twisted or incorrectly routed or fitted. When you are taking the cover off, as often as possible, re-thread and attach the harness back where it is supposed to go to help avoid it becoming incorrectly routed or twisted.
This is extremely frustrating to any parent or carer; and very scary the first time the little one finds out they can do it! Some children will learn to undo the harness buckle, even with the regulated amount of force it must take to pop the buckle open.
1) Check the harness height – if the harness is too low, children can ‘wedge’ their shoulders under the straps and use the force to push down on the buckle.
2) Check the harness tension.
If your child continues to undo their buckle and they don’t seem to be growing out of the habit, you may want to try them in another weight suitable child restraint to see if they are less able to unclick the buckle on that seat.
A child un-clicking the buckle is not a good reason to move them up to a high back booster and adult seat belt, especially if they are below the weight or height limits.
As with the above issue, this happens very often! First things to check:
1) Harness height – is the harness at the correct level?
2) Harness tension – is the harness too tight or loose on the child?
3) Clothing – is the clothing allowing a gap for the child to wriggle their arms through? Thick and puffy jackets often cause this!
4) There are some after market products you can try with your seat, that are designed to stop children wriggling out of the straps. If you choose to try an aftermarket product, ensure you read and fully understand the instructions of use before using it with your child's car seat. Also make sure that it is not interfering with the way the harness sits on the child.
Maxi Cosi recommends the '5 point plus' for use with their car seats.
If the child continues slipping the harness, try them in a different weight appropriate restraint to see if they will wriggle the straps off in that seat.
A child wriggling the straps off is not a good reason to move them up to a high back booster with adult belt – especially if they do not meet the weight or height limits.
If your child does not seem to be growing out of the habit of removing their straps or un-doing the buckle, an impact shield style seat may solve the issue. These seats do not use a 5 point harness, but a “shield” is placed across the child.
There are lots of blogs and advice guides out there giving fantastic hints and tips for parents travelling or flying with young children. Many of them mention to take a child car seat, but it isn’t always as easy and straightforward as that.
What do you need to know to help you decide if you are going to take a car seat with you for the plane? That is what we are going to explore in this 'Flying with young children' blog.
For a long time while in planes young children have travelled on their parents lap and babies in bassinets. Yet more and more parents are concerned and want their child in a proper restraint. Using a car seat on the plane gives you a safe place to secure your baby should you hit turbulence.
Car seats also give little ones a properly secured place for take off and landing - the most dangerous parts of the flight. They can also protect the child in an emergency landing, as this story shows:
Some airlines will allow you to take a seat on board without having booked the child their own seat - yet this is not guaranteed to keep the family together and there may not be any spare seats left when it comes to boarding. The airline may also refuse even if there is space. It is advisable to start off with paying for the plane seat for the child.
There are some UK child seats that are TUV approved for use on aircraft. Having a TUV approved seat does not guarantee that you will be allowed to use it - the decision resides with the airline. It also does not mean that you can’t use a different seat that is not TUV approved. If the seat is not TUV approved you must remember that airplanes only have lap belts and the child restraint must be certified to be fitted with a lap belt.
When you confirm with the airline that you can take your own child seat on the plane, also confirm with them if the make and model of your seat is allowed, and what child seats they accept, you need to ensure this whether your seat is approved or not. You don’t want to get to check-in to be told that you cannot take your seat on board. If you can, get confirmation from the airline that you can use the child seat in writing and take this with you to show the airline staff if needed. If the child seat that your child normally uses is not approved or allowed then you will need to buy a new one.
It is also worth checking to see if your airline supplies child seats. Virgin Atlantic states that it can supply child restraints on international flights, so long as they are pre-booked.
All child car seats within the European Union (EU) are tested to ECE R44.04 or R129 i-Size. Child seats carrying the ECE approval R44.03, R44.04 or R129 (i-Size) may be used within the European Union.
If you wish to use your child car seat when you reach your destination, it is worth noting that an EU approved child restraint cannot normally be used in countries outside of the EU. This is because different countries have different laws and testing that European Union seats may not meet. The same is true for any seat outside of the EU that is brought over to Europe.
As an example, a parent flying to the USA may be allowed to use their child restraint on the aircraft, but once they land, their seat cannot then be used in a car or taxi.
If you are from the UK and flying to a destination within the EU, then you can use your UK car seat when you are on holiday.
If you are unsure check with your holiday provider, the local road safety department or the British embassy in that country.
If you hire a car when you get to your destination many hire companies will also hire out child car seats at an additional cost. If you decide to do this ensure that you are completely happy with the child car seat’s quality and that you have fitted it correctly.
If you are not happy with the seat you can also choose to purchase one whilst on holiday. This could potentially work out cost effective if you were using the hire car for the whole duration of the holiday.
Even if you are not hiring a car, some countries require children to travel in a suitable child restraint in taxis. Some taxi firms will have specific vehicles with restraints fitted, however it is wise to check with the taxi firm or transport company you will be using to reach your hotel.
Travelling by coach transfer also needs to be confirmed, firstly to see if you need a child restraint, and also if your child restraint can be used, should you want to use it - even if you don’t have to.
As always, when you are fitting the car seat in the car or on the coach, make sure that it is a compatible fit and correctly fitted.
As of the 21st May 2014, below are the TUV airline approved child car seats.
This list may be updated and if you are in any doubt, phone the manufacturer of your child car seat.
Group 1 car seats accommodate little ones that weigh between 9kg and 18kg. After reading the previous Good Egg blog on group 0+ child car seats, you may have noticed that there is a crossover in the weight recommendations. A rear facing group 0+ child seat will last until 13kg, yet a group 1 car seat says it is suitable from 9kg! So are they just as safe as each other?
The simple answer is No. Forward facing your baby at 9kg is not as safe as keeping them rear facing to 13kg.
If your child is moving up to a group 0+1 combination seat in rear facing mode, or an extended rear facing group 1 seat at 9kg, this isn’t such an issue as they still have the protection of being rear facing.
The infant seat should be used right up to the 13kg mark. The only time a child should move to the next stage seat before this weight is reached, is if they have outgrown the infant carrier by height – so when the top of their head is level with the top of the car seat.
If they are moving up to a group 1 car seat and have outgrown their infant carrier by height they must weigh at least 9kg and be able to sit unaided for 30 minutes.
Many people assume that a group 1 car seat has to be forward facing, however there are rear facing group 1 car seats available, which offer better protection for the neck, head and spine in a collision. Many rear facing group 1 car seats encompass more than one group, covering either group 0+1 or group 1,2. Extended rear facing car seats will be covered in greater detail in a separate post, due to be released soon.
Once you decide which direction you are going to face your child, you need to choose your seat - but there are a few things to do first! At Good Egg Safety, we recommend you visit a retailer that can offer good advice from trained staff members. Some retailers offer appointments, so call in advance to make sure there will be someone available to help you.
1. Your child's weight
2. Your child's height (where their head is in relation to the top of their current seat - do they have space above their head? Are their eyes level with the top of the seat?) Preferably, have your little one with you so you can try them in seats.
3. Your car details, and details of any other cars the seat will be fitted into (including friends, childminders, grandparents) you will need to know the make, model and year of each car.
4. Do the vehicles that the seat will be fitted into all have ISOFIX?
There are big price differences between car seats, so what should you look out for to make sure you spend your money wisely?
If you have ISOFIX points in your car, you will be able to consider ISOFIX car seats. When ISOFIX and seat belt fitted restraints have been tested, with both seats fitted correctly, there is little reported difference in performance and protection offered - both ISOFIX and seat belt fitted restraints perform well.
ISOFIX is considered safer as it dramatically reduces the risk of child car seats being fitted incorrectly. Many come with indicators to show when the seat is clicked in properly for complete peace of mind.
If you are choosing a seat belt fitted car seat, consider seats that have a seat belt tension system and ones that are easy to fit. Some car seats are more difficult to fit than others, so don't be afraid to ask to have a go at fitting each seat if you have a few options! It is important that you are fully confident fitting your child's car seat. Opting for one that is easy to fit will reduce the possibility of it being incorrectly fitted.
A seat belt tension system on a seat belt fitted restraint does exactly what it says - it tensions the seat belt once the seat is fitted. This extra tension is normally applied by pushing a lever or by operating a 'ratchet' to tighten the seat belt up. This helps you get a good, tight fit on your car seat and reduces the risk of the seat belt being too slack - which is why a seat belt tension child restraint is safer than one without.
Lots of people assume that child car seats provide side impact protection as standard, but it is currently not a legal requirement on the R44.04 crash test and there are seats on the market which do not offer any side impact protection.
So how do you ensure your car seat does offer side impact protection?
1. Look for child seats that have a full, integrated head rest. This will help support your child's head and will give another layer of protection in a side impact.
2. Look at child seats that have deep, padded side wings - this is a good indicator that they may offer side impact protection.
3. Check what crash test awards a seat has received. A seat that has been awarded an ADAC or Stiftung Warentest score has been side impact tested. These additional tests not only test how the seat performs in a side impact, but it also tests at a higher frontal impact force. The ADAC and Stiftung Warentest awards give a car seat a score, the lower the score the better the seat performed. The ratings run from poor to very good.
4. New i-Size regulations and crash testing have now introduced a side impact test, so if you purchase an i-Size car seat, you can be reassured that it has passed the test and offers protection from side impacts.
Child seats come with the 5 point harness which restrains the child, and the harness will have the ability to increase in height as your child grows. There are two ways this can be done on a child seat. Either by unhooking the straps at the back of the seat and re-threading them, or by pulling the head rest up which will increase the harness height at the same time.
Choosing a seat with a harness that you can increase simply by pulling the headrest up removes the need to unhook and re-thread the harness. This is a safety feature as it reduces the risk that the harness will become twisted, re-threaded at the incorrect height, or damaged.
Child seats with a re-thread harness typically only have 3 height options, whereas a harness that adjusts with the headrest normally offers 6 or 7 height options - this will reduce the likelihood that you will end up with the straps at the incorrect height whilst you are waiting for your child to grow into the next slots.
This is also a useful feature for people who will use the seat for a number of children.
Most group 1 car seats come with the option to recline the seat. This offers a more comfortable position for the child to sleep. It does not make the child safer if they're reclined and there is not normally an age or weight limit on using the recline function.
When deciding which car seat to buy, ensure the recline function is easy to operate and that it does not alter the seat belt routing. On some child seats, you must preset the recline when you fit the seat, as operating it once the seat is fitted causes the seat belt to loosen off.
Ensure the seat you are buying has the option to wash the seat covers, but that the seat covers are easy to remove from the seat. If you have to undo half of the car seat and pull out all the harness to get the covers off, it is possible that the seat will be put back together incorrectly. Choosing a seat that lets you leave the harness in place when you remove the covers reduces the risk of the harness becoming twisted or incorrectly fitted.
For convenience, check that the covers are machine washable at 30 degrees.
Many parents understand the safety risks involved with buying and using second hand car seats and avoid doing so. You do not know the history of the seat, you may not have the instructions, vital parts may be missing from the seat (unnoticed by seller or buyer), and it may have been involved in a collision.
For reusing child car seats, manufacturers recommend that car seats more than 5 years old are no longer used. This is due to the seat potentially not being able to provide the same level of protection that a new child seat is able to.
Over the 5 years that you have had that car seat, car seat safety will have improved dramatically, the primary reason to upgrade your seat is due to new technologies and developments coming forward that make new car seats even safer.
Here is a comparison of a 10 year old car seat, and a new car seat. The old seat is a Britax Trio suitable from 9kg - 25kg (below left), and the new seat is a Joie Stages suitable from 0 - 25kg (below right).
The first image below shows the ECE approval for the above Britax restraint, which shows it is approved to R44.03. The second image below with the orange approval label below is off of the new Joie Stages seat, showing it is approved to the latest R44 approval - R44.04.
Both of these seats have an easy adjust head rest and harness, but the head support and side wings on the new seat are noticeably deeper. The new seat can offer safety and protection to children, that the old seat would not do as well due to the shallow side wings.
The new seat offers 3 recline positions, unlike the old seat.
The new seat offers rear facing up to 18kg, unlike the Britax which is forward facing only.
The plastics of a seat do begin to degrade, but the process takes a long time. Seats that are constantly left in the car and exposed to extreme changes in temperature, or seats stored near a radiator or somewhere that has fluctuating temperature (like the attic) will begin degrading more quickly, as will seats that are used in very hot or very cold countries. Plastic does degrade over time, but not so rapidly that the seat will break apart in a collision once it turns 5 years old.
The recommendation to upgrade seats after 5 years is just that, a recommendation. It doesn't mean that seats will become dangerous after 5 years. The primary reason the recommendation is 5 years use for a child restraint is due to the advances in technology, resulting in safer seats being manufactured - the new i-Size regulation is a good example of this. It does not mean that a group 123 seat is unsafe after 5 years, but it may not perform to the same standard as a new restraint.
The best way to store your child car seat is to first clean it, wash the covers (do not wash the harness), hoover all crumbs out and make sure the buckle is free of food. When the clean covers have been replaced, wrap the seat in a blanket, and then a big sheet of plastic or bubble wrap. Then store your seat in a cupboard. Avoid storing it near radiators, in a garage, attic or outhouse - these all experience large differences in temperature.
A car seat lasts until the child reaches the weight, or the height limit for the seat. As children are all unique, the ages specified on seats should only ever be used as a guideline. The weight and height of a child is the deciding factor.
Most infant car seats available on the market are Group 0+, however, there are still a small number available that are only certified to Group 0. You can find out what group your seat is by locating the R44 sticker on your seat. The sticker will tell you the weight limit for your seat.
If your label shows a weight range of:
If your child’s feet hang over the end of the seat, it is not an indicator to move them up a stage, as is commonly believed. Childrens' feet and legs are very unlikely become injured in a collision when they are rear facing, and they will not be uncomfortable. Children are much more flexible than adults and will happily sit with their knees bent or their legs crossed.
A common misconception is that babies are ‘squashed’ into their car seat. Newborn babies look swamped by the seat when they are very tiny, so naturally 9 months down the line they look huge in it! However, so long as a baby is within the weight and height limits of the infant seat, they are very safe.
A car seat is a little like a motorbike helmet, if your motorbike helmet was loose it would not work as well as one that was a snug fit. Car seats are the same, if a baby is snug in their car seat, they have maximum protection. It is partly for this reason that infant seats come with newborn inserts to help support them.
Newborn cushions are normally removed at about 5-6 months of age. To learn more about newborn cushions, check out last week's post.
Your infant seat will adjust with your child as they grow. The newborn cushion and head hugger usually will be removed over the course of the first 6 months (remember once removed the harness will need adjusting too). The harness will either have an adjuster or it will require you to re-thread the harness to a new height setting. The straps must be level with or just below your baby’s shoulders.
The length of the car seat shell will play a big factor in how long the seat lasts. Take a look at these images, both of the seats have a 0-13kg weight limit.
A seat with a taller seat shell will last a baby longer than a seat with a shorter seat shell. However, fitting a seat with a tall seat shell can sometimes mean the seat belt is not long enough to go around the seat.
Choosing to use a base that stays in the car for your infant seat (if you have the option) has the benefit of reducing the risk of incorrect fitment, especially if it’s ISOFIX. It also has the secondary benefit of either eliminating the need to use the adult belt, or it routes the adult belt away from the child. If the seat is left in the car, it makes getting the little one in and out that bit easier.
Travel systems are very convenient, but it’s very easy for babies to end up spending far too long in their seat. Babies should only spend a maximum of 90 minutes in their seat at a time.
Another trigger for moving up to the next stage is when the seat gets too heavy to carry or the seat isn’t put on the pram so often anymore. It is worth remembering that the infant seat is a car seat first and foremost, that will keep your baby safe. It is a pram convenience second. Once the seat is too heavy to lift with the baby in, leave it fitted in the car and lift the baby in and out of the seat.
Lots of people are not very keen on this idea, as it can be fiddly putting the little one back in the seat. However, if you are choosing to turn forward facing next, this slight inconvenience will allow you to keep your baby in a safer seat until it is outgrown, as babies are much safer travelling rear facing.
Your baby has outgrown their infant seat when they hit the maximum weight limit for their seat, or when the top of their head is level with the top of the seat – whichever comes first. Children are safest staying in the lower stage seat until it is outgrown. This is particularly important if you choose to forward face for the next stage seat.
Almost all group 0+ infant car seats come with a newborn insert. These are either a 'head hugger' and cushion (which is under the baby to lift them up) or just the head hugger on its own.
The purpose of the car seat newborn insert is to provide additional support and padding to a newborn baby when they are using the seat. The inserts also help ensure that babies fit in the harness, so they can be properly strapped in. The head hugger helps support the baby’s head, and if your seat comes with a cushion, it will lift the baby up to allow them to lie in a more natural position and will help prevent them becoming ‘scrunched over’.
As time goes on and your baby grows, the newborn cushion and head hugger can be removed; this is generally between 5-6 months of age.
When you remove the cushion from under the baby, it will ‘drop’ them down in the seat, giving them more room to grow. When you remove the insert, make sure that the harness straps are still level with or just below your baby’s shoulders; you may need to re-adjust the straps to fit your baby properly.
When it comes to floor storage and child car seats, many owners of people carriers who have gone car seat shopping will have come across “this seat isn’t compatible with your car; you can’t rest the leg on the lid of the floor storage box”. It is an issue that plagues owners of vehicles with floor storage compartments, as many ISOFIX, and a few seat belt fitted restraints, have a support leg that must be used.
But why, exactly, is the support leg and the lid of the floor storage compartment not compatible?
The concern is that if a child restraint has a support leg that rests on the lid of the storage box, it could go through the lid from the force of a collision.
If the support leg did go through the box, it would compromise the stability of the seat, and it would not work how it is supposed to in a collision, potentially not protecting your child adequately.
If you have read this blog post and realised that your child’s car seat has a support leg resting on the lid of the storage box, don’t make another trip out in the car until you have confirmed if the seat is a safe fit or not.
If you have these floor boxes and you are looking for a child seat to fit your car, be aware that there may be some seats that will not be compatible with your vehicle.
If you have three full size vehicle seats with 3 x 3 point seat belts, you could fit the seat with the support leg in the middle seating position to avoid the problem, as the leg will miss both of the boxes.
Child car seats that have a support leg are classed as a “semi-universal” restraint. As the seat is a semi universal restraint it must have a vehicle fitting list. If your car is listed, you may use the seat with support leg in your car, if your vehicle is not listed; do not use the child seat. Some manufacturers will advise you to have the fitment checked by a professional, as fitment may differ between each car – even if they’re the same model!
You can find the fitting lists on the manufactures website, or it will come with the instruction booklet provided with the child seat.
Here at Good Egg, we would only recommend you fill the floor storage box with an official filler from your vehicle manufacturer, rather than use a DIY filler. Not all manufacturers have a filler available, and a DIY filler has not been tested, so it has no guarantee of doing the job you need it to.
If the leg of your seat fits down into the bottom of the box securely, it is often said to be a safe fitment. However, you do need to double check with your child seat manufacturer if they recommend this for their seat.
As with the above situation, this is often said to be safe, but to be sure contact your child seat manufacturer for their advice.
How many parents have experienced not being able to park in a parent and child parking bay due to all the spaces being taken?
It infuriates many parents when they have been unable to park in the spaces, particularly when they have been taken up by people with no children in the car.
The spaces are provided to allow parents to open the car door wide, so they can lift their children in and out of the car seat without risking damage to other vehicles. They are also positioned close to the trolley bays so parents can collect and replace trolleys quickly. Please note, a child should never be left in the car unattended.
Parent and child parking bays are not regulated, and it is not illegal to park in them without children, they are a courtesy provided by the store.
As the bays are normally on private land, enforcement of misuse of the bays resides with the car park operator or store. The store may issue a fine to those using the bays that do not have children with them.
There are no clear guidelines as to the cut off age for parent and child parking, however the child must be using a child car or booster seat. Some stores display a sign, detailing the age of children and that they must use a child car or booster seat.
Many car parking arguments surround the misuse of parent and child parking bays, and the arguments can escalate very quickly. We do not recommend confronting the offending party.
If you have noticed someone who is parked in the bay with no children in the car, or no child seats, take down their number plate and notify the store. They will then normally put out a tannoy announcement and request the customer moves their vehicle, if the space has been misused.
What child age do you think should be the cut off for using parent and child bays?
Do you mind if a 'Mum-to-be' uses them?
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