The Good Egg Car Safety Blog

Revealed: the child car seat retailers 'putting babies lives at risk'

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89% of stores failed to ask key car seat questions

A joint undercover investigation by Which? and Good Egg Safety into car seat retailers has discovered most stores are failing to ask key safety questions of parents, potentially putting children's lives at risk.

We sent mystery shoppers into all the top car seat retailers. They were posing as parents upgrading a baby car seat. We visited 213 stores in total and, judged against a success rate of 100% for asking all the right questions, we saw an 89% failure rate. 

John Lewis and Mamas & Papas came bottom with what we judged to be a fail rate of 100%. This means that none of the store staff at their stores correctly asked all of the key questions (listed below) before recommending a car seat (though half of John Lewis branches that were visited did achieve a score on our scale of between 80 and 91%, only missing out on a few questions). 

Only three Mamas & Papas stores scored more than 50% on our scale. 

Halfords performed best of the retailers we visited, but still had an 83% fail rate overall against our scale. Halfords stores in Scotland scored best: 13 (38%) Halfords stores out of 34 in Scotland passed with 100%. In England/Wales, two out of 52 Halfords stores also got 100%.

Car seats - which retailers are best? - Find out who came out top and how other retailers, including independents fared.


Car seat safety questions that aren't getting asked

Our mystery shoppers visited retail stores in Scotland, England and Wales, across all the major car seat retailers: Halfords, Mothercare, Smyths, John Lewis, Mamas and Papas, plus a range of independent retailers.

Our mystery shoppers posed as customers wanting to upgrade a baby car seat for a nine-month-old, 9kg, baby. Among those questions they should have been asked were:

What's your baby's weight, height and age?

Many baby car seats are chosen by weight or height, and keeping a baby in a lower group seat is considered better than moving up a seat too soon. 95% of stores we visited asked the age of the child rather than the child's weight or height. Age is a starting point, but it's not the best way to select a child car seat. Asking the child's weight and height, too, will help to ensure the right car seat can be recommended, especially if the baby isn't with you.

What vehicle do you have?

Not all car seats fit in every car, so it's vital that staff ask this question to ensure they can select the correct seat. However, 18% of assistants we questioned didn't ask what car the seat would go in.

Will you be using the car seat in any other vehicles?

Assistants should also be asking about any other cars the seat will be used in, to ensure any car seats recommended will be compatible. 54% of those assistants we visited completely missed asking this question, but went on to recommend car seats anyway.

Does your car have ISOfix connectors?

Almost a third (29%) failed to ask if the car had ISOfix connectors. If a car does not have Isofix connectors, this will affect the seat recommendation.

Does your car have a top-tether point?

Not all cars have a top-tether point. Just over a third of visits (34%) didn't mention top tether when discussing ISOfix. This could affect which car seat should be recommended.

Does your car have underfloor storage?

A whopping 81% of those sales assistants we visited failed to ask if the car had underfloor storage, which could lead to the wrong car seat being recommended. In some cars, a child car seat using a support leg, can't be used in a seating position with underfloor storage. However the majority of assistants did not mention underfloor storage at all or give advice about why this could be an issue.

Other key safety issues that are getting ignored

Fit list check

Not all ISOfix seats are compatible with all ISOfix cars. If an ISOfix seat was recommended, the manufacturer fit list should have been checked by sales assistants to confirm compatibility. 10% didn't do this check.

Demonstrating the fitting of the car seat

A demonstration of how to fit the car seat is vital as it allows parents to see what they are buying and ensure it's the best car seat for them, their car and their baby, but nearly a quarter (23%) of assistants didn't offer this.

Not explaining benefits of rear facing for longer

Our mystery shoppers were posing as parents upgrading from a baby car seat to the next stage. But, despite this, 20% of sales assistants didn't explain the benefits of keeping babies rear facing for as long as possible. Turning a baby forward facing too soon is a potential safety risk.


Years of safety failings

What's most disappointing is that these safety failings aren't the first we've seen. Which? investigated car seat retailer fittings in 2011, 2012 and 2014. In each of those years we received similarly shocking results which were fed back to retailers.

In our 2014 investigation, nine out of 10 retailers failed our car seat fitting tests and promised to follow up and improve the situation.

Jan James from Good Egg Safety says: "These are extremely disappointing results. Following last year's independent checks commissioned by Good Egg Safety, we shared all of the information with retailers in our national joint industry group meeting. They were given the information in great detail and understood the methodology. Nothing has changed, nothing should be a surprise.

It is evident retailers have a genuine interest in improving their advice in-store by attending our meetings and we have always stated that we'd prefer parents to buy in a store than online. That is still the case. One of the main issues, however, is sales assistants are not completing a safety assessment form at the point of sale. In a busy store, with children, ear pieces and myriad distractions;without a consultation form, some of these critical questions are being missed. We see the results in our child car seat events where almost 70%, on average, are incorrectly fitted to either child or car."

Jan James, CEO Good Egg Safety

Lisa Galliers, Which? car seat expert says: "Years on we really shouldn't be seeing results like this.

Retailers continue to put babies lives at risk by failing to ensure car seat salespeople are asking the right questions and giving out the best advice and recommendations for car seats.

Retailers say they're offering training, and I've been on some of these training courses, but something is clearly still not filtering down to the shop floor. That needs to change. We've offered to meet with all retailers involved to help them improve.

We carried out our mystery shop in partnership with Good Egg Safety, an organisation that champions car seat safety and runs regular mystery shops and car seat checks carried out across the UK. Its last mystery shop, in 2017, recorded a nine out of 10 failure rate."

Lisa Galliers, Which?

What we want to see from retailers

We want to see all sales assistants selling child car seats using a 'Safety Assessment Form' and we want to see parents asking for this to be used. This lists all the key questions that need asking, so that no vital safety information is missed. Some retailers say they have these forms, but 86% of of the store staff we mystery shopped did not use one - the results could have been a lot different with this simple check in place.

Until this happens we'd encourage all parents to download our 'seat buying check list' and 'retailer safety assessment form' to take with them when buying a child car seat.

How we carried out our testing

In one of the largest car seat mystery shops, 213 retail stores were visited in total, divided across 10 different areas of the UK. These included all the major car seat retailers: Halfords (86), Mothercare (52), Smyths (36), John Lewis (12), Mamas and Papas (7), plus range of independent retailers (20). The number of visits to each retailer (indicated in brackets) were a snapshot based on the number of stores across the UK offering car seat fitting.

The salesperson at each retailer was marked according to how many of the applicable key safety questions were asked. The questions, developed with car seat industry experts and car seat manufacturers, were all rated equally. Retailers were marked with a 'fail' if a question wasn't asked, or there was no understanding of the topic demonstrated, or the store staff simply didn't explain why they hadn't asked that question.

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Child fatalities rise as some retailers are still not showing parents how to choose and fit child car seats safely.

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Good Egg Safety has been in the business of saving children's lives for seventeen years. Supported by the Arnold Clark Group, they lead the way nationally in car seat safety, and in monitoring the retailers who sell these seats to parents. In 2017 their latest car seat checks showed that, over the last eight years, there has been a 47% increase in the number of child car seats found to be incorrectly fitted, at the same time that child casualties are on the rise. 

Children's car seats can be quite expensive items and parents mainly trust advice from car seat retailers, on how to fit them properly. Alarmingly some retailers are continuing to fall short in providing this vital support.

More than 9 out of 10 retailers failed these tests in 2017 from a sample of 146 stores, even though this vital advice is freely available through Good Egg Safety, a community interest company which specialises in making our roads safer.

Parents are being encouraged to download Good Egg Safety's free new parents' checklist. This outlines all the questions parents need to have answered in order to be more confident that the seat will protect their child as intended.


"We have been relentlessly campaigning for greater in car child safety for over 17 years and it is of major concern that we are still finding major errors in child seat fitting in our free car seat clinics. The difference between a correctly fitted seat which is compatible with the cars it's used in and fits the child who will use it, could literally mean the difference between life and death for that child in the event of a collision. This reality was recently brought home last week when a child was saved from serious injury in a dreadful crash in the south west, by being secured in a correctly fitted seat."

Good Egg has founded a joint industry group of leading retailers, child seat manufacturers and road safety organisations and all these results have been openly shared with them to help drive change. More mystery shops are being undertaken by independent testers who have no commercial links to retailer training, to establish whether the increased retailer focus on training provision is working.

Jan added "it is clear that the retailers represented in our national industry group care deeply about this issue and costly training can seem like a luxury in the face of other business challenges.But it's not a luxury, it is essential to help save lives, and we are calling for the government to endorse the need for child car seat specialists to be fully accredited."

Good Egg Safety chief, Jan James

"IAM RoadSmart are acutely aware that parents need the best possible independent and informed advice when choosing a new seat for their most precious cargo. It is very disappointing that some of our most trusted retail brands have done so badly in these secret shoppers surveys. IAM RoadSmart are confident that these retailers can turn this around quickly through better training and more consistent service delivery. In the meantime our advice to parents is to do your research thoroughly and go into every shop armed with the Good Egg questions." quote here...

Neil Greig, Policy & Research Director, IAM

"It's important that parents get the right advice when it comes to choosing a child's car seat to ensure children are well protected, should a crash occur. Retailers have a duty of care over their customers and should always put safety and quality at the forefront of their minds when talking about and fitting child seats into a vehicle. We would encourage all parents to do their research, and make the most of tools like Good Egg Safety's free parents' checklist, to make an informed decision when buying a car seat for their children."

Mike Bristow, spokesperson for Brake, the road safety charity

"As long-term supporters of the Good Egg initiative, Arnold Clark is committed to promoting in-car child safety. This disturbing statistic shows that it's more vital than ever to educate people about the correct way to fit car seats and we are fully supportive of Good Egg's efforts to monitor retailers and spread the message that in-car child safety is of paramount importance"

Eddie Hawthorne, Chief Executive and Group Managing Director for the Arnold Clark Group
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Car seats under £100

 

Car seats can be expensive.  But what can you do when you haven’t got hundreds of pounds in the bank?  Or money saved up?  Or relatives who can contribute?  Or even a credit card or overdraft to help cover the cost?

One of our most common questions is "What's a good car seat that won't break my bank?" We put our Good Egg Safety experts on a mission to find 3 good choices for car seats in each child seat group that are under £100!

Now, before you jump for joy that you can get a very safe car seat for under £100 it is vitally important to note that a car seat is only safe when it is compatible with your child, compatible with your car, fitted and used correctly - get one of these wrong and it won’t matter if your baby is in a £400 car seat!  Incorrect use and fitment kills, so take the time to familiarise yourself with your vehicle, fitment issues and what is compatible - not every car seat fits every car!

Group 0+

 

Newborn - 13kg (approximately newborn to 12/15 months)  


Only outgrown at 13kg or when top of child's head is level with top of seat.

Maxi Cosi Cabriofix

 

maxicosi_cabriofix

 

£99.99


The ever popular Maxi Cosi Cabriofix is a seat belt fitted restraint, it comes with a head hugger, newborn cushion and sun canopy.  It also attaches to many travel systems.

Britax Baby Safe


britax baby safe

 

From £74.99


Also very popular is the Britax Baby Safe.  This seat is also seat belt fitted, comes with a newborn insert and head hugger, plus a sun canopy.  It attaches to some travel systems.

Graco Junior Baby


graco-junior-baby-car-seat

From £54.99

 

Graco Junior Baby Base

 

Seat belt fitted base available from £24.99

 

Base and Seat: Comes in at just under £80!


The Graco Junior Baby is a very popular group 0+ infant car seat.  It has a sun canopy, 3 point harness and newborn insert as standard and fits to Graco pushchairs.  This seat also has a seat belt fitted base available, which is a great option if you have short seat belts in your vehicle.

Group 0+1

 

Rear facing newborn - 13kg, then next stage seat 9-18kg. Approx Newborn - 4 years old.


Outgrown when 18kg or when the child’s eyes are level with the top of the seat.  Rear facing to the maximum rear facing limit is strongly encouraged and recommended for maximum safety.

Joie Tilt

 

Joie Tilt

 

From £80+


The Joie tilt offers rear facing from newborn through to 18kg (4 years old).  Rear facing for as long as possible is the safest way for your child to travel.  You can also use it as a forward facing group 1 seat between 9 - 18kg.

Britax First Class


Britax First Class

From £85


The Britax First Class is an extremely popular group 0+1 car seat.  It has a well padded newborn insert and a good recline position.
*SPECIAL FEATURE* When used forward facing, this seat has an alternative routing to avoid buckle crunch, if it is a problem in your car!

Mama’s and Papa’s Mercury 0-1 


M&P Mercury

From £60


The Mama’s and Papa’s Mercury 0-1 car seat has a great recline on it and soft newborn inserts.

Group 1

 

Forward facing 9-18kg (approx 9mo - 4 years, but a 9mo baby should still rear face for maximum safety - look at group 0+1)


Only outgrown at 18kg or when child's eyes are level with the top of the seat.

Maxi Cosi Priori XP


maxi-cosi-priori-xp-phantom

From £99.99


The Maxi Cosi Priori SPS is occasionally on sale cheaper

The extremely popular Maxi Cosi Priori XP seat can often be purchased for just under £100.  It has a clever seat belt tension system to ensure a tight fit, easy adjust harness and good recline positions, as well as side impact protection.

Britax Eclipse


Britax Eclipse

From £70


The also popular Britax Eclipse is a great choice for 3 door cars.  It is very well padded and has 3 recline positions.

Graco Coast


graco_coast

From £60


The Graco Coast is a comfortable, spacious and easy to fit group 1 child car seat.  It has 3 recline positions and deep side impact wings.

Group 1,2,3

 

Group 1 forward facing 9-18kg with harness, then converts to group 2,3 high back booster 15-36kg

 

Graco Nautilus

 

Graco Nautilus 2

 

From £99.99


The Graco Nautilus is a really solid group 1,2,3 seat that is very easy to fit in the car.  It has a steel reinforced frame and great storage pockets for your child to explore.  Forward anchorage point and buckle crunch are potential issues.

Britax Evolva


Britax Evolva 123

From £89.99


The Britax Evolva is a very popular group 1,2,3 seat.  It has a small recline option, easy adjust harness, good side impact protection and is well padded.  It can be a problem to fit in cars with short seat belts.  This seat is a good option for avoiding buckle crunch.

My Child Jet Stream


mychildjetstream

From £78.99


The My Child Jet Stream is a group 123 car seat which offers 5 'on the move' recline positions, which means you do not need to pre-set the recline on the seat, as has to be done with lots of group 123 car seats.

Group 2,3

 

Child and seat secured with adult seat belt 15kg - 12 yrs old or 1.35m

 

Maxi Cosi Rodi Air Protect


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£99.99


The Maxi Cosi Rodi features superior side impact protection due to the air protect cushions in the headrest.  The seat also has a recline option and a fully adjustable headrest.

Graco Assure


Graco Assure

From £53.99


The Graco Assure car seat feature side impact protection and clear seat belt guides to help you make sure your little one is securely strapped in.  It is well padded and easy to adjust.

Britax Adventure


britax adventure

From £29.99


The Britax Adventure is a great high back booster that has an adjustable headrest and is lightweight to move between cars.

Summing it up


All the above car seats have passed the minimum R44.04 crash test, some of the seats have also passed ADAC testing.

All of these child seats are available in retail stores.  To ensure you get the right seat for your car or child, always seek professional advice and seat fitment.  You can get child seats cheaper online, but there is then a very high risk of fitting the seat incorrectly.

When visiting a retailer take a note of the recommended seats for your budget and see if they have the seat online.  If it is cheaper, order the seat online to collect in store - you can then still have your child’s car seat professionally fitted.





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