Child car seats: How to fit a child car seat Rear-facing child car seats
In theory, facing rearward should be safer in a front-on crash than facing forward. However, it isn’t as simple as that. There are several other factors that affect the protection offered by a child car seat, and our unique Which? tests examine these.
As well as our front and side impact tests - the crash loads taken from Euro NCAP tests - we also carry out the most comprehensive ease-of-use testing there is. Ease of installation is particularly important, as we know from our own investigations that the majority of seats aren't installed correctly.
Why choose a Group 1 rear-facing child car seat?
The theory behind all rear-facing child car seats is based on two principles:
- Spreading deceleration loads across the shell of the seat is preferable to having them concentrated on an adult seat belt or child seat harness.
- The child's head movement is controlled more effectively, reducing the chance of neck and spine injuries.
Based on this, it is fairly clear that travelling rear-facing should offer the best protection in front crashes, and is therefore preferable up to the highest age possible.
However, Which? child car seat experts have found this isn't automatically the case. The protection offered by any seat can be compromised if it is installed incorrectly, and many of the rear-facing Group 1 seats (for children 9-18kg - about one to four years old) we’ve tested over the years have been so difficult to install that there was a high risk of this.
Improving with time
The first tests we carried out on Scandinavian rear-facing Group 1 child car seats revealed that while they performed satisfactorily, they were without exception so difficult to install properly that we couldn't recommend them.
At that time, no Group 1 rear-facing seats were available in the UK - meaning parents had to buy them via special import and so couldn’t try them out before buying. We recommend you try any seat in your car, with your child, before buying, as it allows you to check you are happy with the way it fits.
But things are improving. A number of rear-facing Group 1 seats have been launched in the UK, and we have tested several, including seats from Britax, Besafe, Recaro and Volvo. Some are available from conventional retailers, some from car dealers and others still only available as special imports. The results are mixed.
Some seats performed very well in crashes, but were so difficult to install that our experts thought the risk of getting it wrong was too high. Others could be used in a range of modes, including forward-facing, where crash protection was not as good as the best forward-facing seats in front- and side-crashes. And some were straightforward to install and offered good protection in front- and side-crashes.
Of the UK-available rear-facing Group 1 child seats we've tested so far, all were relatively bulky compared with good forward-facing models, so you might struggle for space in a conventional medium family hatch. Results in our assessments cover the full spectrum from Best Buy through to seats poor enough to earn our Don't Buy recommendation.
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