Car child seatsStores' child car seat fitting could risk lives

06 April 2006

Child car seat fitting services at some shops are so bad they could be endangering children's lives, Which? warns today.

Spot checks at ten major chain stores - including branches of Halfords, John Lewis, Mama & Papas, Mothercare and Toys R Us - revealed inaccurate advice and poor fitting.

Staff at two stores let undercover Which? researchers posing as parents drive away with potentially dangerously fitted child seats.

One Halfords fitting was 'a dog's dinner'

A crash test expert described the fitting at one Halfords store as 'a dog's dinner'. The seat belt didn't go through any of the correct guide marks, meaning the child seat could fly forwards and hit the front seat in a crash, killing or injuring an infant.

A Toys R Us fitter positioned a seat belt buckle in such a way that it was likely to break open in a crash and the unrestrained seat and child could have been flung out of the car completely. Toys R Us and Halfords both expressed concern at our findings and said ongoing training would address problems.

One positive finding was that the standard of advice and fitting was very good at the two Mothercare stores visited.

'High-risk lottery'

Which Editor? Neil Fowler said: 'This is a high-risk lottery for parents. With the exception of Mothercare, at least one fitter from each of the chains we visited installed a seat wrongly or failed to test fully for movement.

'Which? criticised stores after similar findings two years ago, yet children's lives are still at risk from poor fitting and bad advice. At the time the stores promised action, but it appears there's been little improvement.'

Most seats fitted incorrectly

As many as 80 per cent of all child seats in the UK are fitted incorrectly by parents, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa).

So an expert fitting service by stores is crucial. New laws in September will make it compulsory to fit all children up to 135cm high (around age 11) in a suitable child seat or booster.

But we found that three out of the ten fitters didn't ask for any details about the child, while half didn't think it necessary for researchers to bring their other car in for a fitting.

These are our tips when you're buying and fitting a child car seat:

  • the weight and height of your child are more important factors than age when choosing a suitable seat
  • try the seat in your car before you buy. Even a Which? Best Buy child seat might not fit safely in your car
  • the seat belt should be as tight as possible, to minimise the seat's forward and sideways movement
  • the best fit for a child seat is likely to be with the back-seat headrest removed and safely stowed away
  • watch out for buckle crunch - where the seat belt buckle is bent around the seat frame. The fitting booklet will show you where the belt and buckle should lie
  • don't place anything beneath the child seat to protect the car's seats (a blanket, for example)
  • never use a rearward-facing child seat in front of an active airbag - it can cause severe injury
  • never buy child seats secondhand
  • make sure the seat you choose fits every car it will be used in.