Is your child's car seat as safe as you think?10 quick child car seat safety checks
27 January 2014
This Car Safety Week, Which? is urging parents to make simple checks on their child's car seat to ensure their child is fully protected.
You might have bought the safest car and safest child car seat, but if the seat isn't right for your child, or is fitted incorrectly, your child won't be as safe as they should be.
Follow the 10 steps below to make sure that your child's car seat will keep them protected, and visit our page on Best Buy child car seats to find the safest one for your child.
If you're not yet a Which? member, you can unlock all our reviews, from child car seats and pushchairs to ebook readers and vacuum cleaners, with a £1 trial subscription to Which?.
Is your child's car seat a Don't Buy?
We've been testing child car seats for almost 50 years, and have found a worrying number of Don't Buy child car seats that won't offer your child the right level of protection.
Our child car seat tests go further than the standard test - we put seats through realistic crash tests of around 40mph (instead of 30mph) and we include a side impact crash.
Watch our video below to learn more about our child car seat testing and see why you need to make sure your child isn't in one of our Don't Buy child car seats.
Not all child car seats fit in all cars, and the child car seat you choose needs to be right for your child's weight and height - watch our video guide to buying a child car seat to make sure you get the best.
Once you have the right seat, make these checks to ensure it's fitted correctly:
10 quick child car seat safety checks
1. Is the child car seat sitting squarely on the seat of the car?
Most of the base of the child car seat should be flat on the seat, sitting squarely and evenly. It shouldn't be riding up, which can sometimes happen if the seatbelt is too short.
2. If the seat is rearward facing, is the handlebar in the correct position?
For some rearward-facing child car seats, the handlebar may need to be in a certain position, usually upright or fully back, as it can offer added 360 degree protection if your vehicle turns over in a crash. Look at your child car seat's instruction manual to find out where yours should be.
3. Is the seatbelt secure and untwisted?
If your child car seat is secured with a seatbelt, this must be tight so the seat doesn't move. To test this, try pushing down on the seat where your baby's head would be if the seat is rearward facing, and pulling on the harness if it's forward facing - you shouldn't be able to move the seat. The seatbelt mustn't be twisted anywhere around the seat.
4. Is the seatbelt following the correct red or blue route guides?
Not having the seatbelt securely fitted into the route guides will weaken the seat's protection. Check it’s right – red guides for forward-facing seats, blue guides for rearward-facing seats
5. Is the seatbelt buckle in the right place?
The seatbelt buckle must not bend around the child car seat as this could cause it to fail in a crash. Only the seatbelt should be in contact with the frame of the child car seat.
6. For Isofix seats, do the visual indicators show it is fitted correctly?
Visual indicators should show you that the seat is correctly clipped into the car, for example sections may turn from red to green. Check the instructions to see what this should look like for your seat.
7. Is your Isofix drop down foot securely on the floor, and/or is the top tether firmly attached?
If you have an Isofix car seat, you will have either a drop-down foot or a top tether or both. With the foot, you must ensure it sits firmly on the floor and isn't lifting the seat up. It also mustn't sit on underfloor storage as this could make it less effective in a crash.
The top tether must go over the back of the seat and clip into the dedicated mounting point - be careful not to attach it to luggage hooks.
8. Have you removed any thick clothes?
Thick clothes like bulky winter jackets, could make the harness less effective.
9. Are the shoulder pads level with your child’s shoulders and is the harness not too tight or loose?
The shoulder pads of the harness should be as level with your child's shoulders as possible and the harness shouldn't be too tight or loose - make sure you can get two fingers between the child’s collar bone and the harness and there is no slackness.
10. Is the seatbelt across their shoulder and hips?
If you have an older child strapped into their car seat with the seatbelt, this should sit on their shoulder. It shouldn't cut into their neck or sit lower down on their arm. The lap part of the seatbelt should sit across their hips, not their tummy.
See our video on how to fit a child car seat for more information on what you should and shouldn't do when fitting you car seat. And take a look at our page on common installations problems and signs that your child car seat is wrong to find out more about common problems.
- See all our Best Buy child car seats
- Find out more about choosing the right child car seat
- Discover more about how Which? makes car seats safer