The best rear-facing baby car seats for 2020
By Alison Potter
Find out everything you need to know about extended rear-facing car seats, including if they are safer, and the height and weight limit for a rear-facing toddler car seat
In a front-on collision, extended rear-facing car seats offer a higher level of protection to a child’s delicate head, neck and spine, compared to a forward-facing toddler seat.
Although you can never guarantee what type of collision you would be in, we would recommend opting for an extended rear-facing car seat for as long as possible.
Especially as the most dangerous car accidents are typically frontal collisions, and they’re also one of the most common.
In this article, find out which are the best in our tough crash tests, plus everything you need to know about buying and using an extended rear-facing car seat:
- The best rear-facing baby and toddler car seats for 2020
- Extended rear-facing car seats explained
- What’s the height and weight limit for extended rear-facing car seats?
- Is there enough legroom in rear-facing car seats?
- Why you should get your extended rear-facing car seat fitted
- Extended rear-facing swivel car seats
- Using extended rear-facing car seats in more than one car
These Best Buy rear-facing car seats are straightforward to install, comfortable for your little one, and were impressive in our tough front-on and side-collision crash tests.
Below our top five you’ll find three extended rear-facing car seats that we wouldn’t recommend.
Top-scoring extended rear-facing child car seats
This extended rear-facing car seat was reviewed a few years ago, but it's still up there among those worth considering. It can be used from 61cm to 105cm, which is from around one to four years old. It's a Best Buy and one of our high-achieving car seats, getting an excellent five-star overall rating for safety based on our stringent crash tests. It features extra side-impact protection and it's fairly easy to install and use.
As with its predecessor, this i-Size car seat is a Best Buy. It’s extended rear-facing and gets five stars for overall safety, indicating a very low injury risk in a front or side collision. The seat is spacious and well-padded, and the adjustable Isofix connectors give your child more legroom and they enable the seat to have a secure and stable fit in the car.
This i-Size car seat gets a good four stars for overall safety. It has a 360-degree rotating base so it can be used rear or forward-facing, and the swivel feature also makes it easier to put your child in and remove them from the seat. The side-impact panels automatically pop up when the harness is tightened so you never drive off without them activated.
This i-Size car seat is Best Buy. It offers excellent crash protection when rearward-facing, getting an excellent five stars, and it can be used rear-facing until your child reaches four years of age. It features a handy 360-degree swivel design, which helps to make it easier to get your child in and out, and the seat is well-padded and easy to recline.
This i-Size-approved extended rear-facing child car seat is designed for use with babies and children from 40cm to 105cm (birth to around four years old). And, it comes with a newborn inlay you can use to ensure a snug fit in the seat. It's installed using Isofix connectors and it gets a good four-star overall rating for safety.
The lowest-scoring extended rear-facing car seats
These extended rear-facing car seats aren’t quite as impressive as they should be, compared with others we've tested.
Some score poorly due to crash test results. Others score poorly because they're so hard to install correctly that there’s a real risk you’ll do it wrongly, meaning the car seat won't provide protection in a crash in the way that it's supposed to.
Lowest-scoring extended rear-facing child car seats
This multi-stage car seat is approved for use from birth up to 36kg, which is around 12 years old when your child will no longer need to use a car seat. Although it’s a well-padded seat and comfortable seat, a combination of poor frontal crash-test results and complicated installation means we've had to limit the score to 42%. This means it falls below our Don't Buy threshold.
This child car seat has passed the regulatory tests required by ECE R44/04 to be sold as suitable for children from 9-25kg. In our own more rigorous tests it achieved a good overall safety rating, but the seat is so difficult to install that there's a danger of installing it incorrectly, which, along with other drawbacks, means that its score is low enough to be made it a Don't Buy.
This child car seat and Isofix base has passed the regulatory tests required by ECE R129 to be sold as suitable for children from 40cm to 105cm. However, in our tests, which are conducted at higher speeds and forces than the standard requires, we found weaknesses in frontal-impact safety. The car seat shell broke during frontal-impact crash tests when used forward-facing. Due to this, it’s a Don’t Buy and the overall score is automatically downgraded to 20%.
When a car crashes in a frontal collision, all the occupants continue to move forwards until their seatbelt or harness stops them, holding them in place so they don't hit the inside of the car.
However, this force can cause a lot of strain on the areas of the body held back by the seatbelts, and also on the head and limbs, which are flung forward after impact.
Babies’ bodies are different from adults, as they’re not fully developed. They can suffer severe injuries to their neck, spine and internal organs from the force of a crash, especially if they’re not strapped in properly or are in the wrong car seat.
In a front crash in a forward-facing seat, a baby's neck is subjected to a force equivalent to 300-320kg – that's about 47 stone of weight on a baby's neck.
But in a front crash in a rear-facing seat, the baby’s head is cocooned by the padding and the shell of their car seat, which supports the head and back, limiting the movement of the head on the neck, and reducing the force on the neck.
However not all parents know this. When we surveyed 1,800 parents in March 2020, 52% thought it was safest for children to travel facing forwards from nine months old.
Rear-facing baby car seats offer four types of protection:
- They make sure that a baby’s head doesn't move around, reducing the chance of neck and spine injuries.
- They stop the head banging into other surfaces, such as the car door or window.
- They surround the baby with a protective shell to prevent them from being hit by bits of car, glass or other debris.
- They distribute the pressure from the child restraint as widely as possible over the strongest parts of the body. In an infant, the strongest part of the body is the back.
Compare the scores for all the child car seats we've tested in our child car seat reviews.
Extended rear-facing car seats are typically suitable from six months or a year old, and they are the car seat you move to after your baby has outgrown their first car seat.
They enable your little one to remain rearward facing until they reach 18kg, or until they are 105cm tall for i-Size car seats, both of which are around four years old.
These kinds of car seats are usually multiple group seats that combine more than one car seat group, such as a Group 0+ and Group 1.
We recommend keeping your baby rearward-facing for as long as possible.
Try to wait to move them to a forward-facing seat once they are at least 15 months old, reach the weight limit for the car seat, or when the crown of your child's head is above the top of the seat, which means they are too tall and their head won’t be as protected in a crash.
Find out more information as to when to move up a car seat group in our child car seat weight group guide.
Although a child’s legs may appear more vulnerable when they're facing the back of the car, the aim of a child car seat is to protect the vulnerable head, neck and internal organs, which are much harder to heal than broken leg bones.
Older children may look squashed in extended rear-facing car seats, but children are much more flexible than adults and can sit comfortably in cross-legged positions.
It might also seem like there’s limited space for their legs, but many rear-facing child car seats can be installed with varying leg space, so that they allow for a very compact installation but can give your child as much room as possible.
Make sure to visit the manufacturer website or refer to the instructions to ensure you’re positioning the car seat correctly to make the most of the space available.
If you’re worried about damaging your car’s rear seats, it’s possible to pick up protective covering to stop dirty shoes from messing the fabric.
If you do opt for an extended rear-facing car seat, we’d recommend that you have the seat fitted at a retailer that specialises in this type of seat.
We’d also advise you to read the instructions several times and watch installation videos online to be sure it’s installed correctly.
A car seat is only as good as the way it is fitted, and some rear-facing car seats in our tests are so complicated to install that there’s a real risk it could be installed incorrectly and not provide the best protection in a crash.
Go to our 10 essential car seat fitting checks to download our free checklist to help you fit your child’s car seat correctly.
Placing a child in a rear-facing car seat can be a struggle and it can put a lot of strain on your back.
But a number of manufacturers have introduced child car seats with a 360-degree rotation feature that can rotate to any position you choose, making it a whole lot easier to get your little one in and out of the car.
These swivel car seats allow for extended rear-facing, forward-facing and – cleverly – a stop in-between where you can turn the seat towards the door to help you put your child in the seat and buckle them up.
Most of them allow you to spin with just one hand and a simple button or lever motion.
Although they are more expensive, opting for a swivel child car seat will make it much easier for you to use the car seat day-to-day, and it also gives you the flexibility to choose when you turn your child forward-facing.
Go to our swivel child car seat reviews to see the rotating car seats that have been through our tough crash tests.
Depending on the type of car seat, it will be fitted with the vehicle’s seatbelt or into Isofix fitting points built into the car, if it is an Isofix or i-Size seat.
Alternatively, some rearward-facing car seats come with a separate base, and the base is fitted with the car's seatbelts or into its Isofix points and the child car seat clicks onto the base.
If you will be using your extended rear-facing car seat in more than one car, then it may be worth investing in multiple Isofix bases for your car seat, which stay installed in each car.
This makes it much quicker and easier to swap the car seat between cars as you simply need to pop it onto the base and it’s ready to be used.