Buying a child car seat is not trivial. Without a car seat, the little ones find themselves at the mercy of the slightest shock. This buying guide is intended to help you understand the main principles of seat classification and help you choose the right model for your child – and your car.
- The use of a car seat is compulsory up to 10 years old and for children less than or equal to 1.35 m.
- The seats can be classified into 4 categories that are, following the growth of the child: nacelles, shell seats, seats 2 e age and booster.
- The child should travel rearward facing for as long as possible.
- There are 2 methods for installing the seat in the car: seat belt and Isofix.
- It is essential to install the seat and the child correctly, at the risk of exposing the child to serious danger in the event of an accident.
- Currently, the regulation in force is the text UN R129 also called “i-Size”. It has completely replaced the R44 regulation since the end of 2020. However, the seats approved according to the R44 are still authorized for sale, a priori until 2023.
Whether they have been approved according to R44-04 or R129, the types of seats are the same and there are 4 main categories, which correspond to 3 periods of the child’s life.
- Carrycots intended for transporting newborns in a lying position.
- Shell seats for the transport of babies, from birth to the age of 2.5 years in general (some stop earlier).
- Seats 2 e age, for children whose age is between 10 months and 5 years approx.
- Booster seats, or seats for older children, from 3.5 years old and up to around 12 years old.
There are also evolutionary (or multi-age) seats which correspond to 2 or 3 of these types of seats and finally special seats such as folding or inflatable models, which we do not recommend.
Types of car seats according to the age of the child
The car seats in our test
- Group 0 and i-Size equivalent (carrycots and hulls up to approximately 15 months)
- Group 0+ and i-Size equivalent (shells for toddlers up to approx.2.5 years)
- Group 0 + / 1 and i-Size equivalent (scalable from birth to around 5 years old)
- Group 1 and i-Size equivalents (2 e age, small children 10 months to 5 years)
- Group 1/2/3 and i-Size equivalent (scalable from birth to around 5 years old)
- Group 2/3 and i-Size equivalent (scalable from 3.5 years to approximately 10 years)
- Swivel seats
It is a transportable bed which is installed on the back seat (perpendicular to the direction of travel) and occupies at least 2 seats. It offers the best transport position for a newborn baby, but it is very bulky. It also allows the child to be transported out of the car and possibly on a stroller frame. It can occasionally be used as a bed, unlike the shell seat. The carrycot is designed for children from birth up to 10 kg for R44 type seats (called group 0 seats), and from 40 to 70 cm for the only i-Size model tested to date (Bebe Comfort Jade ).
The use of a carrycot for the transport of the newborn is not essential because a seat-shell can be used directly. However, and if the family budget allows it, we recommend its use before that of the shell seat but we must ensure that the car is spacious enough and that there is enough room for other passengers. Read our exclusive guide on how to choose the best travel booster seat.
THE SHELL SEAT
It is a baby seat that can be used up to about 2 and a half years old. The shell seats are intended for children from birth up to 13 kg for those of type R44 (called seats of group 0+), and in general from 40/45 cm to 83/87 cm for those of type i-Size. They are also called “cozy” or even “Maxi-Cosi”, in reference to the hull of the same name released in the early 1980s, which was its forerunner in Europe. It is a plastic shell equipped with shock-absorbing cushions and a safety harness in which the child is installed in a half-lying, half-sitting position.
The shell seat is always used rearward facing and must be installed in the rear or possibly in place of the front passenger provided the front airbag is deactivated.
The shell seats also allow the child to be transported out of the car as in a basket, or on a stroller frame. Most models can be attached to a base that remains permanently in the car. It is enough to clip the seat on the base which can be done while the child is already installed.
The shell seats are generally very protective in frontal impact because they are installed back to the road, and in side impact because they are very enveloping. We can therefore opt without taking too much risk for a cheap model but perhaps losing convenience or comfort. The shell seat can be used as long as the child’s head does not protrude above the upper edge of the shell: it must remain within the protective volume. Finally, it should be noted that while the majority of shell seats allow the transport of children up to the age of 2 to 2.5 years (group 0+ for the R44 or up to 83/87 cm for the R129), some models are only planned up to about 15 months (group 0 for the R44 and up to 70/78 cm for the R129), as for the nacelles.
SECOND AGE CAR SEATS
These seats are intended for small children whose age is between 10 months and 5 years.
These seats are designed for children whose weight is between 9 and 18 kg for those of the R44 type (called group 1 seats), and from 61/76 to 105 cm for those of the i-Size type. The child is held there by a safety harness, or sometimes by an impact shield as illustrated above. This shield is retained by the seat belt or by a specific strap. Depending on the model, the seat 2 e age is set back or forward facing, or both.
Their use is the most critical because there is a risk of installing the child too early facing the road. At 10 months (9 kg, start of group 1), the neck vertebrae are indeed too fragile to support the weight of the head in the event of a frontal impact. We therefore recommend installing the child as long as possible rearward facing if the seat allows it, or to continue transporting the little one in his shell seat as long as his head does not exceed the protective volume. It is no coincidence that regulation R129 requires children to be rear-facing up to and including 15 months (around 10 kg). Thus, the 2 nd seats i-Size type age can all be used rearward facing, at least initially. Be careful, however, that the comfort of the child is respected, especially in the legs.
Unlike the seat shell, the seat 2 e age is not nomadic and remains permanently in the car, and can not be used to carry the child outside the vehicle. On the other hand, it is sometimes swiveling, which makes it possible to orient it in front of the door to facilitate the installation of the child, before being replaced face or back to the road, all this without having to disassemble it. Like all car seats, seat 2 e age must be installed on the rear seat (an exemption however will install the front seat if there is no rear seat or if they are already occupied by child restraint systems).
THE BOOSTER SEATS
Seats for older children, from 3 and a half to around 12 years old. Booster seats are intended for children whose weight is between 15 and 36 kg for those of type R44 (group 2/3), and generally between 95 and 150 cm for those of type i-Size. Note that in R44, these seats cover 2 groups: 2 and 3.
Booster seats approved according to R44 can be with or without backrest, but we recommend models with backrest, at least until the child is 125 cm tall. Moreover, since 2017, backless booster seats can only be approved for group 3, therefore from 25 kg (and for children measuring over 125 cm). As for i-Size booster seats, they must have a backrest.
The booster seat is installed facing the road, on the rear seat (an exemption allows the seat to be installed in the front if there are no rear seats or if they are already occupied by restraint systems. for children). The child is restrained by the adult seat belt, which at the same time retains the seat.
EVOLVING CAR SEATS
They are also called “multi-age seats”, or “multi-groups” in the jargon of regulation R44-04. These seats have the characteristics of several of the types described above.
Seats 1 st and 2 e age
These are the child seats from birth to around 5 years old, i.e ..
- those of group 0 + / 1 for regulation R44-04;
- those for children from birth to 105 cm for the i-Size regulation (R129).
This type of seat is equipped with a safety harness to restrain the child. It must be installed rearward facing up to 9 kg (R44) or 15 months (R129) and generally allows the child to be installed facing the road beyond these thresholds.
Even if the regulations allow the child to be installed facing the road from 9 kg (for the R44) or 16 months (for the R129), we recommend that you keep the rearward facing position as long as possible.
Car seats for young and old
These are the seats that cover all the growth of the child except the short period of a few months after birth. They are intended for children from around 10 months old. That corresponds :
- in group 1/2/3 for regulation R44-04;
- children from around 76 cm for the i-Size regulation (R129).
This type of scalable seat is equipped with a harness or impact shield that is removed at a certain time, transforming the small child seat into a booster.
When they are approved according to the R44, the vast majority of these seats are installed only facing the road. It is therefore necessary to avoid using them when the child is very small even if it can theoretically be done, and to continue transporting the child in his shell seat as long as possible.
Other types of upgradeable car seats
More rarely encountered, we can cite the seats which cover the entire growth of the child (group 0 + / 1/2/3), and those of groups 0 + / 1/2 and 1/2 as well as their i- equivalent. Size.
We advise to favor the successive use of seats for babies, small and large rather than that of evolutionary seats, especially for groups 0 + / 1/2 and 0 + / 1/2/3 (and i-Size equivalents to come. which do not yet exist) because they cover a too extended period of growth and cannot adapt to all the corresponding stature, as our tests show. There are, however, a few models from the 1/2/3 group (and i-Size equivalents) that do their job well.
Finally, the few seats in Group 1/2 that we tested performed poorly, but this is due to little proven technologies that were used.
Swivel car seats
Installing the child in the seat with a harness (seat shell and 2 e age) is not an easy task. You can do it outside the car with the shell seats and carrycots because they are nomadic, which simplifies the task. But this is not the case for seats 2 e age which remain permanently in the car. To facilitate the operation, some of these models are swivel: they can be oriented towards the door. Our comparative test allows us to choose only among the swivel car seats.
CAR SEAT ATTACHMENT SYSTEMS
Securing the seat in the car can be done in two ways:
- with adult seat belt;
- with the Isofix system.
The choice of one or the other system depends on the budget and the compatibility with the car. An Isofix seat costs between € 50 and € 100 more than a belted seat. And it is not necessarily compatible with all cars equipped with Isofix anchor points: a point that must be checked when purchasing the seat. On the other hand, the Isofix system considerably reduces the risk of installing the seat incorrectly. The consequences of a bad installation can indeed be dramatic .
To overcome any compatibility problem, in particular with cars without Isofix fasteners, some Isofix seats can also be installed with the seat belt only. But they are becoming rarer and rarer, all new cars having obligatorily Isofix fasteners since the beginning of 2011.
Finally, note that the new i-Size R129 regulation promotes Isofix seats by requiring compatibility between i-Size seats and i-Size cars, without exception. Today, more than half of the car seats on the market are fitted with Isofix fasteners.
If possible, opt for Isofix but imperatively check compatibility with the car.
HOW TO CHOOSE A CAR SEAT
Child’s height and weight
Choose a type of seat that corresponds to the height and weight of your child, do not take a model that is a little too large to save money. It is advisable to make the child travel rearward facing for as long as possible as long as the comfort, especially in the legs, is not affected.
Avoid the opportunity!
Do not buy used equipment unless you are sure of its history. In fact, you do not know what condition the seat is in: the straps may be damaged, the structure may have suffered, in particular if the seat has suffered an accident, which is not necessarily visible.
Do not neglect the comfort of the child
Take comfort into account because the child will spend hours in his seat, without being able to move much. For example, it is important that he can see outside the vehicle. Try to estimate the quality of the protective foams by pressing on them. The seat adjustment possibilities are also important for comfort. For example, some may tilt back slightly, which prevents the child from slouching forward when falling asleep. Some booster seats are adjustable in height and width, others not. Our tests take into account the comfort and ergonomics of car seats.
The ideal is to be able to install the child and ask his opinion, this is particularly true for seats equipped with a shield instead of the harness. If possible, try to install the seat in your car before making the purchase. If this is hardly possible in a hypermarket, it can be done in a specialized store if the car is not parked too far away. If it is an Isofix seat, make sure it is compatible with your car.
Sieges auto low cost
We should not necessarily be wary of it, our tests show that low-cost seats like the models found in hypermarkets are often acceptable or even good in terms of protection. It is generally the convenience of use, the comfort and the finish which can be improved.
Buy your car seat on promotion?
Offered with a large reduction or in a pack with stroller or other, the seats on offer are often end of series. They are no less safe because their homologation is the same as that of the new models. However, with the implementation of the new R129 regulation, it is possible to see a proliferation of promotions on R44-04 approved seats in the near future, the new i-Size approved models being theoretically more protective. Ideally, if the car seat on offer has been tested by our experts, is to check its performance before starting.
Buy your car seat on the Internet?
You have to be very careful because some platforms market seats that have not been approved, even if they claim to the contrary. Some models can even be dangerous. So make sure that it is a known model, referenced, and preferably tested by us. Finally, check which accessories are delivered with: it happens, for example, that a shell seat presented with its base is delivered alone, without this equipment, the price of which can be the same as that of the shell if you buy it separately!
HOW MUCH DOES A CAR SEAT COST
The car seat represents a significant budget for the home but we can get away with less harm by making concessions, not on safety but on comfort or convenience of use, as our tests prove. There are thus inexpensive car seats for less than 100 € with a satisfactory level of protection. But a high-end model equipped with Isofix can easily exceed 500 €.
CAR SEAT BRANDS
The car seat market is vibrant and very competitive. He regularly sees brands appear and disappear, even among premium brands, such as Recaro at the end of 2018 which reappeared some time later under the name Recaro Kids. The French and European markets are dominated by car seats from the French group Nania which markets its own brands (Nania, Team Tex, Migo), but which also produces for many private labels such as Tex Baby, Auchan Baby, Auber, etc. Among the most represented premium brands, we can cite Bebe Confort / Maxi Cosi (identical seats), Britax-Romer, Cybex, Kiddy, Chicco, Jane …