What's in this guide?
- How did we pick these car seats?
- Best car seats overall: Our top 3
- Compare the best car seats
- Best car seats for newborns up to 1 year old
- Best car seat for up to 4 years old
- Best lie-flat car seat
- Best swivel car seat
- Best car seats for small cars
- Most versatile car seat
- Child car seat jargon explained
- How to choose the right car seat
- Frequently asked questions
How did we pick these car seats?
Our top picks are for newborn babies and children up to the age of 4. We based our research on expert car safety tests and parenting sources.
First we chose the highest-rated seats from ADAC, Europe’s biggest automobile organisation and the gold standard of child car seat testing. ADAC rates each seat individually for security, service, ergonomics, pollutants and processing and cleaning, then gives it an overall score, from Very Good to Inadequate. All the seats we chose either scored Very Good or Good. We also looked at the individual scores for their safety.
To make sure real-life reviews backed up the ADAC best car seat results, we then scoured top parenting and car safety websites including Mumsnet, MadeForMums.com, Mother & Baby, Driving.co.uk, ROSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents), Good Egg Car Safety and the In Car Safety Centre. We also checked user reviews on car seat retailer websites including John Lewis, Argos and Boots.
Best car seats overall: Our top 3
Maxi-Cosi Jade: Great for newborns and safe flat travel
Silver Cross Dream: Great for comfort and growing with your newborn
Maxi-Cosi Coral: Great for flexibility and transporting from car to inside
Compare the best car seats
We update our data regularly, but information can change between updates. Confirm details with the provider you're interested in before making a decision.
Best car seats for newborns up to 1 year old
Best car seat for up to 4 years old
You’ll need a 0+/1 group size seat for your toddler and it must be rear-facing until your child weighs 9kg (about 15 months). After that you can turn them from rear- to front-facing if you prefer. Other useful features to look out for are a swivel function, an adjustable headrest, adjustable reclining and leg positions and a five-point harness, so they can’t wrestle their way out of the seat.
Best lie-flat car seat
In most standard rear-facing car seats, a baby will sit at an angle of 40 to 45 degrees. Being in this position for a while could impact their breathing. That’s why you’re advised to take newborns out of their seat every half an hour and when they’re over 6 months old, at least every 2 hours. Lie-flat seats are a great alternative for longer journeys, as they don’t constrict the lungs and so babies can lie in them for longer. Some also attach to buggy frames, so you can move your child with minimal disturbance.
Best swivel car seat
Swivel car seats rotate so you can put your child in and take them out more easily. The best swivel car seat we found is the Joie i-Spin 360. Mumsnet also raved about it, saying it was the best seat it tested for all-round usability, comfort and feel. Argos shoppers also loved it, giving it an overall score of 4.9 out of 5.
Best car seats for small cars
If your car’s on the small side that doesn’t mean you have to compromise on your child’s safety or comfort. Our 2 best seats for small cars were loved by John Lewis shoppers and Mother & Baby readers for being lightweight, sturdy and very easy to install.
Most versatile car seat
Sometimes your child might be travelling in a different vehicle, such as a grandparent’s car or a hire car on holiday. Seats that offer both Isofix and seatbelt fastening options are great for this, and – as long as the seat has been properly installed in the first place – either is as safe as the other. Our top pick also scored an impressive Very Good in ADAC’s individual safety tests.
Child car seat jargon explained
As a new parent – or parent-to-be – you’re faced with learning a whole new lingo when buying a baby car seat. Our experts have translated it all here.
Car seat groups and ages
Child car seats are usually categorised into groups based on weight and height. There are 4 types of group seats for newborns:
- Group 0: From birth to 10kg/40–75cm (around 9–12 months)
- Group 0+: From birth to 13kg (around 18 months)
- Group 0+/1: From birth to 18kg/105cm (around 4–5 years)
- Group 0+/1/2/3: From birth to 36kg or 135cm tall (around 12 years)
i-Size is part of the R129 regulation for child car seats. Based on a child’s height, all i-Size car seats will fit into all i-Size-approved cars with Isofix. Babies in i-Size car seats must sit rear-facing until they are at least 15 months old.
All i-Size seats are based on a child’s height:
- i-Size baby: Birth to 85cm (around 15–18 months old)
- i-Size baby and toddler: Birth to 105cm (around 4 years old)
- i-Size toddler and child: 61–105cm (around 15 months to 12 years old)
- i-Size child: 100–135cm (around 4–12 years old)
Isofix is the international standard for child car seat fittings in cars. An alternative to fastening a car seat with a seatbelt, Isofix comes in the form of a built-in metal attachment that you simply connect to the corresponding car seat Isofix points. The seat is then braced by using either a support leg or a top tether.
Isofix has been around since 1997, so most – but not all – cars will have it. Before you buy a car seat, or car, make sure you check its manufacturer’s compatibility list.
How to choose the right car seat
The most important thing by far is to make sure the car seat is the right size for your baby. You also need to ensure it fits into your car and that it’s installed properly.
What’s the law?
All children need to be in a car seat up to the age of 12 years old or 135cm – whichever comes first. It’s also a legal requirement to rear-face babies in i-Size (R129) child seats until they are at least 15 months. You can turn non i-Size (i.e. seatbelt or R44) car seats forward a little earlier if you want – but child safety experts do not recommend it.
How do I know a car seat is the right size?
Child car seats are categorised into groups based on weight and height, rather than age. Some car seats are for newborns up to the age of 1, while some can be adapted to grow with the child as they grow – even from newborn up to the age of 12. You should only ever move your child into the next seat up once they have reached the maximum height or weight. Moving them on too quickly could lead to more severe injuries in a car crash.
How do I fit a car seat?
Every adult using the car seat must know how to use and fit it. The Isofix system means that i-Size car seats are usually much easier to fit correctly than seats requiring seatbelt fastening, so you should just be able to follow the fitting instructions.
For extra peace of mind, though, lots of retailers have trained car seat fitters who will show you how to fit the car seat properly and safely then watch you give it a go to make sure you’re doing it right.
Is Isofix safer than a seatbelt?
As long as the car seat is correctly installed, both the Isofix system and a seatbelt fastening are equally safe. But with Isofix there is less margin for fitting the seat incorrectly, which could be more reassuring for you.
Frequently asked questions
Is it safe to buy a second-hand car seat?
Hand-me-downs of baby clothes and other equipment are always really helpful, but you should never buy a second-hand child car seat unless it’s from your immediate family. Even then, it’s essential that you know of its history in case there is invisible damage to the structure (even if it has just been dropped).
Is a multi-group car seat worth it?
A multi-group car seat (Group 0+/1/2/3) will grow with your child, sometimes even from newborn up to the age of 12.
There are many multi-group car seats available, but none got a Good or Very Good score in ADAC’s tests and our research showed that there are much safer options out there, like all the ones in our own car seat round-up. This makes sense when you think about how much children change from birth and how they need very different protection at different stages.
How long should a newborn stay in a car seat?
Child safety experts advise that babies up to the age of about 6 months should be taken out of the car seat every 20 to 30 minutes to make sure the 40- to 45-degree angle at which they’re sitting doesn’t affect their breathing. You should then give them a break from the car seat every 2 hours until they’ve reached the age of 4.
Can I have a car seat in the front of a car?
While it might be nice to have your little one next to you, it’s much safer to have them in the back. If there is no choice but to have them in the front it is absolutely essential to make sure you have deactivated the passenger-seat airbag.
When can I put my child in a front-facing car seat?
It is a legal requirement to rear-face babies in R129 (i-Size) child seats until they are at least 15 months old. This is because it is much safer for them. Although you can turn them forward-facing in R44 seats a little earlier, child safety experts do not recommend it.
How do I clean my baby car seat?
Most car seats will have removable and washable covers that you can easily throw in the washing machine. Some will even come with 2 covers so you don’t have to wait for the other to dry.
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