How to Choose, Install & Adjust Your Children’s Car Seats
Long gone are the days when babies were strapped into a car in their bassinets or sat in clunky-looking contraptions that hooked over the bench seat. Today, child safety is paramount when it comes to travelling in cars.
And it doesn’t stop with buying the right car seats or boosters, but rather, relies on the correct installation and routines. Like every make and model of car, every child restraint is different (or so it seems). This guide is designed to help you make the best choice for your child while establishing good habits and navigating the do’s and don’ts.
If your child car seat is over 10 years old they may be at risk each time you drive
Before you buy or hire a car seat, new or second hand, make sure that it can be fitted into your particular make of car and that it meets current Australian Standards.1 (If it does, it will feature a Standards Australia AS/NSW 1754 sticker.)
For those buying second-hand seats, check with the vendor that the restraint you are considering is less than 10 years old. If your child car seat is over 10 years old they may be at risk each time you drive 2
And despite the car seat being used prior, make sure it comes with its own instruction manual.
Another must is to assess the condition of the seat. If it is showing wear and tear in the straps, buckles or hard-case shell, safety will be compromised. For second-hand baby capsules, the restraint must be a harness, not the old-fashioned Velcro body band.
Types of Car Seats
To work out what is best for you, consider the needs of your growing child.
There are a number of different car seats available. To work out what is best for you, consider the needs of your growing child. The main styles available include baby capsules (birth to 6 months), rear- and forward-facing restraints (6 months to 4 years) and booster seats (4 years to 7 years).
Child restraints that are compliant with the Australian Standards set in 2010 will include shoulder height markers for appropriate use of the seat. This means that the seat no longer relies on the child’s weight, making it easier for parents to ensure the correct restraint is used.
Car seats are required by law for children up to age 7.
Baby Capsule: While hard to manoeuvre, this is a car seat classic that offers the ultimate protection for babies (newborns to 6 months). The two-piece design is rear-facing (until babies are old enough to have head control) and features a portable carrier that fits within a hard shell and anchors by an adjustable harness.
It is always good practice to have your capsule fitted in advance of the baby’s due date so it is in place and safely installed ready for the return journey home
Many people choose to hire baby capsules rather than buy their own. Generally the hire rates include the cost of professional installation, however, sometimes you may need to buy a strap or bolt to ensure the right fit. There are many places that hire baby capsules — from the ambulance service, local council and maternity hospitals to professional hire companies.
It is always good practice to have your capsule fitted in advance of the baby’s due date so it is in place and safely installed ready for the return journey home with baby from the hospital. If you buy, make sure that your capsule comes with its own Australian Standard AS 1754 label.
Rear Facing: The advantage of a rear-facing car seat is it is designed to transition. While starting off in the rear-facing position, the seat can then be turned around to assume the standard front-facing position once the baby is big enough.
The advantage of a rear-facing car seat is it is designed to transition. While starting off in the rear-facing position, the seat can then be turned around to assume the standard front-facing position once the baby is big enough.
Capsule/Pram Combo: This original, European design is very practical in that mums and dads can take their baby from the car to the pram without disturbance — ‘never wake a sleeping baby’ — and it means one less device to buy. This design is suitable for newborns to 1 year (13 kilograms).
Booster Seats: These are for older children who have outgrown their car seats but are not ready to sit unassisted in the car. Booster seats use a car’s seatbelt to restrain the child and offer extra back and side protection.
Booster Cushions: These are handy to have for children 3-8 years (14-26 kilograms). The seat isn’t anchored and is held in place only by the weight of the child and the seat belt restraint.
Car Seat/Booster Combo: This design is another practical and long serving, safe solution to transport your child once he turns 1 and right through until the time he is 8 and able to sit unassisted in the car. This combo means you only need to buy one seat, making it a very cost-effective option.
Most have padded inserts that give additional support to a young child as well as multiple harness points that can be adjusted to accommodate the child as he grows.
Car Seats: Infant car seats are designed to grow with the child. Most have padded inserts that give additional support to a young child as well as multiple harness points that can be adjusted to accommodate the child as he grows. These are suitable for infants 6 months of age to 7 years (9-26 kilograms).
Reclining Car Seats: These are a great option for the ‘good traveller’ or baby that falls asleep every time they ride in the car. By placing the seat in a reclining position, the child’s head is well supported and in tune with the motion of the car. For 6 months to 3 years (10-16 kilograms).
Car Seats with Extras: For those who like a bit of whizz-bang gadgetry, there are infant car seats on the market that include all the mod-cons, transforming a standard car seat into something more. Press-button retractors, built-in stereo speakers, sunshade, tidy pocket and mess mat all included. For children 6 months to 7 years (8-26 kilograms).
For further reading about different car seat types, check out our Child Safety In The Car article.
Car Safety Checklist
Never hold your baby while the car is moving. Your arms are not strong enough should there be an accident.
- The latest Australian Standards were introduced in 2013. Make sure your car seat system is compliant.
- For babies less than 8 kilograms or 70 centimetres in length, they must travel rear-facing. Babies need good head control before moving to a front-facing car seat.
- Make sure you read the instruction manual and that the restraint straps and fasteners are adjusted to fit the baby’s body correctly.
- Never hold your baby while the car is moving. Your arms are not strong enough should there be an accident.
- Babies and young children can overheat quickly in a car so make sure they are suitably dressed and there is appropriate protection from the sun.
- Children should always travel in the back seat. The front seat is the least safe seat in the car along with the additional hazards airbags pose.
- When your child is old enough, teach him to get in and out of the car from the footpath.
- Don’t allow children to lie down across the back seat.
- Don’t leave your child unattended in a car.
- Don’t allow two people to share a seatbelt.
- Always insist that the car seat is buckled up. If the child unbuckles the seat, stop the car and do not continue driving until the seatbelt is buckled correctly.
As an adult driver, always lead by example — your child is more likely to develop good habits if he sees you follow the same rules. For instance, make sure you always have your seatbelt on before you drive away and insist the child does too.