THE RIGHT TODDLER SEAT
There are so many car seats on the market, and so much contradictory and incorrect advice from retailers, that it can be overwhelming and confusing when buying a toddler car seat. Here are the key points to consider before you buy:
WHAT IS A TODDLER SEAT?
A toddler car seat is a Group I car seat, approved for use from 9kg. They can be rear facing and/or forward facing. Some can also convert to boosters later on.
WHEN IS AN INFANT CAR SEAT OUTGROWN?
It is time to move your baby from an infant car seat to a toddler car seat when:
- Your baby starts reaching the maximum weight of the car seat, (9/10/13kg depending on the model you have), or
- Your baby reaches the height limit. iSize car seats have defined height limits, which you will find in the manual.
Non-isize seats are considered outgrown when the top of their head is in line with the top of the headrest of the car seat.
TIP #1: REAR FACING IS SAFER THAN FORWARD FACING!
Although it is legal to forward face a baby from 9kg, what is legal is not what is safest! Research, scientific studies, crash testing and real life crashes have proven that it is MUCH safer (one study found it to be 500% safer) for children to be rear facing for as long as possible.
The recommendation in America and the Europe is to rear face to 4 years old or more. This is because babies are born with cartilage in their necks/spines, and it only starts to harden and ossify (turn to bone) once they are over 2 years old and is only likely to have completed ossifying by 7-8 years.
Babies’ heads are also relatively heavier than their bodies, and their weak neck muscles have to support a much larger proportion of body weight than adults.
In a crash, a child’s body is restrained in a forward facing car seat but nothing is supporting the head and neck. They can sustain severe or even fatal head and/or neck injuries, as the head is thrown forward violently and all the stress is placed on the neck and spine.
In a rear facing car seat, the forces of the crash are more equally distributed along the backrest of the car seat, which supports the neck and spine in alignment. This crash test video shows the comparison between forward facing and rear facing crash tests. For more information regarding the safety benefits of rear facing, read our blog article "Why it's safer to have your children rear facing"
TIP #2 DO YOUR RESEARCH!
Check if the toddler car seats you are considering are ECE approved and are on the NRCS list of car seats legally approved for sale in South Africa. Unfortunately there are several illegal/fake car seats for sale in South Africa at the moment, especially online. ECE results are not published, so we do not know how well or poorly car seats score during ECE crash testing.
In Western Europe, independent bodies such as ADAC and Folksam select car seats for additional crash testing each year. These testing conditions are more stringent and at higher speeds. The results are published and are publicly available. For more on Crash Testing and the criteria used to judge a car seat, check out our blog article: A Crash Course in Crash Testing.
Independent Crash Testing
All the available safety reviews of car seats sold legally in South Africa are uploaded in photo albums on Car Seat Support South Africa. If the seat you are looking for is not in the album, it is probable that it has not been independently crash tested. At Precious Cargo, we only sell the highest scoring toddler car seats.
Do an online search of the ECE certification number to check if the car seat has been recalled in other countries. Rebranded seats are often sold under different brands in different countries, with different upholstery. It can be very difficult to trace if they have been recalled.
TIP #3 TODDLER VS MULTISTAGE CAR SEAT
Toddler car seats are approved for use from 9-18/25kg using the 5-point harness. They can be rear facing or forward facing.
Multistage seats cover more than one stage, which can be from infant to toddler and/or to child mode. To date, multistage seats have not scored well for safety. The postural needs of a child changes drastically from newborn to age 12! When used in infant mode, many multistage seats do not fit a newborn properly and/or do not recline to the required 45 degrees to prevent positional asphyxiation.
Many multistage seats only rear face to 10/13kg. Some seats allow you to carry on rear facing right up to 18kg. It is not safe to use a harness beyond its approved maximum weight or height for rear facing or forward facing, as there is a high risk of the harness failing in a crash. We recommend rear facing to at least 2 years, but ideally 4 years or even longer IF your car seat is approved to do so.
Combination seats forward face to 18kg then convert to boosters to 25kg or 36kg. Many of the combination seats in South Africa are not suitable in booster mode as the seatbelt guides are not attached to a height adjustable head rest. It is therefore not possible to obtain a safe seat belt fit across your child’s body in booster mode and they offer no head or side impact protection. We therefore do not recommend them as boosters.
Many multistage seats are advertised as “forward facing to 25kg or 36kg”, which is very misleading. Parents mistakenly interpret this to mean that the harness can be used to the maximum weight, however, if you read the manual it will specify that the harness (Group I) can only be used to 18kg. Thereafter it must be used as a booster (Group II/III).
As economical as multistage seats may seem, it is best to buy a car seat dedicated to each stage of your child's development if budget allows.
TIP #4 CONSIDER YOUR CHILD’S EXPECTED GROWTH
Most toddler car seats can only use the 5-point harness up to 18kg/approximately 105cm. For an average sized child, this is usually around 4 years. You can use your child’s Road to Health clinic card to get an idea of how old he/she is likely to be at 18kg/105cm. If your child is likely to reach this weight/height before 4 years old, a 25kg harnessed car seat (preferably rear facing) would be a better option.
Toddler car seats are outgrown when the maximum weight limit is reached, or when the child’s eyes are level with the top of the car seat shell. You will find the maximum height and/or weight limits on the orange ECE sticker and manual of the car seat. When children reach 18kg/105cm, the next step is usually to move to a booster seat. However, it is recommended that children should be booster ready before it is safe for them to travel in a booster. 4 years, 15kg and 100cm is the minimum recommended age to use a booster seat.
TIP #5 ISOFIX OR BELTED CAR SEAT
Car Seats are fastened into a car using one of two methods:
Isofix refers to connection points manufactured in some modern cars as an alternative to securing a car seat with the seat belt.
To check if your car has isofix, stick your hand in the join between the backseat base and the backrest and run your hand along it until you feel two D-shaped metal rings. Isofix toddler car seats are generally more expensive than belted car seats but are easier to install and less prone to human error. Your car must have isofix in order to install an isofix car seat.
3-Point Seat Belt
If your car does not have isofix, your options are limited to toddler car seats that are designed to install with a seatbelt. A properly installed belted car seat is not necessarily less safe than an isofix car seat. The operative words here being “properly installed”. Belted car seats are a bit trickier to install and easy to make mistakes. An incorrectly installed car seat cannot function optimally in a crash, so be sure to install it correctly .
TIP #6 DO NOT BUY SECOND HAND, IF POSSIBLE
A car seat is a life saving device. You cannot be certain of its history unless you buy from someone you know and trust. A car seat that has been in an accident or dropped may not show obvious damage, but its safety may be compromised and it may not protect your toddler sufficiently if it was involved in a crash.
If you do need to buy second hand, here are the points to check before buying:
Second Hand Car Seat Safety Checklist
- Has it been in any crashes or dropped?
- When was the seat manufactured? Most toddler seats shouldn’t be used for more than 5-7 years.
- Are all parts present and intact?
- Is the original or online manual available?
- Are there any signs of white stress marks, damage, rusting or fraying?
- Has it been checked for any recalls?
- Has it been checked in on an airplane? If so, was it properly padded AND boxed? Bubble wrap alone will not have protected it during loading.
TIP#7 FIT BEFORE BUYING
Not all car seats fit all cars! It is important to test a few car seat before buying, preferably 2-3 high scoring car seats within your budget, to see which installs most securely in your car/s. Whichever car seat installs most securely, is the best car seat for your family.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP!
Unfortunately, many car seat salesmen are not adequately trained and do not know how to install car seats properly. Be sure to read the manuals before you go to a car seat shop, so that you have a good idea of the correct installation.
Key points to check for a safe car seat installation:
- Appropriate for age, weight and height. For a toddler, the seat must cover Group I (from 9kg)
- There should not be more than an inch of movement when shaken at the belt path/isofix points with your non-dominant hand. A loose installation cannot offer optimal protection in a crash.
- The seatbelt should be long enough to route around the car seat as per the manual, OR the isofix points reach the isofix brackets to secure the car seat.
- There must be a sufficient recline angle. For a child with head control (over 6 months) it should be approximately 37 degrees.
- There should be no buckle crunch. This is when the seatbelt buckle goes into the belt path of the car seat. In a crash, this can put tremendous strain on the buckle and cause it to break.
- There should not be too much overhang. Each car seat has its own rules as to what is allowed. In most cases, it is not permitted for more than a 1/3 of the base to hang over the vehicle seat, if there is a load leg on the base. Please refer to the manual or contact the manufacturer to check how much overhang is permitted for a particular model.
- There must be enough space between the car seat and front seat. Most rear facing car seat manuals stipulate that they must not touch the front seat. For forward facing car seats, there must be 55cm between the car seat and the front seat. This is to prevent a child from hitting into the front seat in a crash. For the front passengers’ safety, their knees should not be touching the dashboard, and the driver should be arms length away from the steering wheel.
- If the car seat uses a base, check that all the indicators are green.
- Raise the headrest right up to check that there is sufficient room in the car to accommodate the car seat as your child grows.
- Most manuals stipulate that you cannot install a load leg over an underfloor storage compartment
TIP #8: FIT YOUR CHILD IN THE CAR SEAT:
Strap your child in to ensure a comfortable fit. A car seat that reclines is a bonus for long distances or nap time. Check the manual for which recline options should be used for rear facing and for forward facing modes, and which recline setting should be used as your child grows.
Adjust the headrest so that the bottom of the headrest is in line with the bottom of the child’s ears.
For a rear facing car seat, the harness should be at or within an inch below the shoulders.
For a forward facing car seat, the harness should be at or within an inch above the shoulders.
It is essential that the harness be tightened correctly every time you use the car seat. Fasten the buckle, then pull the slack from the hips and pull the tab to tighten the harness. Repeat this until you can no longer pinch the webbing, to ensure a snug fit. A loose harness cannot restrain a child effectively in a crash, and may result in ejection.
TIP #9: READ THE MANUAL!!!
Read your car seat manual from cover to cover. It has a wealth of important information on how to install it correctly, how to adjust it to your child’s height, how to strap your child in securely and how to wash the covers.
We hope that this information will help you make an informed decision on which car seat is the best option that will last your toddler the longest, install properly in your car and will fit your budget without compromising on safety. If you have any queries, please contact us at Precious Cargo for sales inquiries or on Facebook at Car Seat Support South Africa for free advice.
THE SAFEST AND RECOMMENDED TODDLER SEATS:
We sell the safest toddler seats with the highest safety ratings and that allow extended rear facing until either 18kg or 25kg.