If you give birth in a hospital, your car seat is probably the first big-ticket item your baby will come into contact with.
Car seats will take over the back of your vehicle from the day you bring your baby home until they are around 12 years old. Baby and toddler car seats literally save lives (I’m living proof: my parents love to tell the story of the accident they were in when I was six months old and safely strapped into my own car seat).
Baby and Toddler Car Seat Sizing
By law, children under 22kg or 125cm (that’s usually around 7 years old) must be in a car seat with a back, then they must be in either a car seat or a backless booster seat until they are 12 years old, or taller than 135cm.
Babies under 15 months old should be in a backwards-facing seat, but older children can face forwards. Rear-facing seats should never be mounted in the front when there is an active airbag — though many cars now let you switch off the front passenger airbags.
Car seat sizing may be based on height (i-Size seats) or weight. i-Size seats adhere to safety regulation R129 and only apply to ISOFix seats, and weight-based seats adhere to the safety regulation R44.
What is ISOFix?
Child seats must be fitted either using ISOFix mountings or a diagonal seat belt strap.
Most modern cars are compatible with ISOFix car seats. An ISOFix seat attaches to two anchor points in the back of the main car seat with two clips. It also has a leg which supports the front of the car seat against the footwell of the car.
We tested two main types of ISOFix car seats. Fixed ISOFix seats include the baby seat and ISOFix in a single unit, typically designed to be fitted to one car and to stay there for a number of years. For removable ISOFix seats, the ISOFix base and the baby seat come as two individual units (usually sold separately), which click together to be used in the car or removed to transport the baby away from the car.
Removable ISOFix seats are usually smaller, designed for babies up to around two years, and can be used with a three-point belt alone, which may be helpful for shorter journeys in a friend or family member’s car, or in a taxi (though you don’t legally have to use a baby car seat at all in a taxi but it is obviously safer to use one).
Fitting your car seat and ISOFix base
The NHS advise that you will need a car seat to drive your newborn home safely, should you give birth in a hospital or a birth centre, and to practise fitting the seat before your baby arrives.
You should follow the manual that comes with your car seat. Additionally, most of the seats we tested have instructional videos on their website, which can be easier to follow.
You can also have your car seat professionally fitted. In addition to testing these car seats, we tried out the free fitting service at Halfords, which was clear and reassuring for first-time parents.
When to replace your baby or toddler’s car seat
Your baby and toddler car seat should be replaced when your child grows out of the recommended size range for the seat. Additionally, child car seats come with an expiration date, beyond which the materials may begin to degrade, and you should replace the seat.
According to RoSPA, the road safety charity, you should always replace your child’s car seat after it has been involved in a collision, even if there is no visible damage. RoSPA also advises against buying second-hand child seats for this reason, because you can never be certain of its history.
Shop the best car seats below
The Graco Turn2Me is both the best value car seat we tested and the most lightweight one with a fixed base. If you want a fixed ISOFix, instead of a removable one, and you plan to move the seat between vehicles semi-regularly, this is probably the most convenient option. As well as being light, it was the simplest one to fit to the car’s ISOFix points, thanks to colour-coded indicators that tell you when it is fitted correctly.
In terms of comfort and fit, the Turn2Me has five recline positions in each direction, so your baby can be sat up and look around or laid back to rest, as well as 360° rotation, which makes it easy to get your baby in and out of the seat. This also makes it a suitable seat across age-ranges.
Suitable from birth to 18kg (approximately four years), this weight-based seat is simple to resize as your child grows. There are soft, machine-washable fabric layers built in such a way that you don’t need to rethread the straps when you change sizes, just remove the next layer of padding.
The main downside of the Turn2Me compared to others is that it only comes in one colour, however as that colour is black, it will likely match the interior of most cars.
Buy now £170.00, Argos
Cybex Sirona S2 i-Size
Cybex’s Sirona S2 i-Size is a height-based seat, suitable for babies and toddlers from 61cm to 105cm (approximately 3 months up to 4 years), or from birth if you purchase an additional newborn inlay. This seat also has a 360° rotation mechanism, which both makes it easier to get your child in and out of the seat and enables you to turn the seat backwards or forwards, depending on the legislation that applies to the age of your child.
The Sirona S2 i-Size comes with comprehensive instructions, though fitting was a bit more complex and time-consuming than other seats on the list. This shouldn’t be a problem if you plan to keep the seat fitted in a single-vehicle and position.
The main upsides to the Sirona S2 i-Size over other seats are the range of colourways, from classic pinks and blues to more neutral greens, beiges, and greys. Cybex seats are also compatible with SENSORSAFE, a device which attaches to the seat harness and connects to your smartphone to alert you to potentially dangerous situations such as car temperature, a child left unattended, unbuckling the clip, or if the child has been seated for too long.
Buy now £269.95, John Lewis
RECARO Salia Elite
The RECARO Salia Elite is an iSize seat for babies and toddlers from birth to 105cm (approximately four years). Unlike the other seats we tested, the Salia Elite combines a removable infant carrier, which clicks seamlessly into a fixed child car seat.
The infant carrier fits babies from 40 to 75cm, usually the first year of their life. With a carry-handle, sun-canopy, newborn inlay and one-handed adjustment, you can easily take your sleeping babe from car to home for the first year of their life. The infant carrier can also be combined with RECARO travel systems (sold separately) for use as a buggy.
An adaptive foam seat, 360° rotation, and a height-adjustable backrest and headrest take the fuss out of adjusting the seat to your child as they grow. This car seat has a ‘HERO’ integrated harness, which combines shoulder pads, shoulder straps, and headrest in a single unit to simplify fastening and minimise any slipping or twisting while your little one wriggles around. The infant carrier has a three-point harness system, and the child seat has a five-point harness system.
Fitting the seat in the car with the ISOFix base was simple, and the support leg’s ratchet system made it easier to transport between vehicles than the other seats with fixed ISOFix bases.
Though it is the heaviest of the seats we tested, the Salia Elite does have the added benefit of an air ventilation system at the rear of the seat, making it an especially good choice for longer journeys. With colour options from rich teal and red, to pastel blue, rose and grey, the RECARO Salia Elite is a good-looking car seat that can grow with your child.
Buy now £499.00, Baby Planet Online
Doona Infant Car Seat
Doona is quite distinct from the other car seats tested. Not only is it a separate seat and ISOFix base, but it also has an integrated stroller function. The ISOFix base is sold separately and was quite simple to fit into the car with the three-point belt.
The seat is removable with a carry handle and is easy to click in and out if the ISOFix base with your baby still inside. The real bonus of the Doona though is the integrated wheels that transform it into a small stroller. The Doona would be a really good choice for anyone with limited space in their car and/or home for storing a separate seat and stroller.
The Doona has a sun hood, which comes in a variety of colours and shades, and looks really stylish when transporting your baby out and about. The textiles in the seat are all removable, washable, and breathable.
The only downside to the Doona is that is rear-facing, with weight-based sizing suitable for up to 13kg — around 2 years. But, the convenience of taking your child straight from car to stroller without disturbing their sleep for the first two years is a worthwhile payoff for having to buy a larger car seat in the future.
Buy now £329.00, Amazon
Nuna Baby todl
The Nuna Next system uses a single ISOFix base with four seat options (sold separately), so you can pick the seat unit that is right for you and your child — from the bassinet-style Cari for babies up to 70cm, to the Pipa and Arra which both have carry handles and can accommodate your child from 40 up to 83 and 85cm respectively. There’s also the todl which takes you all the way from 40-105cm (approximately age four). The cari, pipa and ara are all compatible with all Nuna pushchair bases, too.
We tested the todl, which accommodates the widest size range of the non-fixed ISOFix seats we tested, but despite being removable, doesn’t have a carry handle. The todl is also the only seat we tested with a non-ISOFix base that cannot be used with a three-point seatbelt.
The todl can be used in both forward and rear-facing positions, with five recline levels in both directions. Its memory foam seat and merino wool insert for newborns make the todl more comfortable for long journeys than other seats with removable ISOFix bases.
Buy now £300.00, John Lewis
Cybex Cloud Z i-Size
The second Cybex seat we tested is the Cloud Z i-Size, a carry seat with a removable ISOFix base (sold separately). This is a lightweight seat, which fits babies from 45 to 87cm (approximately two years), with a removable newborn inlay. It can be safely fitted to the car with either the ISOFix base, or with a three-point seatbelt, making it a good option for people who don’t have their own car but may occasionally travel with friends, family or in a taxi. Blue guidelines show you where the seatbelt should be fitted.
The Cloud Z i-Size can be fully reclined, with 11 headrest positions, and full rotation when used with the ISOFix base. The large integrated sun canopy protects your baby from sun and wind when out and about, and the fabric covers are fully machine washable.
Like the other Cybex seat we tested, the Cloud Z i-Size is compatible with SENSORSAFE, the unit which fits to the seat’s harness and connects to your phone, to warn you when conditions are not ideal (for example, if the temperature is too high or low, or in the harness straps are unbuckled).
Buy now £249.95, Halfords
The Graco Turn2Me offered the best overall value for a baby and toddler car seat with a fixed ISOFix base. It will keep your child safe and secure up to around age four and was one of the easiest seats to fit into the car. That, as well as being the most lightweight fixed-base ISOFix seat makes it relatively easy to move between vehicles, too. Plain black covers and inserts are simple to use, and machine washable.
The main reason for splashing out on a car seat with a separate base is for the ease and convenience of being able to remove the seat from the car — especially helpful if your journey ends right in the middle of naptime. With a built-in stroller mechanism, the Doona just takes that convenience to the next level, so you can go from car to home or out for a walk without disturbing your baby.