We review the ease of use of 11 children's car seats, including:
- Three rearward-facing seats suitable from birth to six months of age and priced from $249 to $399.
- Four convertible seats suitable from birth to 12 months (in rearward-facing mode) and 12 months to four years (in forward-facing mode). They're priced from $170 to $427.
- One convertible seat suitable from birth to six months (in rearward-facing mode) and 12 months to four years (in forward-facing mode) priced at $130.
- Three forward-facing seats suitable from six months to four years of age and priced from $150 to $256. These seats also convert to a booster seat, which can extend their use to children aged up to eight.
We also took into account how well the car seats performed in crash tests conducted by the Child Restraint Evaluation Program
(CREP), a consortium of government and motoring organisations.
While all the car seats are standards-certified, CREP puts the seats through a range of additional tests involving crash test dummies "that are equal to or above the upper end of the mass limit" for each type of car seat. A star rating (out of five) is then applied to all tested seats.
CREP tests include a frontal impact test, side impact test and an oblique impact test. For more information, including crash protection star ratings, see its testing explained page.
When assessing ease of use, CHOICE uses an in-house test method which reveals which car seats:
- have buckles, a headrest and seatbelts that are easy to adjust
- are the easiest to fit and tilt the seat
- are easiest to get the covers off to clean
- have easy to understand instructions and markings
- are easy to get kids in and out of.
We only recommend seats that score at least three stars for CREP crash protection
When looking for a car restraint, consider:
- the age and size of your child
- the size of the restraint
- whether it will fit in your car.
For more information about children's Transport options, see Travel.
20/11/2012: The ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) has released a recall for over 60,000 child car seats due to safety concerns. See the full media release.
Safety on the road
Road accidents are the major cause of deaths in children aged one to 14 years, and research has found about 70% of car seats are not installed correctly. Common errors can involve the tether strap not being connected, the seatbelt incorrectly threaded or not buckled, or the anchorage point being used the wrong way.
Your child's safety is your priority, and when it comes to travelling in a car there's a lot to take on board. What type of car restraint do you need? Does your car have the features to fit a restraint? What's the law on car restraints? How do you fit the restraint and secure your child properly? These are all questions you'll have to consider.
The Australian Standard
All child restraints sold in Australia must meet stringent Australian Standard AS/NZS1754 requirements, considered among the toughest in the world. If fitted and used properly, any can be expected to provide very good crash protection for your child. The mandatory standard, last amended in September 2014, is now based on the 2004, 2010 and 2013 versions of the standard.
The mandatory requirements for car seats include aspects of:
- marking, and
All restraints must have a tether strap and five-point harness with a single-point adjustment and quick-release buckle. Components must be durable and rigid, with no sharp points that could harm a child, and the car's anchoring system must meet requirements to ensure the restraint is compatible with different car seats. Each seat must be subjected to performance tests that simulate front, side and rear impacts and come with instructions about installation, use, maintenance and general information. There's also a range of warning statements that must be permanently and legibly marked on the restraint.
What's the law?
- Under six months: Children must be seated in a rearward-facing child restraint or infant capsule.
- Six months to four years old: Children are to use a rear- or forward-facing car restraint with an inbuilt harness. Children under four years old can't travel in the front seat of a vehicle with two or more rows.
- Four to seven years: Children are to use an approved forward-facing restraint or booster seat. Once a child is too big for a forward-facing seat, a booster seat should be used until they are too tall for the booster. If all back seats are occupied by children under seven, a child between four and seven can occupy the front seat in a forward-facing restraint or booster seat.
- 145cm: This is the suggested minimum height for a child to use an adult lap-sash seatbelt.
If your child is too tall or heavy for their age group's restraint you can move them to the next restraint.
Taxis are exempt from these laws, but parents are encouraged to bring their own car restraint when using one.
• Babylove Snap'n Go BL620A/2010, CA31
Convertible rearward-facing/forward-facing restraints (suitable from birth to either six or 12 months; and then from 12 months to four years)
• Maxi-Cosi Mico AP 2013
• Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Sip PP01/2010
• Babylove Ezy Switch EP BL72C/2010
Convertible forward-facing restraints (suitable from six months with a harness; can be converted to a booster at age four to accommodate children up to eight years. Children should remain in a harness for as long as they can fit into it.)
• Britax Safe-n-Sound Compaq AHR 7300/A/2010
• Mother's Choice Mystique GS 2010
• Britax Safe-n-Sound Safeguard 7300/C/2010
• Infasecure Kompressor XT CS4410XT
• Safety 1st Custodian Plus II GMA 2010
• Infasecure Comfi Caprice CS7210CP
• Mother's Choice Whirl V9 2010
How we test
Ease of use Our tester, Antonio Bonacruz, assesses each seat for fitting in both rearward- and forward-facing modes, clarity of instructions, adjustment of the seatbelt and buckles, ease of tilting and removing the seat and removing the cover for cleaning.
Make sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions if you're going to install the seat yourself, but we certainly recommend visiting an authorised fitting station. These centres have experts that for a small fee can inspect, adjust or fully install your restraint. By using a restraint that's correctly installed, you can significantly reduce the risk to your child in an accident.
For more information on child restraints, or to find your nearest fitting station, contact Kidsafe Australia.