Need to buy a baby car seat and not sure where to start? From capsules to convertibles to boosters, here’s how to choose the right one for your family.
Head into a store to purchase a child’s car seat and you’ll likely be overwhelmed by some 20 different brands and hundreds of different models; trying to decipher the differences seems like it requires a dictionary for car seat jargon. Choosing the correct restraint for your child’s age and size is crucial – both for safety and to meet legal requirements. There are four main types of car seats: capsules, forward-facing, convertible and boosters. Here’s a guide to getting it right.
Factors to consider
Before you start shopping, it’s worth doing some research to narrow your focus to a particular type or brand of car seat. Here are some things to consider:
- Space – how big is your car? How much legroom will be left for a front passenger once the seat is installed? Will you need to fit multiple car seats in the back?
- Compatibility – does your car have ISOFIX anchors? If you want a capsule to fit into your pram frame, are the brands compatible?
- Cleaning and comfort – what kind of fabric is on the seat? Is it easy to remove and clean? Is it breathable and comfortable for the child?
- Ratings – every car seat on the market in Australia needs to meet mandatory safety ratings, however The Child Restraint Evaluation Program (CREP) independently crash tests different models of seats and gives star ratings for restraints that test above these standards. You’ll find the ratings at childcarseats.com.au. It’s also worth reading online reviews from other parents to see how happy they’ve been with the product.
What’s the difference between a capsule and a convertible car seat?
Both a capsule and a rear-facing convertible car seat can be used from birth. A capsule can be removed from the car and attached to a pram, but can only be used for six months (or until the child’s shoulders meet the markers). A convertible car seat can be used in the rear-facing position for as long as possible (as this position is considered safer in the event of an accident) and then converted to a forward-facing seat, and used until about four years of age. There are other types that also convert to a booster seat and can be used until about eight years.
What’s the difference between a forward-facing car seat and a booster?
If you’ve gone down the capsule route, one option once your child meets the shoulder markers is to progress to a forward-facing car seat. These seats have an in-built six-point harness and, like a capsule, attach with both a seatbelt or ISOFIX as well as a tethered anchor point. The main difference with a booster is that your child will be restrained with the car’s seatbelt rather than an in-built harness. Some boosters simply sit on top of your regular passenger seat, while some have an additional safety tether. Children up to the age of seven are legally required to be in a forward-facing restraint or booster seat.
So, what do I buy?
To start with, you’ll need either a capsule or a convertible car seat installed in the rear-facing position. If you choose a capsule, you’ll need to upgrade to either a convertible or forward-facing car seat at about the six-month mark, and then possibly a booster at about four years of age. If you buy a convertible car seat that functions as a booster, you probably won’t need to buy another child restraint down the track.