How to choose the right car seat for your child at every stage and age

Confused by what car seat to use for your infant? It can be overwhelming, but Peggie Mars, founder of Wheel Well has simplified things. Here, she guides us on what size carseat is best for your little one.

Embarking on your car seat journey is pretty easy. All newborns should be in dedicated infant seats. These seats are specifically designed to keep your new baby safe during a crash. They have the correct angle to give maximum support for that vulnerable back and neck and superb side impact protection to protect the skull and spine that has not fused yet. They can only be installed rear-facing. It is also handy that they can be removed from the vehicle.

Infant seats can be used until your child is 13kg or 15 months. The average kid, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), will reach this weight at two years and four months. The thing is: here in South Africa we make big babies and you don’t want to invest a lot of money in a car seat that your child is going to outgrow in weight too soon, leaving you in car seat limbo and out of pocket.

If your child is on the bold middle line or below on the weight for age growth chart, you will never have a problem with car seats being outgrown too soon. This is because car seat groups are designed around the WHO’s weight for age charts. The upper weight limit of a car seat is always above the 80th percentile zone.

If your child is above the 50th percentile line, extend your graph going forward and you can predict what weight your child is going to be when they outgrow the weight limit of a car seat. Ideally, children should rear-face until 15 months and use a harnessed toddler seat until four years.

To put all of this into perspective: Car seats are selected on a balance between weight, height and age. The guidelines are to rear-face until at least 15 months and a harnessed seat until four years. If your child is already 10kg at six months, it is likely they will reach 13kg before they are 15 months old.

In this instance, you will need a car seat that can rear-face past 13kg. There are quite a few car seats on the market that can do this. If your child is likely to reach 18kg before they are 4 years old, luckily there are some toddler seats can harness to 25kg as well.

Every legitimate car seat sold in South Africa will have an orange sticker displayed on it that will give the weight and/or age range that the seat is designed for. The installation stickers on the side of the seat will give the weight limits for rear and forward-facing installations as well. Blue usually indicate rear-facing and red will indicate forward-facing.

Confirm with a quick look at the installation manual as well. If the information is not clear, you can contact the distributor of the seat. Their contact details should be in the manual. You are, as always, also very welcome to be in contact with us. We will always happily assist you.

Car seats are grouped as follows:

  • Group 0, Infant seats: birth to 9kg or 1 year (some cases 10kg); always rear-facing
  • Group 0+, Infant seats: birth  to 13kg or 15 months; always rear-facing
  • Group 1, Toddler seats: 9 to 18kg or 4 years; rear or forward-facing
  • Group 2, Full back booster: 15 to 25kg or 6 years; always forward-facing unless it is a combination seat that offers to harness to 25kg.
  • Group 3, Booster cushion: 22 to 36kg or 1.5m tall; always forward-facing

The overlap in the upper weight limit of one seat and the entry weight for the next seat up is to accommodate kids of all shapes and sizes. The 9kg entry weight for a toddler seat is for a skinny 15-month child and not your chubby little 1 year old. All car seats are designed to fit either in one of these groups or are a combination of the groups.

Always purchase the best car seats you can afford and use it correctly according to the car seat manual. Your car seat distributor/importer must be your first port of call when you have any queries or issues. They know their seats best and in my experience, they have always been more than willing to assist. You are also most welcome to be in touch with us at Wheel Well. We have eight years of experience in all the brands and models of car seats available in South Africa.

How to choose a car seat

Peggie is a committed advocate for child rights in road safety and founded Wheel Well in 2012 with the help of Eugene Herbert from MasterDrive. The Car Seats for Kids campaign has been running for seven years, and more than 8 500 children have benefitted from a safe, clean used car seat. Since Peggie started her work with Wheel Well, the death toll of our children in traffic-related crashes have come down by 24%. Their work for children in road safety has expanded to include children in public transport and children as pedestrians. Peggie has been awarded the Prince Michael International Road Safety Award in 2016 in the Safer Road User category. She has also received the Gumtree Women in Autos Award for extraordinary contribution to the Automotive Industry in 2018 and is a finalist in the Woman of Stature Awards 2019.

Contact Peggie on 072 385 7121.