Questions to ask when buying a car seat for your new baby

July 2015

It’s a daunting prospect, transporting your new baby in your car. How do you even begin to buy a car seat that will keep your precious passenger as safe as possible? We chatted with Peggie Mars from Wheel Well about the most important questions to ask when buying a baby seat.

1. Is it ECE certified?
Much like other consumer products, which receive SABS certification before they are allowed to be sold in South Africa, car seats must carry a similar stamp of approval. South African car seats subscribe to European regulations, and have to be certified by the Economic Commission for Europe, or ECE. Look for a certification sticker somewhere on the seat, which will show a number of important numbers and codes. Check the seat’s weight range (weight of the child for which it is appropriate) and look for the regulation number R44-04.

Seats which are not ECE certified aren’t legal in South Africa. Even car seats approved by American or Australian authorities are unacceptable, as their design and safety requirements differ to those approved by the ECE. The National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) provides a list of ECE certified and approvedbaby seats on their website.

2. Is the seat the right size?
Various types of baby seats are available, each catering for different weight thresholds – including reclining baby seats (0-10 kg), toddler seats (9-18 kg), booster seats (15-25 kg) and bum-booster seats (22-36 kg). Rear-facing seats are recommended for new-borns up to 18 kilograms.

Combination seats, suitable for all four weight ranges, are not recommended as the requirements for a new-born baby and a toddler are inherently different, and the various design elements needed to protect children of varying weights and sizes cannot be effectively combined. 

Reclining baby seats for new-borns are highly recommended. The skull, spine and pelvic bones of new-born babies are still soft and susceptible to shock – right up until four years of age. Reducing pressure on the pelvic area is especially important and the reclining baby seat goes a long way to reducing the risk of internal injuries.

A rear-facing seat offers the best protection on impact, the baby’s full body weight is supported by the seatback rather than relying on harnesses to restrain the body.

3. Do I want a belt-restrained or ISOFIX-compatible seat?
Traditional belt-restrained seats are being replaced by much-safer ISOFIX seats, which connect directly to a vehicle’s chassis and subscribe to ECE regulations. Check your vehicle for ISOFIX compatibility – you should see clips or tags at the base of the seats, usually only in the rear – and then buy the appropriate seat.

4. Is the seat easy to manage?
This is often overlooked and very important as an overcomplicated baby seat will become frustrating over time. You should consider the following:

  • Does the seat actually fit in your vehicle? Most retailers should allow you to try the seat in your car before purchase, to make sure it fits. If your vehicle is fitted with ISOFIX child seat anchor points, make sure you know how they work.  Refer to the car’s manual, as well as that of the baby seat, to ensure the seat is installed correctly – there should be an instructional diagram on the seat itself as well to aid in proper fitment. 
  • How difficult is it to get your baby into and out of the seat? Harnesses with chest clips should be avoided, as the extra clip can be a hindrance especially if you need to remove the baby in a hurry, following an accident, hijacking or other dangerous situation.
  • Is the sliding mechanism easy to use?
  • Does the seat have an easy-to-clean cover? Studies have shown there are more germs on a baby seat than around a toilet!
  • Does the seat feature black leather or vinyl? These should be avoided as they tend to get very hot in the sun.

5. What is the seat’s impact protection like?
A good, safe baby seat will show visible signs of its crashworthiness. Check for head protection and side impact protection in the form of visible padding and extra cushioning around the head and shoulder areas. While modern cars undergo increasingly important child occupant protection tests, there is no ‘one size fits all’. Your vehicle might be safe as can be for a baby, but the seat you buy is the ultimate decider. 

If you’re looking to buy a second-hand baby seat, check it for signs of damage – like collapsed cushioning, major scratches, cracks and broken panels. Do not buy the seat if you suspect it is damaged. And, if your baby seat is involved in a crash, speak to an organisation like Wheel Well in case it needs to be replaced.

6. Where should I put the seat in my car?
The left-rear passenger seat is the safest spot for a baby seat in your car. Particularly important in a hijacking scenario, this position allows you to turn around and remove your baby from the seat quickly, before you are forced out of the vehicle. If the front seat is the only option, it is imperative that the front passenger airbag be deactivated – either by the owner if the vehicle allows (there is usually a switch in the cubby hole), or by the dealer. Airbags inflate with enough power to smash the baby seat into the vehicle seatback with risk of severe injury.

Legislation on baby seats in South Africa only specifies that infants younger than three years be properly restrained, and that children between the ages of three and fourteen years – or up to 1.5 metres in height – should be restrained in a child seat if possible. If not, they should wear a seat belt, and if no seat belt is available, they should sit in the back seat. 

We recommend that your child be restrained at all times in a good quality seat, which is suitable for their weight range, for as long as reasonably possible – and thereafter they should always wear a seatbelt. 

Wheel Well 
Wheel Well focuses on awareness, education and legislation surrounding car seats and their use. For more information on Wheel Well and baby seats visit

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