When the time comes to move your growing child from a baby to a toddler car seat, you want to be sure that they are as safe and as comfortable as possible. But with so many seats to choose from, it can be tricky to know where to start.
To guide you through the minefield, we commissioned Alison Williams to research and write about toddler car seats.
Alison is a mum to two grown-up children and has experienced almost every stage of the parenting journey. As a journalist, she has written articles on a wide variety of subjects, including articles on baby car seats and breast pumps for Mumsnet.
Which toddler car seats did we test?
Alison spent 30 hours researching the best car seats on the market, looked at independent crash test results from ADAC and Which?, and also spoke to parents and car seat safety experts. These included Jan James, Chief Executive of Good Egg Safety, Nick Lloyd, Acting Head of Road Safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), Margaret Bolt, founder of Rear Facing Toddlers, and Claire Waterhouse from Child Seat Safety.
She looked at a huge range of seats that were rated highly on the Mumsnet Talk boards and on other review sites, looked closely at the UK’s car seat safety regulations as well as prices for all budgets.
She then settled on a longlist of 30 car seats, later narrowed down to a shortlist of 16, to put to the test.
Here is the full list of seats we tested:
- Maxi-Cosi Pearl Pro i-Size
- BeSafe iZi Modular i-Size
- Cozy N Safe Galaxy
- Britax Römer Advansafix IV R
- Britax Römer Evolva 1/2/3 SL SICT
- Joie Every Stage FX Signature
- Joie Stages FX
- Axkid Move
- Nuna Myti
- Kiddy Phoenixfix 3
- Graco Nautilus
- Mothercare Sport
- Cybex Solution S-Fix
- Cybex Solution Z-Fix
- Cybex Pallas S-Fix
- Maxi-Cosi AxissFix Air
Five car seats triumphed: the Maxi-Cosi Pearl Pro i-Size (Best Overall Toddler Car Seat 2019), the BeSafe iZi Modular i-Size (Best Extended Rear-Facing Toddler Car Seat 2019), the Cozy N Safe Galaxy (Best Value Toddler Car Seat 2019), the Britax Römer Advansafix IV R (Best Combination Car Seat 2019) and the Britax Römer Evolva 1/2/3 SL SICT (Best Versatile Toddler Car Seat 2019).
Read our toddler car seat buyer's guide, written with the help of Good Egg Safety, for more information on what to look for when buying one.
Who tested the car seats?
Alison partnered with parent testers Anna and Abigail to put all the car seats through their paces.
Anna is a mum of two who tested all but one of the car seats with her youngest child – he had just turned two when testing began. She tested the majority of the seats in her 2012 Ford B-Max, but also tried some in a Vauxhall and an Audi. The Axkid Move was tried out in a 2019 Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Abigail tested the Britax Römer Evolva 1/2/3 SL SICT in her 2013 Ford C-Max as it didn’t fit in Anna’s car. She is also a mum of two with children aged two and five, both of whom put the Evolva to the test.
Anna tested all the products for a week, from Sunday to Sunday, excluding cleaning (which, depending on the cover, took a few extra days). That involved six trips to and from nursery and school, and two days' worth of supermarket shops and toddler activities, including music, football, the park and forest school, the longest drive being 40 minutes each way.
She also did approximately three drives a week to dog-walking spots, which, because she had to get two children and two dogs in and out of the car, was ideal for testing the convenience of each car seat.
The long-distance journeys were to her parents' house in Wiltshire, approximately two and a half hours each way, and her sister's in Leicester, which took a similar amount of time. She also drove to Harrow, Camber Sands and Tonbridge, each journey taking around an hour and a half.
Abigail used the Evolva on day-to-day trips, such as the school run and for grocery shopping, and on longer journeys of up to an hour at a time.
The seats were then scored on the following criteria:
- Safety and stability
- Day-to-day use
- Value for money
Anna got on so well with the Maxi-Cosi Pearl Pro i-Size that she is still using it even though testing has now ended.
How did we test for safety and ease of use?
First of all, our testers checked that each seat came with all the necessary parts and that the manufacturer instructions were clear and easy to follow. They also checked whether there were helplines or online videos available if there were any issues with fitting.
They looked at safety and stability, analysing what safety tests the seats had passed, what safety features they boasted, and, crucially, how easy the seats were to fit in the car, timing the whole process (whether ISOFIX or seatbelt routing) to see how long it would take.
Any ambiguous instructions, or any potential room for error, was noted, which meant that the seat would not be recommended.
They also paid attention to five-point harnesses and regular seatbelts, looking at whether they were difficult to adjust and if they provided a snug enough fit a child.
How did we test for comfort?
We checked to see if the child was comfortable in each seat and if there were any parts that could rub or cause irritation to the skin.
We also checked that all fittings were child-proof – was there a chance of parts being removed or falling into mouths, or buckles and belts being undone by either the child in the seat or others sitting next to them?
Following this, we considered whether the seat was suitable for the changing needs of a 15-month-old, a four-year-old and all the ages in between.
How were the car seats tested in day-to-day life?
Anna and Abigail then tested how quick and easy it was to get a toddler in and out of the seat, and assessed if the child was able to fall asleep comfortably if they usually do in a car (particularly on longer journeys).
They took the seats on busy school runs, shopping trips, longer journeys and quick trips out throughout the day, observing how happy and comfortable the toddler was and how convenient the seat was to get in and out of the car if necessary, particularly when it came to swapping the seat between cars.
Wherever possible, they used the seats in all configurations and considered whether each seat was small enough to allow you to fit more than one car seat in the back seat of a vehicle.
They also paid attention to whether each seat would obstruct the driver's view.
How did we test for design and cleaning?
They looked at whether the seat was easy to clean, spilling milk and juice on it before washing and drying the cover – if you are using the seat everyday, then you need to be able to remove, wash and dry the cover quickly. Was the cover easy to remove and put back on, and could you buy a spare cover if needed?
Finally, they looked at aesthetics and overall design. Was the design pleasing or would it be a distraction when driving? Did the material feel high quality and were there enough colour options to choose from?
What about value for money?
Taking all these things into consideration, we looked at price and evaluated whether the seat offered good value for money.
We then decided which seat was the best overall and which seats deserved honourable mentions.
Why you should trust us
Mumsnet has been making parents’ lives easier since 2000 and, in those years, we’ve seen, tried and reviewed countless products. We’ve watched trends come and go and safety features become more and more slick. Our testing is best in class – we rigorously test each product with real children in real-life situations as well as standardised lab-style testing and we're confident that our testing leaves no stone unturned. This means that parents don’t need to compare reviews or hunt around for other opinions. They know Mumsnet has it covered.
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