How to install a car seat

There are three ways to fit a car seat - depending on your car and the car seat you buy. We explain the pros and cons of each type

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Fitting a car seat…

We’re fans of DIY at MFM headquarters, but not when it comes to fitting a car seat for the first time. We recommend you get your car seat fitted by a trained car seat installation advisor (appointed by the manufacturer) if you can. 

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However, we know that sometimes even major retailers can get it (shockingly) wrong.  If you’re in any doubt please contact the seat manufacturer before fitting your child’s chair.  

There are also brilliant car seat installation clinics run by the lovely people at Child Car Seat Safety, who will check your car seat is fitted correctly for free.

The clinics take place in car parks of supermarkets, retail parks and other public places around the country and will even give you the opportunity to speak to a car seat expert while you’re there.  Check the Child Seat Safety Facebook for more information

It’s also worth noting that not every seat matches every type of car, so check your seat fits your car before you buy.  Most manufacturers have a car checking tool on their websites.

Remember the 2 hour rule!

In a car seat, babies and children younger than 3-years-old can often end up in a bit of a scrunched up position, especially if they fall asleep in a car seat – this means their breathing may be compromised. 

So it’s recommended that babies stay in them for no longer than two hours at a time.

The three mechanisms to fit car seats into cars:

1 ISOFIX

ISOFIX is a standardised system for fixing child car seats into cars and was designed to make fitting the seats quick and simple. The term stands for International Standards Organisation FIX and since 2006 all new cars have been required by law to have ISOFIX fittings. As part of the new i-Size law – officially passed by the UK Government April 2015 – after 2018 only ISOFIX car seats will be sold on the market.  

The system works by hooking the car seat (fitted with ISOFIX connectors) onto two small metal bars, or anchor points, in your car. These are usually positioned where the back seat meets the seat cushion.

Pros

  • Using the ISOFIX system creates a rigid link between the car frame and the seat, reducing forward and sideward movement of the seat.
  • The easy click-in/click-out method of attaching an infant seat to an ISOFIX base means your car seat is much more likely to be fitted correctly.

Cons

  • ISOFIX car seats are generally more expensive than those fitted with a seat belt.
  • There are also several versions of the system, so check your car handbook before you buy.

If you’re interested in buying a car seat with ISOFIX, check out our in-depth explanation of ISOFIX.

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2 In-car base

A car seat can be fitted in your car with the help of an in-car base. Normally sold separately from the car seat, the base is a rigid plastic unit that sits on top of the car’s seat. It can be secured using either ISOFIX attachments or a regular seatbelt.

The car seat then slots or clicks on or off the base unit. Most base units have a foot prop to give extra stability.

Pros

  • Considered safer than seat belted or Universal car seats as some have light or sound indicators that confirm when the car seat and base have been correctly fitted.
  • It also makes light work of getting the car seat in and out of the car, which makes it easy to use with a travel system.
  • Some bases can raise the height of the car seat and provide extra legroom for little ones.

Cons

  • Good technology comes at a price and if you choose to buy a base unit, be prepared to double your spend.
  • There are also several versions of the system, so check your car handbook before you buy.
  • Seat bases are generally heavy and not easy to transfer between cars. 
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3 Car’s own seatbelt

Fitting a car seat with a 3-point adult seatbelt used to be the most common way of securing a car seat.

Over the years it’s been gradually replaced by ISOFIX chairs and after 2020 car seat manufacturers will have to stop making car seats that can be installed with seat belts in accordance with car seat law changes.

That means eventually only ISOFIX car seats will be sold on the market, but you’ll still be allowed to use your existing seats for a few years afterwards. 

Pros

  • Using the adult seatbelt usually means you’ll end up paying less – not only are the chairs generally cheaper, there’s no cost of an in-car base or higher price for having ISOFIX attachments.
  • Seat belted chairs are also called Universal, as they fit and can be installed in all cars.  

Cons

  • The big problem with Universal car seats is that it can be difficult to fit correctly.  In fact only 2 out of 10 parents install car seats correctly when using a seat belt, while 94% of parents use ISOFIX correctly, according to car seat manufacturer Maxi Cosi.
  • As we mentioned earlier everyone will eventually have to have a car with ISOFIX points.  That’s not a problem if you have a car manufactured from 2011, as all these vehicles had to have ISOFIX as standard. If your car is older than that you may be able to get an ISOFIX conversion kit from your car seat maker, but adding a conversation kit isn’t an option we would recommend. 
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