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Guide on choosing the right baby car seat for your SEAT (Say-at)

One of the hardest, yet most important decisions a new parent must make is which car seat they should purchase for their child.

We’re the experts in our car SEAT, pronounced Say-at, and know a thing or two about high standards of car safety. We wanted to help you choose the best car seat by putting together this handy guide.

Rear-facing car seats

Your little bundle of joy will often start in a capsule, and as they get bigger, they’ll transition into using a rear-facing car seat. But, why rear-facing? The answer is simple, it’s safest for children. Infants are more at risk of serious spine, head or pelvis injuries while they’re still growing. A rear facing position means the car seat’s shell can protect those vulnerable areas and keep their spine straight.

Here are some handy tips for installation and use: 

  • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions as every seat is different.

  • Rear facing seats should be installed at around a 45° angle. 

  • It should sit firmly and not be able to move around. If you're not sure it's right, you can always check with a certified child restraint technician.

  • The safest place for your child is in the back seat, ideally in the middle to minimise the risk of injury in case of a crash. Most importantly, make sure to keep your child’s car seat away from active airbags. 

  • Using extra padding, unless approved by the manufacturer, is a no-no. 

  • Under NZ standards, the harness should sit over the child’s shoulders either level with or just below the top of the shoulders. 

  • It’s important that the harness fits as close to the baby’s body as possible. So, take off any jackets or thick tops. You can put a blanket over them and the harness to keep them warm. 

Forward-facing car seats

Once your child grows out of their rear-facing car seat, usually around the age of two, they’ll transition into a forward-facing car seat. There are two different types: forward-facing only and convertible forward-facing. A convertible car seat can be used both rear and forward-facing and is a popular choice among parents as it’s generally more cost-effective.  

Here are some handy tips for installation and use: 

  • Only install on front-facing seats, not on a rear or side-facing seat. 

  • It should sit firmly in place; if you’re not sure it’s positioned right, you can always check with a certified child restraint technician.

  • Most front-facing seats sold in NZ have upper tether straps and an anchor point in the vehicle to secure them. 

  • The harness straps should sit snugly on your child’s body. Double-check they’re not twisted and that they’re in the correct position to your child’s shoulders. Check your manufacturer's instructions for their recommendation.

  • Some restraints come with a chest clip. These clips should sit across the chest at armpit level, no lower or higher. If your car seat doesn’t come with a chest clip, you shouldn’t add one.

When to move to a booster seat

At this point, you’ll probably be in denial that your baby is now a big kid. When your child outgrows the manufacturer’s height and weight restrictions of their front-facing seat, it’s time to move them to a booster seat. There are three different types; full back booster seats, convertible booster seats (front facing seats that can be transformed into boosters), and half boosters or booster cushions for big kids. All these types use the seatbelt as the restraint.

Here are some handy tips for installation and use: 

  • A full booster seat provides your child with better protection than a booster cushion.

  • Booster seats with headrests have guides to make sure the belt is sitting correctly. The sash part of the seat belt should go over the child’s shoulder. The lap part should be sitting on their hips, not on the soft part of the abdomen. 

The next step is moving them to a full adult restraint which legally can happen after 7 years old, although most children need a booster until they are 12. It’s best that your child stays in a booster until they are 148cm tall and can pass the 5-point test. 

    1. Your child can sit right back in their seat. 

    2. Their legs bend comfortably over the edge of the seat. 

    3. The shoulder belt comes over their shoulder, not against their neck.

    4. The lap belt sits low on their thighs, not around the stomach. 

    5. Your child can stay seated like this for the whole trip. 

If you need to talk to a technician about choosing or installing a car seat, contact Plunket or NZTA

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