/ Motoring, Parenting

Are retailers fit to fit child car seats?

Mum putting child into car seat

Have you had bad (or good) experiences when buying a child car seat? I was genuinely shocked by the advice we were given by child car seat retailers in our undercover investigation – are you?

I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you sell any safety-critical product that could be compromised if not used correctly (in this case, one we know people often have problems getting right) the retailer has duty of care to offer fitting advice. I believe they also have a moral obligation to make sure that their advice is accurate.

For our investigation, we posed as customers and visited 43 stores in eight days (including big names like Babies R Us, Halfords, John Lewis, Mamas & Papas and Mothercare), covering more than 1,500 miles, to see what their advice was like.

The truth about fitting advice

Before we started the fieldwork I thought we would find some problems. After all, the pilot studies we’d carried out beforehand highlighted problems in some stores. But if I didn’t know the assistants were really trying their best, I could have been excused for thinking the ones in some branches we visited were actually trying to get it wrong!

We watched in frustration as some tried to find the right button to extend the Isofix prongs – required on some seats to allow installation. And for some who successfully installed the seat, we wanted to tell them how to release it again, but we knew we must simply watch and keep it buttoned.

In fact, in one store where I observed the belt being routed completely the wrong way, I couldn’t help but point and ask the question ‘when do you use the (obviously redundant) guide loops?’ In this case, it prompted a rapid re-think and the assistant hurriedly unthreaded the belt, before checking the diagram on the seat and eventually, (slightly red-faced), routing the belt through correctly and securing the seat.

Avoid the pitfalls

We secretly filmed each of the fitting demonstrations and we’ve published full results of the investigation, including a video illustration of some typical findings. You can also find free advice on buying, including a ‘download and print’ buyer’s checklist to help you avoid the pitfalls of poor retailer service when buying a seat.

We’ve opened discussions with the big retail chains in our investigation – starting by giving each detailed feedback about how it can improve its child car seat fitting services. And we’re hoping to work with several on an agreed retailer best practice charter that can be rolled out nationwide.

But what about customers who are getting bad advice in the meantime? Have you tried to buy a car seat and found the retailers to lack the knowledge or information you need?


I was looking for a child car seat in Halfords recently – was there for quite a while browsing and no one attempted to offer any advice at all. I could have easily just picked one up off the shelf and bought it, even though it probably would have been the wrong one! I agree with Dave that shop assistants should be much better trained to advise – it’s really confusing just choosing a car seat, let alone fitting it!

rebecca says:
23 September 2011

When we looked for our first car seat, Halfords, Penrith were terrible. The first time I went to a Halfords store the fitter couldn’t fit it he struggled and struggled then he went into the shop for the instructions. we could’ve done that ourselves. Following this we went to a mamas and papas store, carlisle. I asked if it would be possible to check the car seat fit in our car ok. The girl wasn’t keen on doing this but after asking a few times and saying I wouldn’t buy one without trying. She said they all fit so it’s not necessary to check???!!! Eventually she agreed. She couldn’t fit the car seat after a long attempt, gave up and had a go to find help. The winner, Mothercare in Carlisle who have helped us with everything from car seats to bedding. Nothing is a trouble for them.

Kevin says:
15 February 2012

I have fitted a number of car seats and know from experience that the only way to ensure a carseat fits properly, is to check it in the car first after reading the manufacturers instructions thoroughly. Relying on demonstrations and researching supplier fit finders is not reliable enough as surveys often indicate that more than 2 in 3 are fitted incorrectly.
It would be a good idea if someone could set up a national database whereby qualified car-seat fitters could register what carseat had been fitted to a specific car and the seat positions tested in. It may sound a little over the top but would make things a lot safer.
Come on WHICH why not champion a registered database of approved car seat fitters and a database so people can register their carseat and car that has been checked. In my experience when people put there name to something they tend to give the right advice and those that aren’t registered should not be used.