/ Motoring, Parenting

Are you too young to die?

Empty child car seat

Of course, I would expect most of you to reply with a resounding ‘Yes!’. So why are so many children’s lives being put at risk by bad safety and fitting advice about child car seats?

Preventing people dying or being injured is something Which? has been campaigning on long and hard since its launch.

I’ve raised this question today to point you towards the theme of this year’s Road Safety Week: ‘Too young to die’, which has been running all week.

The Which? Car team has been supporting the week with news stories, with a particular focus on child car seats. Of course, a lot of you might yawn when I mention child car seats – maybe you don’t have children, or are way beyond that stage with yours.

I hope you don’t yawn, and I urge you to think about it in any case. It could affect you if you’re a grandparent, or a carer in some other way. In fact, anyone who takes a child up to 12-years-old in their car needs to use an appropriate seat.

Proper installation is crucial

If you have had to use a child car seat (for a child, obviously, not for yourself!), it’s important to get the installation right. Even the best seats can have their safety compromised if they aren’t correctly installed – and some are really quite complicated.

The first port of call for advice is the store you buy it from – and we recently investigated the big high street retailers. The results were shocking, with an unacceptable number of stores recommending inappropriate seats for our car and more than half fitting the seats incorrectly when demonstrating them.

Luckily, we recorded all the mystery shopping data and secretly filmed each visit, so we had hard evidence to take to the retailers in our follow up, asking each to sign up to our Retailer Best Practice charter – promising to improve what they do.

Improvements are on the horizon

Of the six major retailers we investigated and spoke to, four have signed up to our charter so far. Babies R Us, John Lewis, Mamas & Papas and Mothercare have all promised to improve.

Some have already conducted reviews of their car seat fitting services. For instance, Mamas & Papas has conducted its own mystery shopping investigations at its stores and promised to make big changes to how it trains staff.

A way still to go

Disappointingly, Halfords has so far not signed up. It welcomed the concept of a charter and says it’s considering it internally. We’re continuing discussions with Halfords on this.

Tesco was more disappointing still. Not only has it not signed up, it also lacks a national car seat fitting service. So until it changes its stance, we advise you to steer well clear of its stores when buying child car seats.

This isn’t the end of the process though – we plan to go back to all the retailers when the charter has been established to see how they’re getting on with delivering acceptable advice.

In the mean time, we’d really like to hear about your experiences. Have you been sold a seat that doesn’t suit your child or fit your car? Has a retailer installed a seat for you, only for you to discover they did it wrong? Or maybe you’ve found a retailer that went the extra mile?


If it is complicated to fit a child’s seat in a car, is it appropriate to expect a shop to provide reliable advice? Many people can follow clear instructions and anyone unsure should seek advice from a company that is competent to provide it. It would be useful for the instructions to include a list of companies with appropriate expertise.

I think Which? is expecting too much of retailers. It is not reasonable to expect a DIY store to provide good safety advice, whereas it is appropriate for a specialist tool hire company to do this, and to provide appropriate PPE. I am waiting for someone to suggest that retailers should offer advice on how to lift TVs and other heavy appliances they sell. 🙂

Perhaps there is a need for more uniformity in car seat design so that fitting a child’s seat is less complicated. That might save a few lives.

YummyMummyEssex says:
29 January 2013

In the last week I visited 5 retail stores, 2 being mothercare, 1 being kiddicare and 2 being halfords.

I went to purchase a infant car seat for my Ford Ka; Kiddicare fitted the car seat and said it was perfect. The first mothercare store said the same car seat didnt fit and refused to sell the car seat without a isofix base. Both Halford stores said the car seat didnt fit. The final Mothercare store said the car seat fitted perfect and sold me the car seat without having me sign anything!

It is scary that none of these stores are trained well enough. The infant car seat manufacturers states on their website that te car seat would fit in my Ford Ka.

So 2 out the 5 say its safe? I am obviously puzzled. Do I buy a base or not?

I suggest that you contact the seat manufacturer for reliable, up-to-date information. It would be worth mentioning the names of companies that are providing incorrect advice.

Products that are unsuitable can obviously be returned for refund but if the problem is not obvious and safety is compromised, that is worrying. The retailer should ensure that staff look up the current information about compatibility and that is something that any competent person should be able to do.

You could report this to Trading Standards.

When I went to mothercare, Basildon, to buy another car seat it was revealed that my current car seat (which I bought and had fitted at this store a year ago) Is approved for my car. The floor manager advised that they would not have sold or fitted a car seat that was not approved for the car, and insinuated that we must have bought it online. So when I found my fittings form which proves I bought the seat and had it fitted at their store I called the store and spoke to a more senior manager. This manager was v defensive throughout the conversation and said we must have been made aware that it wasn’t suitable and decided to purchase it anyway, which we ABSOLUTELY didn’t. There is no way we would knowingly put our child’s safety at risk and go against regulations. I was appalled at how the management in this store handled this situation. And clearly they have no real, clear policy in place as one manager believes they would never sell or fit a seat in this instance, and another believes we bought it in store against their advise (and I guess we forced their hand to fit it in our car too!) We were, eventually, offered a good will gesture of replacing the seat, which we have yet to accept, as what concerns me more is that this company obviously have no problem selling unfit seats in the first place, they just want to make a sale. I felt like they were trying to bully me into accepting responsibility for this, rather than apologise, explain how this situation could have occurred and assure me that this would not happen again to another customer.