How to choose a car seat that matches your child’s age and height

Correctly installing a child’s car seat can help reduce the need for hospitalisation after an accident

24 March 2021 - 08:54
Toddler seats are bulkier and provide ample leg space as your child grows.
Image: Supplied/Discovery Insure Toddler seats are bulkier and provide ample leg space as your child grows.

An Automobile Association of SA (AA) survey in 2020 revealed that 93% of little ones are not strapped in well enough to survive a car accident. Children who aren’t safely restrained are at higher risk of serious injury or death than those who are, even if a crash occurs at a slower speed.

While it’s important to have the most appropriate car seat for a child at each stage of development, correct installation is also crucial when it comes to safety. According to the AA, a correctly installed safety seat has been shown to help reduce the need for hospitalisation by up to 69% after an accident.

Here are some factors to consider when matching your child’s age, size and weight with the most appropriate seat throughout their development:


Weight and height range benchmarks:

  • Newborn to 13kg
  • 75cm-80cm tall (approximately)
  • The best seat to use: Rear-facing infant car seat

The first car seat a new parent will need is a rear-facing infant seat.

Proven to be the safest option, they are also a must for preemies and tiny infants. Small babies can be comfortably and safely placed in the correct reclined position within these seats. It’s recommended that children rear-face until at least 15 months of age.

A general rule of thumb is that once the top of your baby or toddler’s head reaches within 2.5cm of the highest point of the car seat, a new seat is required. You can also buy a new seat when your child reaches the maximum weight that it’s designed for.

Why are rear-facing seats preferred?

Rear-facing seats are designed (and have been tested) to cradle a child should an accident occur. This helps to reduce as much stress and injury to the neck and spinal cord as possible during a crash. Make sure the car seat has good side impact protection to prevent strain on your child’s neck and skull during the rotation movements of a crash.


Weight and height range benchmarks:

  • Between 9kg and 18kg
  • 80cm–105cm tall (approximately)
  • 15 months to four years
  • The best seat to use: A toddler seat (group 1) adjusted according to your child’s body. A car seat with the option to rear-face until 18kg will give you the flexibility to rear- face for as long as you can.

These seats are bulkier and provide ample leg space as your child grows. Your little one will likely make use of this seat for at least three to four years (or until the maximum height and weight specifications are reached).

Your child will have outgrown the seat when they reach the maximum weight, age or height specified for the car seat.


Weight and height range benchmarks:

  • Between 15kg and 36kg
  • 95cm–135cm tall (approximately)
  • The best seat to use: A belt-positioning booster seat (high-back)

Booster seats help to elevate a child safely in the back-passenger seats of a vehicle until the built-in seat belt can be comfortably placed over the strongest portions of the body.

A high-back booster seat is best to use once your little one has outgrown his/her toddler car seat. They can also be used comfortably with lap and shoulder seat belts built-in to a vehicle.

Booster seats typically need to be used until a child is between the ages of 10 and 12, after which he or she will likely have grown into sufficient height to use a vehicle’s built-in seat belt (1.5m or taller).

In general, your child will have outgrown their seat when the applicable age, height and weight specifications allowed for the seat and harness have been reached.

Other indications include:

  • Your child’s shoulders no longer sit comfortably beneath the top harness slots
  • When your child’s head reaches within 2.5cm of the top of the car seat

When is your child ready to wear a vehicle’s seat belt?

When a seat belt can be worn comfortably across the shoulder and middle of the chest without making contact with the neck or throat, additional safety seats are no longer needed.

Your child must be tall enough to sit comfortably upright (without slouching) in the back passenger seat with knees bent over the seat edge. Your child must also be able to comfortably remain seated in this position for the duration of a trip.

Watch the video below | Choosing the correct seat

Read: Get car insurance from Discovery Insure in 60 seconds

Make sure your car and tyres are in ideal condition for your trip.

For more information, visit the Discovery Insure website.

This article was paid for by Discovery Insure.