So once they’ve outgrown their infant car seat, it’s time to upgrade to one for a toddler. It can be a bit of a daunting process, but not to worry — we’ve listed everything you need to know below and picked out some worthy car seats for you to consider.
What type of child seat does a toddler need?
Child car seats are designed to fit children either by their weight or height (called i-Size).
Weight-based seats are divided into groups that start at Group 0 (birth) and go to Group 3 (when you child weighs up to 36kg).
While a toddler is defined as a child aged 1-3 years old, it’s important to base their seat on their height or weight, rather than their age.
If you’re buying a weight-based seat for a toddler, most will require Group 1 (9-18kg), which should take them up to their fourth birthday. You may find seats aimed at Group 1 and 2, or even Group 1, 2 and 3, which in theory would last them until they grow out of child seats altogether, though comfort and space may be an issue as your child gets older, and you may find high-back boosters more suitable for the later stages.
Not sure what group size you need? Here are the categories in full:
- Group 0 Birth to 10kg, birth to 6-9 months, 40cm – 85cm
- Group 0+ Birth to 13kg, birth to 12-15 months, 40cm – 85cm
- Group 1 9kg – 18kg, 9 months to 4 years, 85cm – 105cm
- Group 2 15kg – 25kg, 4 to 6 years, 105cm – 150cm
- Group 3 22kg – 36kg, 6 to 12 years, 125cm – 150cm
- Group 0+/1 birth to 18kg, birth to 4 years, 40cm-105cm
- Group 0+/1/2/3 birth to 36kg, birth to 12 years, 40cm to 150cm
- Group 1/2/3 9kg to 36kg, 9 months to 12 years, 85cm to 150cm
If you’re buying an i-Size seat for a toddler, you’re most likely going to be looking at one that fits children over 61cm and may last them until they are no longer required to use a child seat, but again you may find that a good high-back booster seat provides more comfort for your child as they approach 12 years old.
Want to know the i-Size car seat height groups? Here are the four types:
- i-Size baby Birth to 85cm (approximately 15-18 months old)
- i-Size baby and toddler Birth to 105cm (approximately four years old)
- i-Size toddler and child 61-105cm (approximately 15 months to 12 years old)
- i-Size child 100-135cm (approximately 4-12 years old)
What are the rules and regulations for toddler car seats?
The rules and regulations around child car seats are regularly updated, meaning it’s important to check you’re up to date before making a purchase. Here are the rules and regulations you should be aware of as of March 2021:
- i-Size seats should be rear facing until your toddler is 15 months old
- Weight-based seats should be rear facing until your toddler weighs 9kg
- Group seats 0 and 0+ should be rear-facing, Group seats 1, 2 and 3 can be rear- or forward-facing
- You must use an EU-approved car seat. These are identified with a label and capital “E”
- Only use a diagonal seat belt with a child car seat unless the car seat is designed specifically for use with a lap belt or is fitted using Isofix anchor points (all cars built from 2011 have Isofix anchor points in the rear, though some car makers added them earlier)
- Deactivate the passenger airbag(s) before fitting a rear-facing car seat in the front seat
- Do not use side-facing seats
- Child car seats are required by law until your child is 12 years old or 135cm, whichever comes first
If you want to read more on child seat rules and regulations, we’ve put together a useful car seat guide.
To help you navigate the world of car seats, we’ve rounded up some of the best toddler car seats on the market, based on reviews and our own expert opinion, below.
1. We tested: Nuna MYTI Group 1/2/3
- Nuna MYTI Group 1/2/3 Car Seat, £275 from Mamas and Papas – buy here
The Nuna MYTI is apparently the go-to child seat for celebrities, and allegedly counts Beyoncé and The Kardashians among its fans. However, it’s not just A-listers that this car seat has impressed — we tested it out in 2019 and awarded it five stars.
At £275, this seat is one of the most expensive in this roundup but considering it should see your child from around 15 months to 12 years old (9kgs to 36kgs), it could be a worthwhile investment. We’ve tested it with a toddler and a seven-year-old girl, and they’ve both found it perfectly comfortable.
It attaches to Isofix points and has an additional top anchor clip, which can be secured to a fixing behind the rear seats on compatible cars. There’s a five-point harness for children from 76cm to 105cm, and then your vehicle’s seat belt can be used until your child no longer requires a car seat.
As you can tell from the guidance by height rather than weight, it’s i-Size compliant, has nine adjustable headrest and shoulder positions, and is made from thick energy-absorbing foam with a sturdy plastic and steel frame.
It’s a heavy but solid product which we found to be of superb quality and, as an added bonus, it was quick and easy to install.
You can read our full review of the Nuna MYTI car seat here.
2. Joie Baby Spin 360 Group 0+/1 i-Size Car Seat
- Joie Baby Spin 360 Group 0+/1 i-Size Car Seat, £280 from John Lewis – buy here
The Joie Baby Spin toddler car seat is suitable from birth up to around four years old (40-105cm), and is a Which? Best Buy.
It rotates 360 degrees, making it easy to get your child in and out of, and meaning you could opt to make it rear-facing for a child up to four years old, which is reassuring as keeping children rear-facing for longer is considered much safer.
It’s i-Size certified, has a “Tri-Protect” headrest for added security, and comes with a two year guarantee.
There are six recline positions, 19 adjustable leg positions, a multi-height headrest and harness system, and an Isofix base.
One satisfied parent commented: “This car seat is the best! Very safe and tough and easy to get my daughter in and out of the car. Love it!”
It’s worth noting that it’s a heavy seat (around 14kg), so may not be the most practical choice if you’re planning on regularly switching between cars.
3. Britax Romer Dualfix M i-Size Car Seat
- Britax Romer Dualfix M i-size Car Seat, £325 from Boots – buy here
The award-winning Britax Romer Dualfix M car seat is the most expensive option in our list, but is a customer favourite.
It has 360 degree rotation and adjustable leg space, so your child could remain rear-facing up to four years old (18kg), if you wish. It’s i-Size approved, has a five-point harness, a Pivot Link Isofix system and SICT (side impact cushion technology), and also comes with a two year warranty.
Customers have described this toddler car seat as “sturdy and strong”, “easy to install and use” and have said that it “has fantastic safety features”. It’s suitable for children from 61cm to 105cm (roughly three months to four years).
4. Joie Baby Bold Group 1/2/3 Car Seat
- Joie Baby Bold Group 1/2/3 Car Seat, £175 from John Lewis – buy here
Like the Nuna MYTI, this toddler car seat is a Group 1/2/3, which should see your child from 9kg-36kg (or roughly nine months to 12 years).
It has nine position “Isosafe” connectors (which are used primarily to help keep the seat stable and in place — a regular seatbelt is required in addition for proper installation), a cup holder, and a Grow Together harness and headrest system which adjust simultaneously so you won’t need to re-thread the harness when your child outgrows it.
Customers have commented on how well made and sturdy it is, and said that it feels very secure. However, some have said that if you suffer from a bad back then you may find it difficult to get your child into the seat. If that’s you, then the Joie i-Spin 360 swivel might be the way to go.
5. Cosatto Judo Group 123 Car Seat — Bunny Buddy
- Cosatto Judo Group 123 Car Seat, £149.95 from Boots – buy here
Cute pink bunnies not your thing? Not to worry, this car seat also comes in a spaceman and fox design.
The Cosatto Judo seat has double side impact protection, uses Isofix anchor points and a five-point anti-escape harness — a great feature if you have a mini Houdini on your hands.
It’s suitable for children weighing 9kg to 36kg (nine months to 12 years approximately), has a two position recline and comes with a four year guarantee. Plus, it’s super cute.
Many reviewers commented how much their children loved the patterns and designs, as well as how comfortable and safe they feel it is.
6. Cosy N Safe Merlin 360 Group 0+/1 Car Seat
- Cosy N Safe Merlin 360 Car Seat, £189.99 from Halfords – buy here
Suitable for children from birth up to four years old (0kg to 18kg), this child car seat gives you the option to keep your toddler rear-facing until they’re 13kg.
Safety features include a five-point harness, side impact protection and Isofix-connectors. Other features include a five-point recline, 360-degree swivel rotation, extra cushioning and an adjustable headrest. It also has removable inserts and washable covers — perfect for sticky fingers.
One happy parent commented: “A fantastic Isofit car seat. Easy to fit, and feels secure once correctly installed (unlike some Isofit seats). The 360 rotation makes it a breeze to get our six week old in and out of the car. As for comfort, I haven’t personally sat in it, but the little one seems nice and content and looks and feels nice and secure and protected.”
7. Graco Milestone All-in-One Car Seat Group 0+/1/2/3
- Graco Milestone All-in-One Car Seat Group 0+/1/2/3, £176.70 from Amazon – buy here
The Graco Milestone seat should see your child from birth through until they no longer legally require a car seat.
It has three angles of recline and can be used rear-facing until your child weighs 13kg. The height of the three-point harness automatically adjusts when you move the headrest for ease of use, and it has four recline positions.
It doesn’t have Isofix connectors, which means extra care is needed when following the instructions for a proper, safe installation — a study carried out in 2014 showed that 67% of non-Isofix car seats were installed incorrectly. And when opting for a non-Isofix seat, check that your seatbelt is long enough first.
It has more than 500 five-star reviews on Amazon, and reviewers have described it as “easy to install”, “easy to adjust” “value for money” and “top quality”. The cup holder is a big hit, too.
8. Maxi Cosi Axiss Swivelling Toddler Car Seat
- Maxi-Cosi Axiss Swivelling Toddler Car Seat, £149 from Amazon – buy here
An Amazon Bestseller, the Maxi-Cosi Axiss is suitable for children aged nine months to four years (9kg to 18kg).
As the name suggests, it swivels 90 degrees to get your toddler in and out of the car with ease, which is a feature customers love. It has eight recline positions and simultaneous headrest and hardness adjustment, but note that it’s not Isofix compatible, so extra care is required during installation with the seatbelt.
It has more than 550 five-star reviews on Amazon and customers describe it as “easy to install”, “value for money”, and say that the swivel function “saves your back”.
9. Halfords Essential Group 1/2/3 Child Car Seat
- Halfords Essential Group 1/2/3 Child Car Seat, £40 from Halfords – buy here
At under £50, this is this cheapest option in our round-up and a bargain.
Simple yet effective, this Halfords toddler car seat will see your child from around nine months through to 12 years (9kg to 36kg). It has a five-point harness, nine headrest positions and a washable cover. However, it’s worth noting that it’s not Isofix compatible.
Halfords customers have described it as “great value”, “easy to install” and “comfy”.
How to get a toddler in a car seat
Bribery? We jest. But seriously, we know that it’s not always easy getting your toddler to cooperate.
Knowledgeable parents have suggested the following techniques:
- Distract them (Peppa Pig on your phone, perhaps?)
- Give them some options, such as “Do you want to get in by yourself like a big boy/girl, or do you want me to lift you in?”
- Get their favourite stuffed animal to help buckle them in, or try out the car seat (and love it, obviously)
- Tell them the car won’t start until they’re buckled in
- Let them help — try letting them climb in by themselves or buckling themselves in
- Make car journeys fun — put on their favourite song when they get in the car, talk in a silly voice, play a game of I-spy
How to keep a toddler in a car seat
Keeping a toddler in their car seat can be a tricky business for some parents. If you’ve got a mini escape artist on your hands we’d recommend checking the harness height (check your car seat manual for how to do this), and ensuring the harness is tightened every time before setting off. If that doesn’t deter your toddler, you might want to consider purchasing a child seat with an anti-escape system, such as the Cosatto Judo (see above).
You can also purchase the anti-escape system separately — though it has mixed reviews.
- 5-point Plus Anti-Escape System, £44.47 from Amazon – buy here
How to install and remove a toddler car seat
Every seat will be different so make sure you read the instruction manual for the specific car seat you’ve purchased, and keep the manual in safe location so that you can refer to it again if necessary. Isofix makes things a lot easier (and potentially safer).
For more tips on how to install a car seat, this guide from John Lewis may come in handy.
Which car seat should I buy for a toddler?
You’ll need a 0+/1 group size seat for your toddler, and it will need to be rear-facing until your toddler weighs 9kg for weight-based seats or is aged 15 months for i-Size seats. Ideally you will want to keep your child rear-facing for longer, as experts agree this is safer.
The Britax Romer Dualfix, Joie Baby Spin 360 and Nuna MYTI are excellent models, but you can’t go wrong with any of the options we’ve listed above.
Be sure to check whether your car is Isofix-compatible before making a purchase. All vehicles buolt after 2011 are required to Isofix points in the rear, but some models manufactured before that may have them as well.
This article features products that have been chosen independently byjournalists, and our reviews are unbiased. We may earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to affect our opinions.