If you have children or grandchildren, you’re no doubt aware of the need to choose the right products and accessories to keep them content (and, most importantly, safe) during car journeys.
I have extensive personal experience of this as I have a life that requires me to travel long distances frequently, and a toddler nearing three years old who isn’t the biggest fan of car journeys. As such, my wife and I have purchased all manner of related products. Some have been successful – others … well, let’s just say there are a fair few rejects on our ever-growing eBay pile.
With this in mind, I’ve produced this list of six essential car seats and accessories. Every product recommended here has been extensively trialled – personally, and by a fussy toddler called Freddie.
1. A car seat that’s suitable from birth
Extensive tests prove that infants are far safer in rear-facing seats – up to five times safer according to this report. As such, when my wife and I began our extensive research for our son’s first seat, rear facing was the only choice.
This was the seat we chose, and it was a great success. The seat is extremely sturdy and stable, connecting to the car’s ISOFIX mounts. Most cars have these, but it’s worth checking compatibility before ordering.
The seat has a “newborn insert” for the early months and the rear rest is also adjustable for comfort as the baby grows.
Having a child who’s not a great traveller has allowed us to truly put this seat through its paces – including removing and cleaning the covers after sickness and spillages. The fact it still looks brand new after a couple of years is testament to its quality. It’s not the cheapest child car seat out there, but it was worth every penny to us.
- Very solid and secure.
- Padded and comfortable.
- Durable quality.
- Installation takes a little time.
2. An ESSENTIAL accessory for rear-facing seats
An undeniable downside of rear-facing car seats is that it makes it hard for the driver (and even a companion in the front) to check on the baby in the back. This can cause people to compromise on safety – cancelling out the benefits of a rear facing seat by not paying full attention to the road.
A mirror solution is simple and obvious but often really poorly implemented. We were therefore glad we researched and went with the product that now has nearly 500 positive reviews on Amazon.
It’s inexpensive (more so online than on the high street), doesn’t fall down, yet is also easy to remove and reattach when we have other passengers in the back.
- Easy to use and glance at.
- Great quality.
- Comes with a no-quibble guarantee.
- Nothing – this is a must with any rear-facing seat.
3. A car chair for a growing toddler
When Freddie outgrew his first car chair (above), the time had come to switch to front-facing. We chose to stick with Britax after good experiences and were pleased with the decision. This model is good for children up to 36kg so should, in theory, be the last seat we need for many years to come.
The trademark Britax sturdy quality is present and correct, and it was instantly apparent how much more comfortable this was for a growing boy when some of the “are we there yet?” moaning began to subside!
As with the previous recommendation, this is an ISOFIX seat, so it’s important to check for compatibility. It’s also only right to point out that installation is quite fiddly and involved, and therefore worth setting aside some time for.
Overall we’re extremely happy with this chair, and although (thankfully) we’ve not had to take advantage of it yet, the covers are all washable.
- Sturdy and secure.
- Plenty of scope for adjustment.
- Washable covers.
- Not the cheapest option on the market.
- A little involved to install.
4. A practical accessory
However comfortable a child is in the car, they’ll still get bored on long journeys, and the addition of this tray table accessory has done much to improve our own situation in this regard.
I cannot pretend it’s the most sturdy or well-made product out there, but the important thing is that it’s worked. By scattering a few well-chosen toys and books on the tabletop and in the pockets, Freddie can reach for things to keep himself amused throughout the journey.
It’s important to think through how to use this product. Inevitably things will end up on the floor of the car, but a system of having the front-seat passenger drip feeding interesting objects from a pre-prepared bag in the front of the car seems to work well!
- A cheap way to give your child access to toys during a journey.
- Easy to fit.
- Not particularly sturdy.
5. A full “travel system”
A “travel system” is often one of the first things parents look to buy when they’re expecting a new arrival, and it was certainly at the top of our list.
These systems typically include a pushchair (stroller), pram, rocker and car chair, all in one flexible bundle. The sky’s the limit in terms of cost, but we were perfectly happy with this model, which didn’t break the bank and held up well to plenty of travel.
In terms of the car seat specifically, this is a small rear facing model that’s good from newborn to small toddler size. It connects using a seatbelt, so while it’s not as inherently safe as ISOFIX, it’s great for being out and about and for ad-hoc use in hire cars, friends’ vehicles and taxis.
Best of all, the car chair is also the rocker, and the basis of the stroller, so you can move the baby from the car to home, via the shops, all without the need for waking them!
- Great value.
- Plenty of flexibility.
- Car seat fits in any car.
- Lots of parts and accessories – reading the manual is essential!
- No ISOFIX.
6. Entertainment for older children
While we fully appreciate that putting a child in front of a screen for the sake of peace and quiet isn’t great parenting, car journeys seem a reasonable exception to the rule!
There are plenty of in-car screens and DVD systems out there (we have a guide to them here), but if you already have an iPad in the house, using a headrest holder like this is a far cheaper option.
We were led by positive online reviews when we purchased this and were not disappointed. In fact, the cover remains permanently on the iPad when it’s not in the car.
One thing to be aware of (which we found out the hard way) is that staring at what is effectively a TV screen, in a moving car for prolonged periods, can prove a trigger for motion sickness – especially if your child is in a rear-facing seat. As such it’s best to gradually ramp up how long your child can use this for to and be sure they don’t suffer from this. The alternative is risking a roadside clean-up job (again, we found out the hard way).
Please note: this article links to the iPad Mini version we purchased – ensure you order a suitable holder for your own iPad model.
- A simpler alternative to in-car screens if you already have an iPad.
- Good quality.
- Easy to fit.
- May trigger motion sickness with prolonged use.
A Final Word
As I explained above, these listed products are all items that myself and my family have personally used, complete with a completely honest account of our experiences. All of the products were purchased privately and none were supplied free for the purposes of a write-up. If you have any questions about any of the products, let me know in the comments.