Car seats are expensive. Better car seats are more expensive. The cost of car seats is a common debate, even though in the end it isn’t really relevant. The safest car seat for you is the best one you can afford that installs safely in your car and matches the weight, height and age needs of your child.
My personal recommendation on car seats are the BeSafe seats, the Volvo seats, Recaro and then some of the Maxi Cosi’s. These are expensive seats. They are the cause of many of these conversations around the cost of car seats.
I personally believe the safest seat currently available in SA is the BeSafe iZi Plus. It has excellent test results, including passing the stringent Swedish Plus Test. And it harnesses, rear facing, up to 25kgs and 115cm, around 5 years old. There are a few small things that push it a tiny bit ahead of the only other seat in this class (rear facing with harness to 25kgs), the Volvo Maxway.
The BeSafe iZi Plus costs R6,999. This is very expensive for many many people. It is more than my monthly bond repayments. Even though I believe it is the safest seat on our market, it is not even close to the most expensive. I certainly don’t have thousands or tens of thousands of rands in cash floating around on the spot, and I know and understand that this is true for the vast majority of parents. BUT.
If you know about it soon enough into your parenting journey, MANY (not all) CAN save for it. I have friends who skimped on everything for months to save for their car seat. I have another who took a loan and paid it off over a year to get their car seat. You are pregnant for 9 months at least, that is a long period of time to save. And seriously, every single other thing you think your baby needs? You can probably do without.
Your child only weighs 9kgs at around 6 months, which is the earliest you should use an ERF toddler car seat. You should keep your child in their infant seat until they exceed the maximum of 13kgs or 75cm tall; around 1 year. The design of an infant seat is to protect little bodies in that very early stage of development. A year is a LONG time to save.
Let’s set a benchmark for your being able to say you can’t afford a high end car seat.
If you can afford any of the following things… You are lying to yourself and you need to very closely review your priorities.
- A professional maternity and newborn shoot, which can cost anywhere between R1000 and R6000 each.
- A R6000 cot and compactum set.
- A plane ticket to anywhere.
- A holiday that requires a plane ticket.
- A weekend away in Cape Town and surrounds (I can’t speak for other cities, but here the prices are mental).
- Brand name infant clothing or shoes (they grow out of most of the things you buy before you even get to put them into these!)
- A brand name maternity bag (or any other kind of brand name bag… or clothing).
- Bouncy baby chairs, an “extra” crib, a pram that costs a fortune, multiple wraps or carriers, a high end rocking chair, a variety of bottle brand sets (just in case), every conceivable brand of dummy, an electric breast pump, jewellery to commemorate the birth, weekly mani-pedis, custom made cot bedding, and and and…
Let me jump in quick, these things are important in their own way. YOU are important. Looking after you is important. On this list, I am guilty of at least 11 different things and I know SO many people who are guilty of a lot more… While saying in the same breath that they can’t afford one of “those expensive car seats”.
I didn’t know better. I had NO idea.
In fact, I believed that a car seat was a car seat. And the price difference was like the difference in the price of bread between shops… the same thing, just status related.
We bought a travel system for R1450 (this was 5 years ago). It was on special a week after we found out we were pregnant. It was selling for R1000 off, and we had a R50 voucher so surely a travel system valued at R2,500 was high quality and safe? I just went through our excited gmail chat transcript. We didn’t just buy the cheapest or the first one we saw. I read as we visited google, searched for reviews, checked Hello Peter, asked family and friends if they knew the brand and the system itself. We wanted to know if it was safe and good quality.
The feedback was, we know that name and their products are good. We didn’t know. The difference is NOT status. Just because a brand sells good potties or feeding chairs, making them a recognised name, does not mean they sell good car seats. The difference is safety.
There are two kinds of car seats available in South Africa. Those designed and made en masse and bought off a stand in China, recovered and rebranded. And those designed, built and extensively tested during intensive research and development.
The seats from China aren’t necessarily unsafe, but they have definitely not been invested in long term. When you look at a few different “affordable” seats, you would be forgiven for thinking all car seats are the same – many of these imported off-the-shelf car seats ARE the same car seat with different covers.
Most are designed to meet basic safety requirements affordably. They are crash tested before they are put on that stand, but whether they pass by a percentage point or break all records is completely unknown as this information is not shared outside of a pass/fail. Once the brands select the seats to brand, and they’ve done their rebranding, they are meant to be tested again and get their own certification. The retesting is far too often skipped by importers.
This can make the seats difficult to track and find information on them. This becomes a real issue when international manufacturers do a product recall, because unscrupulous brands can simply deny that their seats are the ones recalled.
There are brands in South Africa that manage recalls very professionally and talk people through the process. There are brands that do the second crash test on the seats they select to ensure that the seats they are selling are as safe as the basic testing can assure. If one of these car seats is the safest car seat you can afford, then it is. If you follow every installation step and harnessing step properly from the manual, and you avoid speeding, distracted driving and any other thing that adds to the incredible danger of driving on South Africa’s roads – you are an awesome parent / grandparent / caregiver and your child is as safe as you can possibly make them.
Let’s look at what makes up the cost of car seats…
The top brands invest endlessly into continuous research and development. Every material they use is of the highest quality. They crash test their seats hundreds of times in-house, and if they aren’t the safest they can be, they work on improving on them until they are confident enough to put them to the very first external test. Once they pass the basic test, they then volunteer for further testing that goes above and beyond basic parameters.
The strictest test in the car seat world is the Swedish Plus test and the BeSafe iZi Plus and the BeSafe iZi Kid X2 iSize passed it.
“The Plus test is a voluntary approval that car seat manufacturers may choose to test their car seats for. A child safety seat approved according to the Plus test has passed the toughest crash test and get an additional marking as evidence. The Plus test measures the strain on the crash test dummy’s neck and the requirements for maximum strain are very tough. The Plus Test has such strict requirements that forward facing child car seats would not be able to comply with them. The thinking behind the test is that no children sitting in a child car seat which is Plus Test approved would sustain any serious/life-threatening injuries in a collision.”
So the first cost is that of the highest level of safety possible to achieve through consistent R&D and higher quality materials. You can physically feel the difference in these seats, from the seat covers to the weight of the shell that protects your child.
The second is labour costs. Even some of the safest seats in the world are manufactured in China, to keep the costs of the seats down. Car seats made in Europe are more expensive. I am unsure which other car seats are built in Europe; but some of the top tier BeSafe seats, including the iZi Plus, are made in Portugal.
The importers also have to transport the car seats in containers from Europe to South Africa. The cost of transport adds to the cost of the car seat as well.
All car seats imported to South Africa have to get certification by the NRCS to ensure that they meet the minimum set of regulatory technical and safety requirements. For the average high end car seat you are looking at paying roughly R10+ per seat you are bringing in. NRCS only certify European car seats.
And then there are the hidden costs… These are the ones many expect will point a giant finger of doom on quality car seat distributors in South Africa. Nope, sorry. Redirect your giant finger of doom at the villain in most of SAs stories – our government.
Import duties are in place to protect local business from having to compete with large international companies. There are no car seat manufacturers in South Africa. South African law says every child under 3 years old legally has to be in a car seat. Do you know how much they are charging car seat importers to bring in these seats – that are legally required and offering no threat to local industry? 20% on the value of the seats. South African parents have to pay that cost.
And then, of course, as a business operating in South Africa, they also pay 15% VAT.
So yes, the costs of car seats are high. And yes, a “safer” car seat costs more. The highest cost doesn’t always mean the safest car seat though. There is a frustration on the part of any parent who wants to do the best for their child but cannot necessarily afford it, to lash out at those who support these seats. This is something I understand on a primal level. But the only way to combat the cost of car seats is through an increase in demand. The only way to increase demand is to educate everybody we can on the safest option available to you.
The fact that a safer seat is more expensive is unavoidable. Research and development, crash testing, materials, labour, transporting the seats to South Africa, paying essentially 35% tax… these things add up. It isn’t personal.
A car seat is a long term investment. The first 12 months is when your child is at their most vulnerable, invest in the safest infant seat you can afford. When choosing a belt positioning booster seat (whether at 18kgs or 25kgs), choose one with a high back that provides high side impact protection and has guides that give your child the best seat belt fit possible. It needs to protect your child until they are between the ages of 10 and 12 years old!
It is the in between stages where the cost of car seats really flare up. Because physics says that rear facing your child for as long as possible, preferably to 4 years old… Is safer than forward facing. But rear facing car seats are more expensive to design, develop and import.
Is it wrong for people to share the fact that rear facing is safer? If that means that instead of that one week getaway, a parent who CAN afford to rear face knows better and invests in an extended rear facing car seat? If it means that a parent puts aside money every month from the time they fall pregnant to be able to afford the best for their child?
I don’t believe that sharing the things we learn that can save a life is ever a bad thing. I believe that holding back life-saving facts to protect the feelings of people is a dangerous practice. A parent who has the means to buy an R8000 car seat is not a better parent than one who has the means to purchase a R1000 car seat. A parent who buys a car seat is an amazing parent.
Do the research. Find the very best car seat YOU can afford, whether that means giving up the luxuries of life for a little while, saving a small amount every month, asking family to donate money into a car seat fund instead of giving gifts at a baby shower, selling the extra television or the exercise bike gathering dust in the corner, or taking whatever amount you can get together and purchasing it on Gumtree (following careful guidelines to buy a safe second hand seat) or making an affordable donation to Peggie’s team at Wheel Well in Joburg for a donated seat.
The cost of car seats is NOT a judgement on the kind of parent you are. (Unless you are stashing money that could be used to keep your child safe aside for something else.)
We know that not everybody can afford the top end car seats.
#CarseatFullstop has a continuously growing working knowledge of the various seats and best practice of their usage in SA. We are more than happy to share guidance and advice on helping you choose the best seat YOU can afford!
While we very proudly partner with BeSafe on spreading awareness on car seat safety and best practice in South Africa, they in no way try to affect our recommendations of other seats on the market. With a passion for child safety that rivals our own, their only requirement of us is to keep sharing information to get every child in a car in South Africa safely in a car seat.
Did reading this make a difference to how you think about car seats? I would really like to know.
With statistics saying that up to 93% of people aren’t strapping in their kids… We ALL know somebody who is adding to that number.
You have the power to save a little life.
One share, seen by one person, who straps in one child, saves a life.
#CarseatFullstop. Every child. Every time. No matter what.
Please follow us on our social media channels and share them to encourage others to follow along too.
If you have an old unused car seat gathering dust in your garage, please consider donating it to our very favourite NPO, Wheel Well. You can drop your seat at your closest Renault dealership and they will get the seat to Wheel Well. They will clean and safety check it, before giving it a new home with somebody in need for a small donation <3
Because of our shared passion for car seat safety, BeSafe allows our supporters to purchase their seats through us. This means that you can buy one of the safest car seats in the world fro us! And the profits will go to maintaining #CarseatFullstop! So saving your littles and helping us to save all the other littles out there!
If you are interested in purchasing a BeSafe car seat, you can join the “BeSafe with #CarseatFullstop” group on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/supportcarseatfullstop/. If you have any questions, you can ask them in the groups or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.