In a new Which? undercover investigation, we reveal the high street retailers fitting child car seats incorrectly as we expose the serious failings and potentially dangerous mistakes that could put lives at risk.
We sent car seat fitting experts undercover into 42 stores across the UK to ask staff to fit two different car seats. Of the stores we visited, 90% failed to fit our car seats correctly. Only four managed to fit both our car seats properly and 13 failed to ask any essential questions before the fittings.
Our experts identified three chains that performed the worst and made dangerous errors which could put a child in serious danger if the car was involved in an accident. Babies ‘R’ Us and Mamas & Papas each failed 11 of the 12 fittings with a catalogue of mistakes, while Kiddicare failed nine*.
Some of the dangerous errors we saw included fitting the seat with the support leg – an important safety feature – still folded under the base of the seat making it unstable, and one seat not attached to the car securely enough because the fitter did not know how to install it using the seat belt properly.
However, it’s not just these three which performed badly – all the stores we visited have room to improve. Halfords managed just two successful fittings, Mothercare just three, and John Lewis – the best of the major retailers – still failed two-thirds of the fittings.
Independent stores did slightly better and achieved the most successful fittings (seven out of 12) but our undercover experts thought their advice wasn’t as comprehensive as it should have been.
The majority of staff we saw didn’t spend enough time fitting and explaining how to use the car seats. Some fitters blamed the products for being ‘broken’ but it was clear to our experts that their failings were often down to a lack of training.
Which? editor, Richard Headland, said:
“It’s unacceptable that retailers are providing such shockingly poor fitting services, which could potentially be putting children at risk.
“We have given our findings to the retailers and urged them to improve their staff training and knowledge of child car seats so they offer the correct advice every time. Parents should be able to trust the advice they get from major retailers.”
Which? has published a handy car seat fitting check-list for parents to keep children protected.
Notes to editors:
To see a copy of the full investigation visit the downloads section.
1. See video footage of the worst car seat fittings at which.co.uk/badfitting.
2. Retailer responses: Mamas & Papas says it has worked incredibly hard to educate store colleagues about car seat safety, so it’s disappointed. It says the results highlight inconsistencies in advice provided to retailers by a number of bodies, and believes there is an opportunity for retailers, car seat brands, the government and Which? to collaborate. Babies ‘R’ Us vows to build and strengthen training and support for car seat safety fittings to improve the disappointing results. Kiddicare is investigating and will take corrective action where required. John Lewis says car seat fitting is mandatory training, but it will ensure points raised are reflected in training. Halfords says it has ROSPA-accredited fitting courses and annual refresher courses, and is confident it has substantially improved customer experience. Mothercare has invested significantly in training, but recognises there is more to do in certain areas. Full responses from all retailers are available on request.
3. Methodology: We sent car seat fitting experts to 42 stores across the country (seven different retailers, visiting each six times) posing as parents of an 11-month-old baby that they wanted to move up from an infant carrier car seat to a forward-facing group 1 car seat. We asked retailers to fit two seats: an Isofix seat considered easy to fit, and a trickier seat installed using the seat belt. For a well-trained car seat fitter, both should have been straightforward. Our experts gave each fitting a pass or a fail, noting how many errors were made and whether staff gave good advice, including asking vital pre-fitting questions such as the child’s age or weight.
4. Total fittings passed:
|Mamas & Papas||1/12|
|Babies ‘R’ Us||1/12|
*Although Halfords passed fewer fittings than Kiddicare, Kiddicare made it into our worst three because staff made serious errors which could put a child in danger if the car was involved in an accident with the car seat as it was fitted.