UK car dealers could be putting customers' safety at risk by giving them poor quality advice, according to consumer group Which?

Its undercover researchers, posing as potential customers, asked dealers three safety questions and found that only one in four answered all satisfactorily.

Dealers gave inconsistent advice when asked about carrying a six-month-old baby on the front-passenger seat. Fitting a rearward-facing child seat in front of an active airbag could result in injury or death.

Electronic stability control (ESC) can prevent drivers from losing control of a car, but dealers were often unclear about its benefits and whether it was fitted as standard, Which? found.

'Active' head restraints can reduce whiplash, but many of the dealers did not know what they were and which cars had them.

Which? said dealers' advice must improve so that car buyers aren't sold short on safety. It recommends that buyers check what safety features are available on their chosen model before they sign up.

Which? editor Malcolm Coles said: "Car safety may be streets ahead of where it was 10 years ago, but too many important safety features are optional. As many shoppers have a very limited knowledge of what safety kit they need, getting good advice from a dealer is crucial.

"Our research shows it's a lottery as to whether customers get the right information and that simply isn't good enough. Dealerships must take more responsibility to ensure that their staff are trained to give proper advice."

"All safety features are important to manufacturers and dealers, and increasingly items like ESC are becoming standard, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) responded. "The Which? survey seemed to sample a fairly small proportion of dealerships, only 16 in total, which hardly provides a conclusive sample size for the whole of the UK."