It’s no surprise that children grow fast! When your child has outgrown the height and/or weight limits for their harnessed car seat, it’s time to shop for the best booster car seat you can find. Booster seats are designed to help prepare your child for using the vehicle seat belt alone. They properly align the vehicle belt across your child’s lap and shoulder.
A booster seat can also help your child feel a lot more grown up. High back or backless booster seats are not only less restrictive, but they also look less like a child’s seat. Be sure you don’t move them to a booster seat too early. Harnessed seats are safer for children that haven’t outgrown their size limits.
Child boosters are also good for the other passengers in the car. They are usually a lot less bulky than traditional child safety seat. No more cramped knees for your front seat passengers. You can easily fit 3 boosters across most back seats, while other car seats can be a real challenge if you need a 3 seat configuration.
If you are in an accident, the booster makes it so that your child will have the maximum level of support and safety without harming his or her neck or chest. Putting your child in a booster seat too early can cause damage as can an ill-fitting booster seat.
When do you need a booster seat? Age and weight requirements
Your child needs a booster seat when he or she has reached the maximum height and/or weight for a forward-facing, harnessed car seat. This will typically be somewhere between 40 – 65 pounds or more. Here are some general rules of thumb if you’re unsure whether to make a transition to a booster seat.
- Has your child outgrown the weight and/or height limits of his or her harnessed seat?
- Is your child between 4 – 8 years of age and at least 35 inches tall?
- Is your child between 40 – 80 pounds and UNDER 4 feet, 9 inches tall?
- Is your child still UNABLE to sit with his back against the vehicle seat, with knees bent comfortably over the edge of the seat cushion and without slouching?
- When sitting directly on the vehicle seat, does the vehicle belt still not fit properly across the shoulder (not the neck) and over the lap (not the abdomen)?
If you answered yes to all of these, then your child is ready for a booster seat. A booster seat will last until the child is at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall, 8 – 12 years old, and up to 120 pounds for some seat models.
Don’t just go by age when deciding if you need to get a booster seat. Children all grow differently. So, if it comes down to it, the weight requirement is more important than age.
|High-back Booster Seats||Backless Booster Seats|
High-back booster seats have back and head supports and usually have seat belt guides to help position the vehicle belt across your child’s shoulder and lap.
This is the best next step for children who have outgrown a traditional harnessed seat.The extra head & neck support is good for children who still fall asleep in the car and for longer road trips. Many of these have an adjustable head rest to accommodate your growing child.
Some of these can be part of a combination or 3 – in 1 seat that convert from rear-facing to forward-facing to booster. Some high-backs also have a removable back so you can convert it to a backless booster.
Backless booster seats are the last step before your child is ready to ride without a safety seat. They are like specialized seat cushions that simply boost your child’s height. They offer no additional head or neck support.
Backless boosters have seat belt guides to properly position the vehicle belt on your child. Make sure your child’s legs bend with the seat for the safest ride.
Lightweight, compact and budget-friendly, these are the perfect seat for the child who can easily buckle themselves in without assistance.They’re easy to transport for short or long road trips.
Of course, even the best booster seat won’t work unless you install and use it correctly!
- Make sure you refer to the manufacturer’s user manual to see all size limits and how your seat works.
- For a backless booster, make sure your child’s ears do not go above the top of the vehicle seat. This will ensure they have proper head support and prevent whiplash. If your child’s ears are above the vehicle seat or you have low-slung seats, a high-back booster is the best option.
- The vehicle belt should ALWAYS make contact with your child’s shoulders and chest. It should also lie across the tops of the thighs, and NOT the stomach area. If not, try another booster or another location in the car.
Our 2018 Rating of Booster Car Seats
|Britax Frontier G1.1 ClickTight||Britax Pinnacle G1.1 ClickTight||Chicco KidFit 2-in-1 Booster||Evenflo Maestro Booster||Graco Atlas 65 2-in-1||Clek Oobr High Back Booster||Graco Affix Youth Booster||Disney KidsEmbrace Cinderella||KidsEmbrace DC Comics Batman||Graco Highback TurboBooster||Britax Parkway SGL G1.1||Graco Nautilus 65 3-in-1||Safety 1st Store-N-Go||Evenflo Big Kid AMP Booster||Evenflo Securekid Lx|
Britax Frontier G1.1 ClickTight
Overall, the Britax Frontier G1.1 Clicktight is a fantastic seat and like all Britax products, is made in the USA. It functions as both a harnessed forward-facing seat and a booster, so it would be a good transition from a rear-facing seat.
We found that the Britax Frontier was one of the easiest booster seats to install overall thanks to its ClickTight technology. The headrest has 9 positions to grow with your child. The seat cover is easy to remove and wash or just spot clean. The weight limits (90 lbs forward-facing, 120 pounds booster) and height limits (58 in. forward-facing, 62 in. booster) are quite high. Plus, heavy padding and quality construction mean it will probably last through at least a couple of kids.
The Frontier has won several awards for ease of use, safety, and more from several expert safety groups such as the NHTSA and IIHS.Disadvantages
This booster seat is pretty big and heavy, which wouldn’t be the best choice for frequent vehicle switches or long car trips. Another issue is that adults may need to step in to adjust the harness. It can get stuck against your vehicle seat so it’s hard to tighten. The seat belt can sometimes get stuck in the seat belt guide too.
The Frontier is not cheap. Some found the seat to be a bit narrow, but that hasn't been a universal complaint.Compilation of customer opinions
Overall, customers have been very happy with the purchase of this car seat. If you don’t need to switch vehicles often or while traveling and are ready to invest quite a bit of money in it, then the Frontier is a good booster seat option for you.
Britax Pinnacle G1.1 ClickTight
This combo harness-to-booster seat is one of the best you'll find. It has the highest weight and height limits of any other booster seat on the market. For the forward-facing harness, your child should be at least 25 pounds, up to 90 pounds and 30 – 58 inches tall. For the booster, they should be 40 – 120 pounds and between 45 – 62 inches tall.
The seat comes in 3 color/pattern choices: Mosaic, Venti, and Kate. There are 2 other color options (Gray and Teal) that have "Cool Flow" fabric. Though it's heavy and bulky, it has a lot of great safety features and is super easy to install.
Installation with either the LATCH or seat belt is simple for both new and experienced parents. The ClickTight system has a clearly marked seat belt path, while the LATCH connectors are a simple push and click operation with a release button for easy removal. You can also use LATCH while in booster mode.
The seat is nice and roomy with plenty of width so your child won't feel cramped. When you need to switch to booster mode, you don't have to remove the seat from your car. The harness tucks neatly away in built-in pockets. Two cup holders keep snacks and drinks in easy reach.Disadvantages
This is a heavy seat at 26.5 pounds, and it's big, so it's not good for those who need to switch cars frequently or who need a 3 car seat configuration. It's also expensive, so those on a tight budget may want to opt for the cheaper cousins of the Pinnacle – the Frontier and Pioneer.
Other downsides: The seat will not convert to a backless booster, you can only adjust the recline before you install the seat, and the forward-facing LATCH weight limit is low at only 38 pounds.Compilation of customer opinions
Parents loved that their kids had plenty of room in this seat. They especially loved how easy it was to install. Most felt that the price was well worth having such a sturdy and safe seat, though they did acknowledge that it was heavy and bulky.
Some parents have had issues with getting the harness tight enough. However, this could be due to vehicle seat design. One "fix" suggested by Britax is adding a thin piece of MDF or cutting board between car seat and the vehicle seat back. Britax customer service seems to be very responsive and helpful.
Chicco KidFit 2-in-1 Booster
The Chicco KidFit 2-in-1 Booster is a long-lasting booster seat that will grow well with your child for quite some time. It can be used as either high-back (weight limit 100 pounds) or backless (weight limit 110 pounds). It goes up to 110 pounds in the backless version and 100 pounds in the backed version.
It’s not very expensive, comes in 4 color choices, and is one of the easiest booster seats to install. As of 2018, there have been no recalls on this seat.
One of the biggest advantages is the fact that your child can use this as a backed and a backless version. It is easy for parents to install and adjust with 10 height positions for the headrest. It’s easy for kids to buckle themselves into this booster as well. Machine washable seat pad and armrest covers make cleaning easy. The cup holders are collapsible, removable and dishwasher safe.
You can use both the LATCH system and vehicle belt to install this seat, which is rather unusual. However the LATCH connection keeps the seat in place when your child isn’t riding in it, preventing it from being a projectile in a crash.Disadvantages
The seat is made in China, which can increase the chances of quality control issues. When in high-back mode, the seat rattles when the child is not riding in it, so you have to secure it with the seatbelt. The visual appeal is rather lacking compared to other Chicco products. It’s also a bit heavier and wider so it may take up more backseat real estate than the competition.Compilation of customer opinions
Very few parents have major complaints about this booster seat. Besides not fitting well in some smaller cars and vehicles with bucket seats, the Chicco KidFit 2-in-1 is a really good option for most families.
Evenflo Maestro Booster
The Evenflo Maestro Booster is a combination seat that converts from a harnessed forward facing car seat (22 - 65 pounds) and into a highback booster seat (40 - 110 pounds). It was tested (successfully) for both side impact and structural integrity at 2 x the federal crash test standards.
The Maestro comes in 3 color choices and also can be bought with or without a car seat kick mat that protects the back of your front seats from dirty shoes and scuff marks.
Like all Evenflo products, this seat is manufactured in the USA. The upfront harness adjustment is a favorite feature for parents because you can tighten or loosen the harness quickly with one hand. Dual cupholders are integrated in such a way that they don’t add to the width of this seat, which is uncommon in a lot of boosters. They also have an elastic strap to accommodate larger drink cups and bottles. A removable pillow adds extra comfort for long car trips.
It is also approved for aircraft use by the FAA (harness mode). One parent reported using a Go-Go-Babyz Travelmate car seat stroller to make it easier to carry the Maestro through the airport. You can even keep the child strapped into the seat so it acts like a temporary travel system.Disadvantages
NOTE: The 5-point harness and LATCH system for the harnessed mode are only approved for up to 50 pounds, even though the description lists a 65 pound weight limit for harnessed mode.
Several parents noted that the seat fabric on the bottom keeps coming loose. A few reported not being able to equally tighten both the left and right harness straps equally. Some parents had a very hard time fastening and unfastening the LATCH as well.
Some people complained about the low height limit in booster mode. This means your child could outgrow the height limit and need another seat before getting much use out of booster mode.Compilation of customer opinions
Overall, parents are satisfied with this seat. If you need a secondary seat for grandparents or a second car or do a lot of flying, this would be a good choice for its narrow profile and is lightweight enough to carry through the airport. For an everyday seat or one that needs to be switched from car to car often, you might want to consider other seats first.
Graco Atlas 65 2-in-1
For children who are over three years old and weigh more than 30 pounds (but under 100 pounds), the Graco Atlas 65 2-in-1 is a fantastic choice. It can be used as a forward-facing car seat up to 65 pounds, and then converts to a highback booster up to 100 pounds. It does NOT convert to a backless booster.
The Graco Atlas 65 comes in 2 color options and isn’t that expensive. It would make a good step up from a rear-facing car seat, but you may end up needing a separate backless booster if your child still needs one past 100 pounds.
This is a user-friendly seat with an easy to remove machine washable seat cover, a no re-thread harness, built in harness storage and has seat belt guides that make it easy for your child to buckle themselves in.
The Simply Safe Adjust system lets you adjust the headrest (10 positions) and the harness in one simple movement. Buckle covers keep the buckles from burning your or your child’s fingers on a hot day. Removable cup holders make it easy to keep a drink and snack within reach.Disadvantages
One of the biggest disadvantages is that this does not turn into a backless booster, which many parents expect when they get it. Instead, you get a backed booster with a harness. The seat bottom may feel less padded than others on the market. Depending on your vehicle seat and child, the recline may be lacking, so your child’s head might slump if they fall asleep.Compilation of customer opinions
Overall, most parents found this combination booster fit their needs well. Some of the biggest complaints involved not being able to secure the seat well enough with the LATCH or seatbelt so that it flopped around. This could be due to vehicle design or user error. We recommend watching installation videos and calling Graco to see if it will be compatible with your car.
Clek Oobr High Back Booster
If you're in the market for a premium booster seat, this high back booster from Clek Oobr is worth considering. While not cheap, it's not the most expensive on the market either. It has a few really nice features to improve safety and comfort.
This seat uses a rigid latch to lock the booster in place with your car's LATCH anchor to make it more stable in a collision. A lot of boosters don't have this feature. When using the rigid latch, you can also take advantage of the seat's recline feature, which gives your child a good 12 degrees of recline so they can rest better on long trips.
Moms love that the fabric doesn't contain harsh chemicals, and the seat is not made in China, which can often result in questionable quality. Most parents reported that their kids were very comfortable in the seat and slept well on long trips. They also liked the removable back for those who'd rather have a backless booster.Disadvantages
Several parents reported that the seat did not fit well in their specific vehicles. The seat was too wide in most of these cases, so it blocked the belt buckle. We recommend you call the manufacturer first to see if your vehicle is compatible with the seat before buying.
One parent noted a gap between the vehicle seat back and the booster while in backless mode, which was uncomfortable for her child. Others were disappointed that it didn't come with a cupholder. Some thought the seat wasn't padded enough and a few felt the seat depth was too shallow.Compilation of customer opinions
If the price of this seat would be a serious investment for you, it might be less risky to go for a cheaper option in case it doesn't fit your vehicle. For those who can spend a bit more, this seat is worth a try. Just be sure you find out if your vehicle is compatible with it before buying.
Graco Affix Youth Booster
The Graco Affix Youth Booster is a true booster seat that many parents have loved over the years, in a few different forms. This can be used as a backless booster seat (for between 40-100 pounds and 43 - 57 inches) or a highback booster seat (for between 30-100 pounds and 38 - 57 inches). This seat is a little bit wider than other models, making it perfect for longer rides.
The LATCH system holds this seat securely in place with a one-handed front adjuster. The seat won’t wobble around, which keeps the seat belt in place so your child can buckle himself in easily. The seat back and headrest adjust easily to accommodate your growing child and supports her head, neck, and back well.
A “secret” storage container lets your child store snacks, small toys and other things to keep him entertained. The Graco Affix is one of the best selling seats in the Graco line and is very budget-friendly.Disadvantages
The headrest may not adjust easily and can feel flimsy. The biggest complaint was that the headrest kept sliding down. Some had trouble getting the vehicle belt through the seat belt guides. Others felt the seat didn’t stay in place well enough, which could be unsafe in a crash.Compilation of customer opinions
Some parents have reported that they feel like the seat loosens more frequently than other seats, but it could be due to vehicle seat design, user error, or a wiggly child. Even if your child doesn’t move a lot, it might be a smart idea to check the seat for looseness regularly. There have been no recent recalls of this seat, however. But be sure to thoroughly inspect all parts and if anything is broken or malfunctioning, contact the seller and ask for a refund or exchange.
Disney KidsEmbrace Cinderella
For Disney lovers, particularly your little princesses, this booster seat is the perfect style. This seat starts as a forward-facing car seat for kids between 22 - 65 pounds and 29 - 49 inches in height. It can convert to a highback belt-positioning booster seat for kids between 30 - 100 pounds and 38 - 57 inches in height.
This seat also comes in a Cinderella “Platinum” which is just a different color combo - gray replaces the pink. There are many other designs for this seat such as Belle, Minnie Mouse, Batman, Paw Patrol, and Ninja Turtles. Despite it being a Disney product, it’s actually not very expensive.
Other than the typical Disney quality and attention to visual detail, you also get one handed harness adjustments, 3-position headrest, 2-position recline, a wraparound headrest, and 2 cup holders. The blue cape is detachable and can be used as a blanket for trip-weary travelers.
The seat pad and blanket are machine washable.Disadvantages
One of the biggest problems is that the straps can be quite twisty at times, especially if they are allowed to sit for some time. The cup holders are also not removable, which is inconvenient for cleaning.
The LATCH system is not a great design, and a few parents noted that it broke after some time. Seat padding is thinner than other models, and some parents felt the plastic parts and shell were flimsy and cheap.Compilation of customer opinions
Note that this seat does NOT convert to a backless booster. Quality control can be hit or miss with this seat. As far as visual appeal goes, the seat is superb for the younger kids who love Disney and other superhero characters. Once your kids approach the upper limit for the booster seat however, they may be very disenchanted with the look and want something more “grown up”.
KidsEmbrace DC Comics Batman
For the little superhero in your life, the KidsEmbrace Batman is a fantastically fun combination booster. It looks like one of your favorite superheroes while providing some support and safety features. If you are having trouble getting your child into a car seat, this might be a great place to start.
Like the Cinderella seat, this seat starts as a forward-facing car seat for kids between 22 - 65 pounds and 29 - 49 inches in height. It can convert to a highback belt-positioning booster seat for kids between 30 - 100 pounds and 38 - 57 inches in height.
The superhero design will appeal to many kids, especially boys. The washable, detachable cape can be used as a blanket. A 3-position headrest, 2-position recline and 2 cup holders make long car trips more comfortable.
Parents have noted that the seat cover removes easily and holds its color and shape well after machine washing. Some parents have said that children with sensory issues have been more willing to ride in this seat than others. Finally, people in all car sizes (minivans, compacts, SUVs, etc.) have said this is a good fit.
Finally, people in all car sizes (mini vans, compacts, SUVs, etc.) have said this is a good fit.Disadvantages
These seats, though cute, are incredibly different to install for many parents. Tightening the straps and getting that personalized fit is hard because of all the padding used to make these seats as neat as they are.
The 2-position crotch buckle may not be enough for growing boys and can make them feel cramped in the groin area. Like the Cinderella seat, quality control can be very hit or miss.Compilation of customer opinions
Many parents complained about just how difficult this one is to install and adjust. Quality control issues make it a gamble in terms of investment. We highly recommend thoroughly inspecting every part before and after installation. If anything is broken or malfunctioning, call the seller ASAP so you can get a refund or exchange. Note: there have been NO known recalls for this product as of October, 2018.
Graco Highback TurboBooster
The Graco Highback booster is a convertible booster that starts life as a highback booster and converts to backless. The highback version holds up to 30-100 pounds, and between 38 and 57″ in height. In the backless mode, your child should be 40-100 pounds, and the height limits are between 40″ and 57″.
It’s available in 3 color options and is one of the most affordable seats on our list. It was rated a Best Bet booster seat by the IIHS.
This seat is one of the lightest and narrowest boosters on the market today. At only 16 inches wide, it’s easier to get a 3 seat configuration if needed, even in smaller vehicles. It is extremely easy to adjust and move around as well. Full coverage back support and a multi-layer headrest in high-back mode makes it more comfortable for long road trips.
Dual hideaway cup holders keep drinks and snacks within reach and fold in when not needed. The patterns are less child-like so this seat will appeal more to older kids or younger ones that insist on riding in a “grown-up seat.” A big plus: the TurboBooster is very affordable.Disadvantages
Some parents actually didn’t like the light weight because they felt it was too flimsy. The high back can rattle when the seat is empty, so it’s recommended to strap it in with a seatbelt just like you would when the child is in it. Those with bucket seats said it didn’t fit well in those.
Some parents reported that the back would come loose or fall to a lower position while riding or picking up the seat. There is no LATCH attachment, which is common for most booster seats that aren’t also forward-facing harness seats.Compilation of customer opinions
For the most part, people had no issues with this seat. It’s probably best for older kids who know how to buckle themselves in. NOTE: There IS a current recall on seats produced between December 2015 and April 2016. It does not involve an issue with the seat itself but involves information about securing the seat at all times with the seatbelt that was left out of the user manual.
Graco Nautilus 65 3-in-1
One of the safest seats on the market, the Graco Nautilus 65 3-in-1 is for parents who are serious about safety. It is made out of steel and uses the highest quality materials. Note that the steel does make this a bit heavier, but it isn’t too heavy - you’ll be surprised. Still, this is probably not the seat to move from car to car.
You truly won’t have to question this seat - you will know that it is extremely durable and really, really comfortable for your child - it is hard to find a seat that is truly both. There are also some great extras for your kids and for you - it is easy to use, no rethreading harness straps, and machine washable pads.
Most importantly, this is one of the most thoroughly tested car seats and booster seats on the market today - they even run tests that aren’t required.Disadvantages
There are a few things to pay attention to - especially if you live somewhere where the heat gets high. Some parents have reported that the buckles can warp when in extreme heat. The heat also tends to impact the harness, so you should be careful.
Some parents have mentioned that at least at first, the reclining feature is stiff and doesn’t really work well, though that comes through in the end.Compilation of customer opinions
Overall, parents have been VERY happy with this purchase. They use it throughout the formative years of their child, so it is something that you have to love.
Safety 1st Store-N-Go
With the Safety 1st Store-N-Go, you’re getting a simple booster seat that easily converts from highback to backless for kids 40 - 100 pounds and 43 - 57 inches in height. This affordable seat has a unique pull-out drawer in the front for storage.
It comes in at least a couple color options, though those seem to have changed off and on over time.
Though this seat is fairly simple in design, its biggest advantage is storage. An under seat storage drawer makes it easier to store toys, snacks, or gear under the seat. Kids loved being able to store their earbuds and electronic devices inside as well.
An integrated cup holder is roomy enough to fit most cups and drink bottles. A rectangular storage compartment on the other side is good for juice boxes, snack packages, books, e-readers or cell phones.
One of the favorite features with parents was that the seat cover is easy to remove and clean in both the washing machine and dryer.Disadvantages
There is no sidearm padding with this seat. Some parents reported that the seat padding was too thin for optimum comfort. Some parents also reported that they had a problem with the headrest adjustment breaking so they aren’t able to lift it so that it’s high enough. At least one parent noted that the seat seemed too narrow for their child to fit comfortably.Compilation of customer opinions
Overall, parents are satisfied with this seat. Despite its basic design, this affordable seat has some nice storage features to make a long trip more bearable. Comfort in terms of padding may be lacking, however. As of October 2018, there are NO known recalls for this seat.
Evenflo Big Kid AMP Booster
The Evenflo Big Kid AMP is a booster seat that fits a wide range of children, from 30-110 pounds (38 - 57 inches) as a highback booster and 40 - 110 pounds (40 - 57 inches) as a backless booster. It has a 6-year expiration and is both backless and a high back booster. Many parents love this seat and it is one of the highest rated for the price point.
The AMP comes in at least 7 different colors/patterns and is made in the USA. It has been rated as a best best booster by the IIHS. Note: There are NO known recalls as of October 2018.
The biggest advantage of this seat is obviously the price – it is a great deal for a booster seat. It is also convertible, which you don’t typically find in this price point. It has 6 height positions so the headrest grows along with your child. The back easily removes to convert to a backless booster when your child is ready.
Elastic cup holders fit a wide range of drink and snack containers. The seat is very light, weighing in at less than 10 pounds, so it would be a good choice for those who need to switch vehicles often. The seat padding can be removed easily, is machine washable and dries well in the dryer. It’s also easy to spot clean.Disadvantages
There are also no lower anchors which means the seat depends on your child’s weight and the seat belt to secure it. When your kid isn’t riding in it, you should secure it with the seat belt to prevent rattling and prevent it from being a projectile object in the event of a crash.
Some parents felt that there wasn’t enough padding, especially in the lower back area when the back was adjusted higher. Some also thought that because it was so lightweight, it felt cheap and unsturdy. For a booster at this price point, that’s not unheard of. You won’t be getting a steel frame in such a basic seat.Compilation of customer opinions
Overall, most parents were happy with this seat. However, the lightweight construction makes some of them nervous about safety. Keep in mind that the only real job of a booster seat is to lift up the child so that the vehicle belt fits him properly. It’s the vehicle belt that will do the protecting in a crash, not the booster. This would be a good seat for those who are always on the go and often switch up vehicles but maybe not padded well enough or sturdy enough to go on long road trips.
All You Need to Know About Booster Seats
When your child outgrows their harnessed car seat, that doesn’t mean they no longer need a safety seat. Most children will need a booster once they’ve outgrown the weight and/or height limit of their previous car seat. A vehicle seat belt is actually designed for a 165 pound man, so it won’t fit a child properly until they are at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall and 8 – 12 years of age.
Kids spend more time in cars than they ever have before, so it’s vital to ensure they’re adequately protected at every age and stage. And if you have a child who’s 7 going on 27, she may be ready to give up the “baby” seat and ride like a grown up. She might put up a fuss about riding in a booster seat, especially if it still looks like it’s made for a little kid. The good thing is, that many booster seats available today have a more mature, grown-up look that your kid may actually love.
If you ever come to a booster seat standoff with your child, be honest. Explain to them what the consequences are for not being properly secured in the car. Children who aren’t adequately secured are 55 percent more likely to be injured in a car accident than those who use a safety seat. Explain that a booster seat will make sure the shoulder and lap belts fit them just right to keep them safe for every trip.
If you are ever in an accident – or even have a sudden stop, an improperly fitting seat belt can injure your child more than the injury it would have prevented. If the shoulder belt doesn’t lay across their shoulder, it could cause major damage to her neck, respiratory system, or ribs. If the lap belt doesn’t fit across the tops of the thighs, it can cause damage to the internal organs, including the spleen, liver, and stomach. Sitting in a booster seat is a small sacrifice to make in order to prevent a catastrophic injury.
Just remember, you’re the parent. It’s up to you to ensure your child is safe in the car, even if she resists riding in a safety seat.
Here are some FAQ parents have about booster seats:
What age is a booster seat appropriate?
Sometimes, people rush to get their child into a booster seat. You should wait until he or she is truly big enough and old enough to use it. If your child is a wiggle worm or can’t buckle himself in without help, he should still ride in a harnessed seat.
Each state has its own requirements for age, but the general rule is never put them into a booster until they’re at least 4 years old. And even that may be too young.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently changed their recommendations, removing the minimum age for rear-facing seats. They now recommend keeping your child rear-facing for as long as possible. The fact of the matter is that rear-facing, harnessed car seats offer more protection than any other safety seats.
So at 4 years old, it’s possible (and wise) to keep your child in a rear-facing seat or at the very least a harnessed forward-facing car seat. Today’s harnessed car seats have higher maximum side limits to allow for extended use. However, you can save a step with a combination harness/booster seat. Some combination seats start as a harnessed forward-facing seat, then convert to a belt-positioning highback booster. Some of these can even convert to backless boosters.
How long should a child be in a five-point harness?
Just like rear-facing seats, the answer is for as long as possible. The secure straps, side impact protection, and headrests with protective wings are always safer than a seat belt alone.
So when can I put my child in a booster seat?
Yes, it can be a little confusing to know when to make the change. Children grow at many different rates in both size and maturity level. In general, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has three recommendations to keep in mind when it comes to when your child should use a booster seat:
- From 4 years old and 40 inches tall until at least 8 years old and 4’9”
- Have outgrown the manufacturer recommendations for their existing car seat
- Can keep upright and still when sitting on the booster seat, and naturally bend their legs over the edge of the booster seat.
- When they’ve met state age and size requirements
Can I put my 3 year old in a booster seat if he’s able to buckle himself in?
That depends on two things – the size limits of the booster seat and whether it’s legal in your state. In Colorado, for instance, children under age 4 or under 40 pounds MUST be in a harnessed safety seat.
Wait a minute – are booster seats still legal?
Yes. Since 2016, there have been misleading news reports online that reported backless boosters being banned in the US. This is not true at all. Booster seats are still very much legal and required in most states once your child has outgrown their harnessed seat.
Always check the laws for your state. You can also ask a local police officer, car seat technician or pediatrician. They will stay up-to-date on all legal requirements for safety seats.
What is the law for booster seats in my state?
Most states require a booster seat for children under a specific age, height, and/or weight. The only states that don’t require a booster seat are Florida and South Dakota. To find out the laws in your state, visit the Governor’s Highway Safety Association’s website for a complete state-by-state list.
What is the right seat for my 4 year old?
Depending on your child’s dexterity and maturity level, you should either keep them in a harnessed forward-facing seat or a belt-positioning high back booster.
When can I put my child in a high back booster?
When she has exceeded the weight and/or height limits for her harnessed seat, she’ll be ready for a belt-positioning high back booster. But no sooner than 4 years old.
Types of Booster Seats
When shopping for a booster seat, keep these things in mind:
- Your car needs to have both a lap belt and a shoulder belt in order to use any current booster seat.
- Your child must be at least 40 pounds to use the booster seat – even if he is tall, he needs to weigh this much to hold down the seat when the car is in motion.
- Ensure that you buy a booster seat with a headrest if he cannot use the headrest in the car.
There are three main types of booster seats to consider when you do decide to buy one. Some of these can come in a convertible seat that converts between 2 or all 3 of these types.
Backless Booster Seat
A backless booster seat must be used with a lap and a shoulder belt. These work together to keep your child safe. These are considered the most efficient booster seats because they are easy to move from car to car. However, there are a few fit requirements: your car needs to have a headrest, and your child’s ears must be no less than one inch below the top of the vehicle headrest when he is sitting down.
High Back Booster Seat
Once again, a high back booster seat must be used with a lap and a shoulder belt. This is good for a car that doesn’t have headrests, but it can be used in a vehicle that does have them as well so long as the back of the booster sits flush against the back of the vehicle seat. The high back booster is particularly good for smaller children that still like to nap in the car or for families that drive in a lot of stop and go traffic, as it prevents whiplash.
Forward-Facing to Booster Convertible Seat
Another popular option is a forward-facing seat with a harness that converts to a booster. This is becoming more and more popular. It will allow you to keep the same seat or seat system so that you can save some time and money. It also makes it easier for you to switch back if you find that maybe your child wasn’t ready.
How the seat works and fits your car will be largely dependent on the seat itself.
If You Need Seats for Children Living With Special Needs
It is important to note that some children require seats that fit their physical needs. Make sure to do some research about which seats have worked best for other children that have the same physical requirements as your child does, but always seek advice from your pediatrician. He or she will likely know of the best option for you or can refer you to someone who can help you find the best option.
Installation Tips for Booster Seats
When you are using a booster seat, always read the owner’s manual of both the car and the booster seat first. You will get great tips and tricks that will make installation much easier and more efficient. Most booster seats come with a plastic clip or guides that will help you to correctly position the vehicle lap and shoulder belts. Even more, your car may come with moveable pieces that you can use to adjust the clips and keep everything aligned. This is mostly true in newer cars. Another thing to be aware of is whether or not your car has lower anchors or attachments – this information should be readily available in the car booklet.
Ideally, have your child present when you are installing the booster seat so you can double check the fit and make any necessary adjustments for comfort and safety. High back boosters, for instance, require the top of the headrest to be adjusted to within an inch of the top of the child’s head.
Booster seats always have to be used with a lap and shoulder belt, unless you have a booster seat with a harness (rare). Instruct your child to NEVER place the shoulder belt behind their back or under their arm. If it’s rubbing their neck too much, they likely still need to be in a harnessed seat OR you can use shoulder belt positioning clips to ensure a better fit (see below).
With backless boosters, use shoulder belt positioning clips (if they are recommended for your specific seat) for an even better fit, especially with a wiggly child. They are most likely to be found on the sides of a high back booster or attached to a strap on the bottom or back of a backless model. Sometimes, you won’t need to use the clips if the seat belt lands correctly on your child.
LATCH Systems Help Too
Though not common for booster seats, some come with LATCH systems that connect to the anchors in your back seat just like harnessed car seats. They can help keep the seat still and in place, especially for a wiggly child. They can also help secure the seat when your child isn’t riding in it so that the seat is not a projectile in an accident. If you don’t have a LATCH attachment for a high-back booster, just buckle the seat belt around it to keep it steady when your child isn’t in it.
How do I know if I’ve installed my child’s booster seat correctly?
First make sure you’re able to access the seatbelt easily. This could be a challenge in smaller cars or cars with bucket seats. Make sure you (or your child) can easily buckle it properly across their bodies. With a high back booster, make sure the seat belt slides freely within the seat belt guides in the booster seat.
Location is also very important. Ideally, place the booster seat in the center of the backseat so your child will be more protected in a side impact. Wherever you place it, make sure there is both a lap and shoulder belt and NOT just a lap belt, as some older vehicles may have in the center seat.
If you can’t put your child in the middle, put them into the seat behind the passenger side of the car. You will be able to look at your child and check on him or her throughout the entire ride. Plus it allows you to safely get your child out of the car when you park on a busy street.
If you have more than one child and have multiple safety seats in the car, you want to spread them out if possible (like in a van with multiple rows) or put them together for maximum protection. With a mix of booster and harnessed seats, place the booster seat in the middle so the older child is better protected. The harnessed seats will provide adequate side impact protection for the younger kids.
Booster Seats to Avoid
There are a few different booster seats (also applies to any safety seat) that you would be better off avoiding.
The first type is the shield booster seat. These have a big, usually padded, tray or bar that comes down over the baby’s head, and buckles into the car seat at the crotch. While a shield booster seat is still better than no seat at all, it’s no longer recommended by any professional because it can actually cause more harm than good. The bar can actually cause severe facial and head injuries in a crash. Plus there are no straps at the hips, as there are in a five-point harness. The bar height is usually not adjustable, either so you can’t get a perfect fit.
But good news: these are no longer manufactured, and it’ll be hard for you to even find one. If you do, just walk away. It would be expired already anyway.
Another thing you want to avoid is a recalled seat. Recalled seats have problems that you might be able to see, or you might not be able to see. Make sure to consistently check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration listing of recalled seats.
Keep in mind, however, that not all recalls are related to life-threatening flaws. Many times there may just be trivial issues, like missing information in the manual or a missing sticker on the seat. The best way to keep up-to-date is to be sure and register your seat – fill out that little card that comes with it and mail it off to the manufacturer (or register it online).
You should also avoid second hand seats. These come from garage sales, yard sales, thrift markets, or friends. These seats may have been in crashes, may be expired or have unseen damage. If you must buy it second hand, be sure that it is still up to date, hasn’t been involved in an accident, and has only light wear and tear.
When Can We Eliminate the Booster Seat?
Eventually, your child will grow big enough that you will be able to ditch the booster seat and use only the vehicle belt. Parents who want to remove the booster seat should check these five things before doing so:
- Your child can sit all the way back against the vehicle seat.
- Your child’s knees bend comfortably over the edge of the back seat.
- The shoulder belt sits diagonally across the shoulder, not on the neck or arm.
- The lap belt goes across the top of the thighs, not on the abdomen.
- Your child can remain safely seated throughout an entire trip.