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The day will inevitably come when you try to buckle your child into their front-facing car seat and… they just won’t fit. When your child’s harness becomes too snug, it may be time for them to graduate to a different type of car seat — a “big kid” booster seat.
If, like most parents, you don’t have a ton of time to spend on car seat research, you’ve turned to the right place. We’ve got you covered with all the information you need about booster seats as well as some suggestions to help you narrow down the right seat for you and your growing kiddo.
After your little one outgrows the weight or height limit of their forward-facing car seat, they still likely won’t be big enough to properly fit your car’s seat belt system.
Because seat belt straps that cover the wrong part of the body can actually do more harm than good in an accident, it’s essential for your little one to get an extra boost!
While offering extra height, booster seats do not come with their own seat belt system. Instead, they raise a child into the appropriate position to use the car’s seat belts. Booster seats typically use clips and other mechanisms to keep seat belt straps in the right position.
A booster seat is appropriate after your child has outgrown their forward-facing car seat.
State laws differ on the length of time a child is required to be in a car seat, but you should definitely plan to continue using a booster seat until your child is big enough that the seat belt lies across the shoulder and lap appropriately without the extra height.
There are two major categories of booster seats:
Similar to a car seat, these types of seat have a back and a bottom. Instead of an internal harness system though, these seats typically have guides to thread the car’s shoulder and lap belts though to keep them in the proper position. On many, the back can be adjusted to various heights and most have a padded head rest to protect your child and keep them comfy.
Clearly distinguishable from a car seat, these booster seats consist of a bottom seat to “boost” your child into the right height, but no back. Since they don’t have backs, these are generally significantly cheaper than high-back boosters.
It’s very important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and make sure that your booster seat is properly installed. A seat that is not properly installed may not keep your little one in a safe position should an accident occur, which can lead to serious injury.
Some booster seats use the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) installation system, while others rely on a seat belt to hold the chair in place. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), both methods are equally safe, so when picking a product, it’s really up to your personal preference.
You’ll also need to make sure that your child stays seated and leaves the seatbelt buckled. To use a backless booster, your child’s ears must come up to the vehicle seat. Otherwise, they’ll need the extra support and protection a high-back booster provides.
Lastly, the AAP cautions that children should stay in their rear-facing and forward-facing car seats for as long as possible until they outgrow the weight or height limit — don’t rush into transitioning to a booster seat until you need to.
When considering what seats to include, we considered price point, safety features, and of course, reviews from parents like you! We also gave a lot of thought to installation and cleaning ease.
- $ = under $40
- $$ = $40–$60
- $$$ = $60–$100
- $$$$ = over $100
With a fantastic price point, this booster seat is capable of converting from a high-back booster to a backless booster. It includes a padded, adjustable headrest and energy absorbing foam in case you do find yourself in an accident.
Seem too good to be true? Some parents have complained that the cup holders are a bit shallow and can’t hold all types of cups.
Another great option from Graco, this highly rated backless booster has a hideaway storage compartment, cup holder, and a seat cushion that can be removed and thrown in the washing machine.
Adjustable arm rests and a one-handed attachment system are additional reasons this seat gets parental praise for its comfort and ease of installation. Plus, this seat only weighs 5.5 pounds (lbs.), which makes it easy to move between cars.
This high-back booster seat from Evenflo includes all the amenities. It offers six different height positions, comfortable padding, two cup holders, and can be converted to a backless booster when your child is tall enough. Plus, the narrow width makes it a standout for cases where you need to fit multiple car seats in the car.
One thing to keep in mind is that this is not a LATCH-based car seat, meaning it’s kept in position solely by the car’s seat belt system. Some parents say that makes their little one wiggle around a little more in this seat.
With soft, foldaway cup holders to save space and a smooth underside to protect car seats from damage, this backless booster is ideal for small cars. It even has a built-in handle to make it easy to transport when traveling!
The fabrics are removable for washing, so you won’t have to worry about having a dirty car seat in your smaller vehicle. However, it’s worthwhile to note that only the Chicco GoFit Plus has a quick-release LATCH system, while the original (and slightly cheaper) GoFit does not.
Priced around $300, this seat is an investment. But pulling double duty as a forward-facing car seat and booster seat means that it should last your child several years. Parents say it’s easy to install and like that it has a harness that offers nine positions.
It comes in different fabric styles (and the cover is removable for washing), so you can choose one that appeals to you and your child. We should note that it’s a heavier seat overall, though some parents find comfort in that fact!
Priced at around $100, this booster seat will cost a little more than some of the others we’ve listed. However, the extra price will come with all kinds of special features (retractable cup holders anyone?).
Convertible from a high-back seat to a backless booster, this lightweight seat offers 10 height positions, LATCH system connectors, plenty of foam padding, and a two-position backrest.
Looking for a downside? This one’s a little harder to clean… as evidenced by the multiple videos on the company’s website teaching parents how to remove and reinstall the seat fabric.
This seat is certainly easy on the pocketbook! It may not have as many bells and whistles as some of the other backless booster seats on the market, but it does have plush padding for comfort and is specially designed to not leave marks in cars.
It’s also compact enough to fit several across a back seat and light enough for easy traveling. However, this seat relies on the seat belt alone to stay put. So if you’re looking for a booster with a LATCH system, this might not be your pick.
Just because your little one has outgrown their forward-facing car seat does not mean that they’re ready to sit in a car without some additional support.
Until your child is big enough that the car’s seat belt fits comfortably (the way they would on an adult — across the lap and shoulder), you’ll need to make sure they are appropriately elevated with a booster seat and sitting in the back seat of your car (until age 13 in the back seat).
If you’re ever in an accident, you’ll be beyond grateful you did!