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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 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. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it should not be used until your child is at least 5 years old and can stay seated for the entire ride in the back seat with a seat belt across the shoulder and hips.

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.

Reminder: The CDC also says that even when children outgrow their booster seat, they need to sit in the back seat of the car until they’re 13.

There are four major categories of booster seats:

High-back boosters

Similar to a car seat, these types of seats 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 through 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.

Backless boosters

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.

Combination car seat

These car seats start as a forward-facing seat with a harness. When your child is ready, they will transition with your child into a booster seat.

All-in-one

These car seats literally offer it all. They can change from a rear-facing car seat to a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether. Then, when your child is ready, they can even convert to a booster seat.

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.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $40
  • $$ = $40–$60
  • $$$ = $60–$100
  • $$$$ = over $100

Best overall booster seat

Graco TurboBooster Highback Booster

  • Price: $$
  • Weight limit: 40-100 pounds
  • Pros: this seat has a more affordable price tag, is convertible from a high-back booster to a backless booster, and includes height adjustable headrest and armrests
  • Cons: the cup holders are a bit shallow and can’t hold all styles of cups. It’s also on the bulkier side.

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.

Best backless booster seat

Graco TurboBooster LX Backless Booster

  • Price: $$
  • Weight limit: 40-100 pounds
  • Pros: it includes a hideaway storage compartment, adjustable armrests, and a cup holder. It’s also easy to install.
  • Cons: this seat only offers a backless option. The seat cover can make it difficult to open the side compartment.

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 armrests 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, which makes it easy to move between cars.

Best splurge

UPPAbaby ALTA Booster Seat

  • Price: $$$$
  • Weight limit: 40-100 pounds
  • Pros: it includes a cup holder that can be attached to either side of the seat. The headrest can be positioned seven different ways for comfort and the seat cover has a zipper to make cleaning easier.
  • Cons: This is a more expensive car seat and is not convertible to a backless booster seat.

If you’re willing to splurge on your child’s next car seat, this booster seat from UPPAbaby includes lots of padding and side impact protection for a luxurious feel.

This booster seat uses LATCH connectors to attach to your car and has a headrest that can be positioned seven different ways. It also has a seat belt guide to help your little one learn how to buckle themselves safely. As an added bonus, the seat cover has a zipper to make it easy to get it on and off when it’s time for a trip through the washing machine.

This booster may not be a good one for those on a tight budget, though. It’s also not convertible to a backless booster seat, which may be tough to swallow considering the cost.

Best booster seat for small cars

Chicco GoFit Plus Backless Booster

  • Price: $$
  • Weight limit: 40-110 pounds
  • Pros: this booster seat includes two cup holders, the fabric can be removed for washing, and has a handle to make transporting it easier
  • Cons: you’ll need to pay extra for the GoFit Plus if you want the LATCH system instead of going with the cheaper GoFit version. This seat can only be used as a backless booster.

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.

Best convertible booster seat

Britax Grow With You ClickTight Plus

  • Price: $$$$
  • Weight limit: 25-120 pounds
  • Pros: this seat is able to convert from a forward-facing car seat to a booster seat. It has nine harness position options and there are a variety of different fabric styles available to choose from.
  • Cons: this is an expensive and heavier option

Priced around $400, 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!

Best 2-in-1 booster seat

Chicco KidFit 2-in-1 Belt-Positioning Booster

  • Price: $$$
  • Weight limit: 40-110 pounds
  • Pros: it comes with retractable cup holders and can be adjusted to 10 different height positions. It can convert from high-back to backless booster.
  • Cons: this seat is harder to clean and cheaper options are available

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.

Best budget-friendly booster seat

Cosco Topside Booster

  • Price: $
  • Weight limit: 40-100 pounds
  • Pros: this booster is very budget-friendly and lightweight. It is designed not to leave marks in cars.
  • Cons: this booster doesn’t connect with a vehicle’s LATCH system and doesn’t include cup holders

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.

Best high-back booster seat

Evenflo GoTime LX Booster Car Seat

  • Price: $$
  • Weight limit: 40-120 pounds
  • Pros: it can be converted to a backless booster and includes two cup holders. There are many different designs available to match your child’s unique style.
  • Cons: many users commented that it wasn’t the easiest to assemble and it doesn’t connect to a vehicle’s LATCH system

This high-back booster seat from Evenflo includes all the amenities. It offers seven different height positions, comfortable padding, two cup holders, and can be converted to a backless booster when your child is tall enough.

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. Several reviewers also mentioned it was harder to assemble than they’d hoped.

Best all-in-one booster seat

Graco 4Ever DLX 4 in 1

  • Price: $$$$
  • Weight limit: 4-120 pounds
  • Pros: this seat can switch from rear-facing to forward-facing to high back booster to backless booster. It includes two cup holders and has a rapid remove cover to make cleaning easier.
  • Cons: it is expensive and bulky

If you only want to shop for one car seat, this one can go from rear-facing all the way to backless booster seat. It’s also highly adjustable with both a 10-position headrest and six-position recline. It even includes two cup holders.

To help you keep it clean over many years, this seat has a rapid remove cover. (You’ll still need to clean the metal and plastic parts with mild soap and water, though.)

This car seat can last you 10 years, but it’s on the expensive side and is also a bit heavy.

Best narrow high-back booster seat

Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120

  • Price: $$$$
  • Weight limit: 40-120 pounds
  • Pros: this seat can fold onto itself when not in use. It has two cup holders and an integrated rigid LATCH for easy installation and stability.
  • Cons: it is expensive and does not include a removable backrest

If you don’t have a lot of space, but want a high-back booster seat, this option may be your dream seat. It can fold onto itself when not in use, and adjusts in four different directions. (The headrest, upper backrest, side wings, and seat can all be adjusted independently of each other.)

It offers an integrated rigid LATCH for easy installation and stability. It also has an aluminum reinforced backrest for extra protection in the case of a collision.

It’s important to note though that it does come with a higher price tag and is not designed to covert to a backless booster seat.

When choosing a booster seat, you’ll want to consider the following: installation, comfort, cleaning, and cost.

Installation

Booster seats have to be installed properly to keep your little one safe. If your child is going to be riding in different cars, you may even need to uninstall and reinstall it frequently. For this reason, you’ll want to look for one that’s easy to install. You’ll also want one that fits well in your vehicle(s) and is easy for your child to get in and out of.

Comfort

By the time your child is ready for a booster seat, they probably have opinions about what feels comfortable. Booster seats that can adjust to different heights and positions can make for a more comfortable and safe riding experience. Extra padding can earn bonus points, too.

Cleaning

Cleaning up messes comes with being a parent, but not all booster seats are created equal when it comes to ease of cleaning. Features like cup holders also get bonus points when it comes to helping keep the car seat and your car clean.

Cost

Keep in mind, your child will grow out of their car seat and a fancy car seat doesn’t necessarily equal a higher level of safety. Consider your budget and try to find a good deal when possible. (You’ll want to be careful before purchasing a used booster seat, though.)

When can my child ride without a booster seat?

A booster seat is necessary until an adult seat belt fits correctly. You should always check the laws for where you live (or are planning on driving) to make sure that you are in compliance. A booster seat is typically necessary until a child is 4 feet nine inches tall, 80 pounds, and about 8 years of age.

What is the weight limit for a booster seat?

Weight limits can vary depending on the style of booster seat (i.e., backless, high-back, combination, all-in-one) and between brands. You should always check the manufacturer’s recommended weight limit for any booster seat you use.

How long is a booster seat good for?

Many booster seats are good for 6 to 10 years, but you’ll want to check your seat’s exact expiration date. This can typically be found on the frame or under the seat. You should purchase a new booster seat if it has passed its expiration date or if it has been in any car accidents.

When can a child use a backless booster seat?

You’ll want to check the manufacturer’s requirements (as well as any state laws) before putting your child in a backless booster seat. In addition to making sure that your child is an appropriate height, weight, and age, you’ll also want to make sure that they are mature enough to handle riding safely in a backless booster seat.

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 additional support.

Until your child is big enough so 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!