How to Buy the Best Booster Seat for Your Child
Safety experts recommend that kids stay in conventional car seats as long as possible. But once your child has reached your car seat’s weight or height maximum, typically between the ages of 4-7, your next step is a belt-positioning booster seat.
Instead of a built-in harness, a booster works with your vehicle’s lap and shoulder belts. Boosters raise children’s smaller bodies up so the seat belts are correctly positioned, through the use of belt routing guides. Incorrectly positioned seat belts can cause serious injuries in an accident.
Of course you want a booster that’s reliable, comfortable, and easy to use, but above all, keeps your child safe. With so many brands and factors to consider, how do you make an informed choice?
When evaluating boosters, the key thing to note is their type, weight capacity, and any additional features (some are important, others not so much).
Types of Booster Seats
There are several types of boosters available. Some start out as car seats and then can be converted. Just learning the difference will make shopping much easier:
These boosters have built-in backs and headrests. They look like large, conventional car seats, but use the vehicle’s seat belts instead of their own. They offer both lap and shoulder belt guides.
As the name implies, these consist of a simple, backless seat. Parents tend to like them because they’re lightweight and portable; kids tend to like them for their grown-up look. However, they offer lap belt guides only; no shoulder belt guides. Some boosters come with a shoulder belt clip, or you can buy one separately.
Combination Car Seats
These start out as conventional, forward-facing car seats (with harness), then convert into belt-positioning, high-back boosters. They eliminate the need to purchase a separate booster.
3-in-1 Car Seat
These ultra-versatile car seats convert from rear-facing car seat to forward-facing car seat, and then ultimately to belt-positioning booster seat. Some parents love the versatility; others would rather have a series of car seats and boosters more scaled to their child’s size.
In addition, there are boosters that start out as high-backs and convert to backless.
How do you choose between high-back versus backless boosters? Some experts suggest it depends on the height of your vehicle’s backseat. If your seat back is on the low side, or if the top of your child’s ears will be higher than the seat, a high-back booster will guard against whiplash and support his head. If that’s not an issue, a backless booster will not only work, but may in fact fit your vehicle’s seat better.
Weigh the Features
All child car seats must meet or exceed specific booster seat laws and federal standards. From the safety experts’ viewpoint, the "best" booster is one that
- Is right for your child’s size and age
- Is installed correctly
- Is properly used single every time
Beyond these safety basics, some boosters offer additional features that, we think, make them better choices. Some offer enhanced safety features or are easier to install correctly. Others provide greater comfort or convenience. Here are some of the things our buyers look for:
- Features that enhance side-impact protection, such EPS or EPP foam liners in the side panels. In high-back boosters, look for full-length wings; in backless boosters, look for arm rests and knee protectors.
- Features that promote easy installation, such as clearly marked belt guides. Boosters are not required by law to feature LATCH connectors, but those that feature lower LATCH systems are easier to install securely.
- Substantial, all-over padding. It’s not only comfortable but offers added crash protection.
- In high-back boosters, a multi-position reclining seatback and height-adjustable headrest for comfort.
- A removable, washable seat cover.
- Cup holders (as kids get older, amenities that keep kids entertained become more important).
- Tip: Pay attention to seat width. If you carpool or sit three kids across your backseat, you will need a seat with a narrow exterior. Conversely, if you have a big kid, look for a wider seat.
And after you buy, be sure to read your manual (even if you rarely read manuals) and follow the manufacturer’s installations directions. Register your car seat with the manufacturer, so you’ll be notified of any news or recalls. And, since four out of five car seats are installed incorrectly, periodically take advantage of car seat inspections held in your area. . That way, you’ll know your car seat is always doing its job to protect your child.