Your child is now all grown up and needs to move out of the forward-facing car seat. It’s a convertible car seat, I suppose? They need to start using a seat belt-positioning seat, but how do you tell a suitable booster car seat from every other option that’d be unsuitable for your child? In this post, I set down a clear criteria to use when choosing a booster seat for a child.
Related: How to Install a Booster Seat
But before we dive into the buying advice, let’s get this out of the way…
How a Booster Seat Works
For the most part, a booster seat doesn’t secure to the vehicle. Rather, this seat is held in place by the weight of the passenger seating in it. But in certain backless and high-backed boosters, the seat stays secured to the vehicle by lower anchor connectors that hook into the vehicle’s lower anchors.
But does being secured via LATCH necessarily make the booster safer? Yes, to an extent. The principal goal the lower anchors help you achieve is reducing seat movement when loading and unloading the child.
The other role these anchors play is holding the booster secure when it’s not in use, which helps a great deal in terms of promoting safety during a crash. The seat stays secured in place and never becomes some sort of projectile that could fly right out of the vehicle, hurting others.
Related: Different car seat types
Why Do Kids Need a Booster Seat?
When kids outgrow a forward-facing car seat with a 5-point harness, the next logical step is to move into a booster seat. A booster seat is a kind of car seat that helps raise the height of the child so that they’re able to fit in the adult seatbelt.
It’s also a nice way of making kids get used to staying secured with a real seatbelt. Because this is what they’ll primarily use when it’s finally time to move out of the booster seat and into the adult belt system. BTW, there’s a test you can carry out with your kiddo to accurately determine whether or not they’re grown enough for to ride the way adults do.
According to the NHTSA says that kids should use a restraining device installed in the center of the backseat until they reach age 13. At age 13, many kids have matured to the point where they can fit in the adult seatbelt and use it safely and securely.
Booster Seat Buying Guide (Know What to Look for)
The car seat market is a vast ocean of seemingly good choices. And sooner than later, the head-scratching searcher learns they can’t pick any one option without wondering what it’d be like if they’d purchased something else entirely. Which is where this booster seat buying advice comes into play.
So, what do you keep your eyes peeled for when shopping for a height-boosting seat for your child? Below is a list of considerations to cross off the check list:
Age and Maturity of Your Child
Booster seat requirements vary across states and across booster seat models. With that being said, the minimum height requirement for booster seat seems to be 38″ and the passenger needs to weigh at least 40 pounds.
It’s a bad idea to move a child who uses a forward-facing seat out and into a booster seat before they’re ready for the shift. The end result is that the child won’t fit that well in the booster. And we all know that securing a child with a restraint of any kind that has a poor fit is a terrible decision.
But hitting booster seat minimum size requirements isn’t enough. The child should be able to seat upright with their back against the seat and knees bending over the edge of the seat.
1. Ease of Use and Overall Convenience
At this point, it’s reasonable to say that you have a decent amount of knowledge as to how car seats function. You know that you want an easy-to-use car seat that’s not a pain to install or use.
Boosters are generally light, at least lighter than the typical car seat. But you still want to pay attention to how heavy it is, especially if you can see yourself shifting the seat between vehicles frequently. Because lugging a heavy, bulky booster from one car to another isn’t loads of fun.
BTW, what’s the average weight of a booster seat? The weight depends on the design of the booster seat, but the average weight of a booster seat stays between 11 and 25 pounds. In comparison, the average weight of a convertible car seat hovers between 15 and 30 pounds.
If this seat has a headrest, it should be easy to adjust (move up and down). And if it secures to the vehicle through the lower anchors, they shouldn’t be extremely hard to work. Pick something that installs and uninstalls without difficulty.
Also, if it’s a high-backed booster that eventually converts to a backless booster, choose an option that switches to this mode simply and easily.
Here’s one more thing: it should be pretty easy to guide the seatbelt through the booster’s belt-positioning mechanism.
And for safety reasons, if a child leans forward for some reason and then comes back again, the seatbelt should retract or move back to its initial position. That’s the only to tackle any slack that might happen if and when the passenger leans forward.
Finally, choose a booster that cleans with ease. Booster kids may not be as messy as toddlers, but they still spill stuff into cracks and crevices. And you want to be able to clean up all these things easily and fast.
2. Looks Matter And So Do A Few Extra Features
Kids that are grown enough to move into a booster seat like it when their seat looks nice. So pick out something that’s aesthetically pleasing. But how do you know whether they’ll fall in love with their new booster or not? It’s easy: get the kid to become a part of the seat selection process so that they won’t struggle with owning the final purchase.
Older kids may prefer a booster seat with deep-enough cupholders so they can store snacks and beverages conveniently.
The fabric needs to look appealing, should be soft, and the padding on the seating area, backrest, and headrest should be generous. Essentially, they want a booster seat they’ll want to get into without much encouragement.
Being LATCH-equipped is another extra feature to look for in a booster seat. To be clear, a booster seat isn’t required to have LATCH at all, but car seat manufacturers recently started throwing this capability into the design.
BTW, LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. You can learn more about LATCH system here. But not everyone calls it LATCH. In Europe, parents and everyone else calls it ISOFIX while across the border in Canada they call it Lower Universal Anchorage System or LUAS.
To access this car seat anchoring system, your vehicle should have the requisite infrastructure. And the booster seat you end up purchasing should be LATCH-equipped as well.
While LATCH is optional booster seat technology, surveys have shown a that a growing number of parents and other caregivers prefer booster seats that hook into the LATCH system.
This preference stems from the fact that a LATCH-secured booster doesn’t become a projectile in an accident and stays steady rather than shifty when loading the child into and out of the seat. Read booster seat reviews to find options that have this great feature. And be sure that the attachment system is easy to use.
3. Booster Seat Dimensions and Weight Limits
If your looking for an option that helps you fit 3 across the backseat, then you need to pay attention to the dimensions of the booster seat. Note down how wide the car seat is; if it’s too wide, your seat-3-across project will fail before it begins.
If you’re interested to know, here’s a post I recently published, and there you’ll find at least 5 car seats that work reasonably well in space-deprived situations.
In terms of weight limits, choose an option that allows carrying kids forward-facing for as long as possible. Pick a choice with reasonably high weight limits as well as height limits. Some of the more accommodating boosters have a 57″ height limit and can carry kids as heavy as 120 pounds. I’ve yet to an option that fits children heavier than 120 pounds BTW.
Essentially, you’re looking for a booster seat that will secure your child until they’re ready for buckling adult seatbelts.
4. Booster Seat Design: What Type of Booster is It?
Not every situation demands a high-backed booster even though the vast majority of caregivers have a HUGE preference for it versus backless boosters.
Not only do high-backed models in general provide greater comfort due to having better padding, but those with deep side wings tend to provide greater protection particularly to the head and chest region. However, the side wings shouldn’t be too deep that they interfere with the young passenger’s peripheral vision.
Additionally, high-back models fit smaller-framed passengers better than do their backless counterparts. If a kiddo naps during a ride, the side wings helps keep them seating upright or at least less slouched than they’d be in a backless option.
This is the booster option you want to use for the most part, but these seats are pricier, bulkier, and the heaviest ones can be challenging to transfer to a different vehicle.
5. What’s Considered Reasonable to Pay for a Booster Seat?
My research, in-person testing, and scouring tons of user reviews on sites like Amazon and Walmart finds that $200 is the sweet spot as far as pricing. Options pricier than $200 might have fancier extras or better padding, but they might not function better or protect any better in comparison.
And if you’re wondering which booster seat brands parents really like, here’s a list of the most popular and trusted among caregivers: Nuna, Uppababy, Maxi Cosi, Chicco, Evenflo, Graco, Britax, Diono, and a few others.
Final Thoughts On Picking Out a Booster Car Seat
Buying a booster car seat shouldn’t be a confusion-fraught activity if you know what to watch out for. Pay attention to the height and weight limits, seat design (is it a backless or high-backed option?), and ease of use and maintenance.
Also, don’t ignore safety features such as deeply curved side wings, retractable seatbelt, and lower anchors. The presence of extras such as cup holders and as well as looks are other important considerations.
Once the product arrives, be sure to read through the installation instructions to install it correctly. Learn how to install different styles of booster seats here. They’re pretty simple and straightforward to install and use, but car seat installation mistakes aren’t rare, you know.