In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about booster car seats. You’ll learn what is a booster car seat, whether your little one needs it, different types of booster seats, booster seat installation and safety tips, and a lot more besides.
What is a Booster Seat?
A booster seat is a car seat older kids use because they’re too big and heavy for a convertible car seat or combination seat but not mature enough for the vehicle’s adult seatbelt. It’s called a booster seat because it elevates the child so that the vehicle’s shoulder belt and lap belt can fit better and provide adequate protection in a crash. A booster seat lacks the 5-point harness normally found on convertible, combination car seats, and infant car seats.
You can buy a dedicated booster car seat, and many parents do this. Alternatively, you can get the booster seat as one of three seating modes of an all-in-one convertible car seat or as an integral part of a combination seat. In fact, combination booster seats are pretty common.
If you’re wondering what the best controvertible car seat with a booster seating mode is, consider the Evenflo Revolve 360 Gold. You’ll love it, and you’ll appreciate that it actually rotates, making getting baby in and out of the car extremely easy.
Why Use a Booster Seat to Restrain a Kid?
A booster seat raises a child up so that the strongest parts of the body, specifically the chest and hip bones and thighs, receive most of the seatbelt impacts. You don’t want most of the impact energies heading towards the abdomen since this area is prone to injury in children. Since this seat type lacks a 5-point harness, the regular adult seatbelt secures and restrains the child during rides.
Booster seats aren’t designed for use with lap-only seatbelts. Rather, they’re best suited for vehicles with both lap belts and shoulder belts. According to a post published in the New York Times, some pre-2007 vehicles may have lap-only seatbelts and may not be a good fit for a booster.
One scientific study found that children get better protection when the seatbelts and booster seat are used together rather than when only the seatbelt is used. Dennis Durbin et al (2003) found that booster seats used by kids in the age range 4-7 reduced injury risk substantially compared to using the seatbelt alone.
Should I Really Use a Booster Seat for Short Trips?
Yes, you should use a booster seat each time your child rides in the car. It doesn’t matter whether the trip is short or long. Because no one knows when an accident might happen.
A road crash can happen during a ride to the local grocery store or when doing the longest and most adventurous trip your family’s ever done.
Or the worst might take place when carpooling with your kiddo or even when using ride share services. You want to secure the child using a booster seat at all times for safety reasons.
How Many Types of Booster Seats Are There?
There are different types of booster car seats. And it’s super important to understand how each kind works so you can decide which option would be best suited for your child’s travel needs.
There are at least 3 different kinds of booster seats namely:
- Backless booster seats
- High-backed booster seats
- Combination booster seats
Let’s now look at each of these 3 types of booster seats and learn the unique characteristics of each.
1.Backless Booster Seat
Just as the name suggests, backless booster seats are car seats that don’t have a back. The design of the seat includes only a seating area, and the young passenger has to rest their back on the car’s actual seat. Take a look at the image below to get a clear idea of how a backless booster seat looks like.
As you can see from the image above, there’s a seating area, armrests, and cupholders, but no backrest at all. A child who uses this seat has to lean back on the car’s adult seat for much-needed support.
Pros and Cons of a Backless Booster Seat
Below is a list of the advantages and disadvantages of using a backless booster seat:
- They’re lighter and less bulky versus high-backed models, which makes them easier to carry between cars whenever necessary
- They look less like a baby car seat, which kids who don’t want to feel like a “baby” appreciate
- They tend to be cheaper than high-backed booster seats
- They by design offer more legroom which could translate to greater comfort for taller kids
- Are a better choice for kids who’re taller or bigger for their age
- May not fit smaller kids very well since most of them don’t have seatbelt positioning guides
- Since there’s no headrest, there’s no padding around the noggin, and this might decrease side-impact protection
- The base isn’t always deeply padded, which could mean less comfort
You want to use a no- back booster seat in a car whose backseat has a headrest. And the head of your kiddo needs to rest comfortably in the headrest of the backseat for maximum support to the neck and noggin. Where this isn’t the case, it’s best to use a high-backed booster car seat instead.
2. High-backed Booster Seat
A high-backed booster seat is a car seat that has a backrest, and it can be used in the backseat of a vehicle with or without a headrest. Because it features a padded backrest and headrest, the little passenger riding in it doesn’t need the vehicle’s backseat for back support or headrest for neck support. In some high-backed booster models, the back is removable, converting the seat to a backless booster.
Think of it as some kind of improved backless booster seat with extra features such as a padded headrest and a comfy back.
Most high-backed boosters come with seatbelt guides that make lap belts and shoulder belts fit a tad better. For this reason, this seat type tends to work better for smaller kids compared to its backless counterpart.
Unlike a backless booster seat, a high-backed option features a headrest as well as side wings. Side wings add side-impact protection around the head and chest while the headrest provides comfort and head/neck support. And the deeper the side wings, the better the support and side-impact protection. See what side wings look like below to understand how they’d increase side-impact protection.
For the most part, a high-backed booster seat is a part of a combination car seat and sometimes a part of a convertible car seat such as the Evenflo Revolve 360 Gold.
BTW, what’s the difference between a combination car seat and a convertible car seat? I’ll tell you what the differences are after the pros and cons section below (under the combination seat vs convertible car seat section).
Pros and Cons of a High-back Booster Seat
- It provides good head support and back support
- Side wings may provide side-impact protection during angled impacts
- They fit kids with a smaller frame better because they come with seatbelt guides
- Can be used with a backseat that has or doesn’t have a headrest
- Holds the child in position, even when they’re sleeping, which makes sure the seatbelt stays in place ready for action
- They’re the best bet for kids who have trouble seating still or staying awake during rides
- Some high-backed models are LATCH-equipped, which might make them more secure against side-to-side movement during impacts
- They tend to be pricier compared to no-back boosters
- They’re heavier and bulkier, but they’re still pretty easy to switch between cars
- No evidence that being LATCH-equipped makes these seats more protective during frontal impacts
3. Combination Car Seat
A combination car seat is a forward-facing-only car seat that typically starts out as a forward-facing mode with a 5-point harness and later evolves into a belt-positioning booster seat.
Note that a combination car seat DOESN’T have a rear-facing belt path. Put another way, a combination car seat never ever rear-faces. And this is the main difference between a combination car seat and a convertible car seat. Also, a combination seat typically doesn’t have a removable back, which means you may not always be able to convert it to a backless booster.
Combination Car Seat vs Convertible Car Seat
A convertible car seat rear-faces until a specified weight and height limit (usually 5-40 pounds and up to 49″) is reached, at which point it forward-faces, typically until 65 pounds. Because a convertible car seat rear-faces and forward-faces, it has a rear-facing belt path as well as a forward-facing belt path.
Note that some convertible car seats convert into a booster seat down the road. When the child reaches a certain level of maturity, you remove the harness and use the seatbelt to secure the child. The same goes for a combination seat: you take the harness out so that the child can start riding in the booster mode.
Here’s a summarized version of these differences:
A convertible car seat rear-faces, forward-faces, and can sometimes be used a high-back booster and eventually a backless booster. It has 2 belt paths, a rear-facing one and forward-facing path, and it always comes with a 5-point harness. While a combination car seat ONLY forward-faces and has ONLY one belt-path, a forward-facing path, and always comes with a harness. A combination seat can be used as a high-back booster initially and finally as a backless booster.
Pros and Cons of a Combination Booster Seat
- Allows to forward-face a child until they’re ready for the booster seat
- As comfortable as convertible car seats and more comfortable than backless boosters
- A great option for a car that lacks shoulder belts, allowing the kid to ride forward-facing for a really long time if it’s forward-facing weight limit is quite high
- Most look nicer than backless and high-back boosters and are often better-padded
- Some options may be as expensive as convertible seats
- Most don’t have a removable back, meaning you can’tuse them as a backless booster
- Heavier and bulkier than high-back and backless boosters
At What Age Do Kids Start Using a Booster Seat in the USA?
If I understood your question, you’re asking about booster seat requirements in the USA. Every state enforces its own set of car seat rules and regulations. Therefore, it’s important to review your state’s car seat laws continually so you won’t find yourself on the wrong side of the law (because fines). Learn what the car seat requirements of your state are here.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, children in the US are ready for the booster seat between ages 4 and 7. Kids in this age range weigh roughly 65 pounds. The NHTSA further says that children should continue using this child restraint system until they’re ready for the adult seatbelt, which for most kids happens around age 12.
And according to Healthy Children.Org, children are ready to start using the seatbelt between ages 8 and 12, or when they finally stand 57″ or 4’9″ tall. Also, children shouldn’t start using a booster seat before they are at least 40 pounds.
When Can My Child Ride Without a Booster Seat?
Or, when is a child ready for the seatbelt? There’s no one age when all children should start riding without a booster seat. That said, many US states say that kids can stop using a child restraint system at age 8, but since not all 8-year-olds are the same build, weight, and height, it’s erroneous to state age 8 as the age all kids should stop using a booster seat.
Be sure to check what the law in your state says about seatbelt requirements for children. Some states have both height and weight requirements while others require meeting either height or age requirement rather than both.
Just because the law in your state says an 8-year-old can use the seatbelt doesn’t necessarily mean your kiddo is ready for it. The best way to determine whether your child is ready to move out of a booster seat and start using the adult seatbelt is the so-called 5-Step Seatbelt Fit Test.
How to Know If My Child is Ready to Stop Using a Booster Seat
A child who passes the 5-point seatbelt test set out below is mature enough to move out of the booster seat and into the vehicle’s seatbelt.
- The child is big enough that their back sits fully against the car’s adult seat;
- The child can stay secure in a seatbelt and remain in that position without shifting in ways that move the seatbelt out of position;
- If the kid’s knees bend at the end of the vehicle’s seat;
- The lap belt positions across the hip bones;
- The shoulder belt positions somewhere between the neck and shoulder;
…your child is ready to stop using the booster seat and start using the adult seatbelt.
How to Use a Booster Seat Correctly
Who could know how to use a booster seat better than a certified car seat technician (often referred to as a CPST) who also happens to be a highly regarded pediatrician? No one, that’s who.
Watch celebrated pediatrician-cum-CPST explain in clear detail not only how to install a booster seat, but also how to use it correctly:
Remember: your child should keep using their booster seat until they’re grown enough to properly fit in your vehicle’s shoulder and lap belts.
7 Must-know Booster Seat Safety Tips
1. Booster seats MUST be used with lap and shoulder seatbelts and not with lap belts alone.
2. If there are no shoulder belts on your vehicle’s backseat, you can: get a new car that features lap belts (not feasible for everyone obviously) or consult your car’s manual to learn whether you can add shoulder belts. Another practical approach is to shop around for a forward-facing-only car seat (combination seat) with a highly adjustable harness and headrest and higher than average weight and height limits forward-facing. With such a seat, you can carry your kiddo forward-facing in the harness for as long as possible.
3.A well-fitting booster seat lies pretty flat and low and places the lap belt right across the hip bones. A poorly fitting lap belt lies across the belly, and kids’ stomachs’ aren’t as tough as those of adults.
4. When shopping for a high-back booster seat, make sure to choose a model that has shoulder belt guides. A shoulder belt like that slides without hindrance and doesn’t get loose if and when the child leans forward and then assumes the previous seating position.
5. When using a booster seat, the shoulder belt should fit diagonally across the chest. It shouldn’t be too close to the neck or shoulder nor too far off. If the option you’re trying out doesn’t fit like this, move on and find a better-fitting choice.
6. For a booster seat that secured with lower anchors, make sure to read through the install instructions so that you do it correctly.
7. When using a backless booster seat, make sure that the backseat in your vehicle reach all the way up to the ear level of your child/bottom of the skull according to the Car Seat Lady.
Final Thoughts About Booster Car Seats
A booster seat is a car seat designed for older kids who’ve outgrown a convertible car seat. The quintessential booster seat comes without a 5-point harness and typically relies on seatbelts (lap belts and shoulder belts) to stay in place. Other booster models are a part of a combination car seat, some of which may use LATCH. The rest come as a part of an all-in-one convertible car seat.
You can’t safely use a booster seat with lap belts only. You need to use both lap belts and shoulder belts. If you try out any booster seat and find the fit isn’t quite right, it’s best to pass over that model and search for an option that fits better.
I'm Esther Moni, a proud stay-at-home mom and a psychology graduate of the United States International University (USIU) . I hate it when anyone calls me a housewife, because what does housewife even mean? Being a mother of two babies and a pup, Bailey, as well as being Ricky's wife tires me to no end, but I still manage a smile at the end of it all. And when my boys aren't done doing mischief, I write a post on parenting or baby gear performance and publish it on this blog.