Don’t make the mistake of thinking that once your child is too big for a front-facing car seat, they’re ready for a big kid seat belt. Moving them up to simply using your vehicle’s normal seat belts can put them at risk of severe injury in the event of a car crash.
Instead, invest in a booster seat.
In most cases, a booster seat works with your car’s existing seat belt by elevating your child to a taller sitting position, so that the seatbelt, with the help of a few adjustable clips, better fits their body. The booster seat ensures the seatbelt lays across your child’s shoulder and lap, rather than their neck or stomach.
Pick the best booster seat for your child from among our top-rated, safest, best bets.
Is My Child Ready for a Booster Seat?
This will depend on your child's weight and age, as well as what kind of children’s forward-facing car seat you currently have. Investigate your forward-facing car seat’s maximum weight and age limit. If your child is currently above these limits, it’s a good indication that they’re ready to move on to a booster seat.
In general, many parents find that their child is ready to move on to a booster seat when they’re about five years old or so. From there, many children use a booster seat until they’re eight years old, as many states have laws that require this, but some use booster seats until age 12 if your child is particularly petite.
Types of Booster Seats
There are various types of booster seats to choose from backless, convertible, combination and high-back. All offer different levels of child passenger safety.
Backless Booster Seat
Backless booster seats are simple in design and made up only of the elevated cushioned seat. Backless booster seats are often more affordable. However, backless booster seats are not always safe, depending on your little one’s height.
If they sit in the backless booster and their head comes up over the back of your car’s seat, then they may not have the proper protection they need in the event of an accident. Parents will often play it safe and start their child out in a high-back booster seat before moving them on to a backless booster seat once they’re a little older and heavier.
Convertible Booster Seat
You may already own a convertible booster seat. Convertible booster seats are intended to serve your child all throughout their adolescence, up to their preteen years. A convertible seat starts as a rear-facing infant car seat, adjusts to a forward-facing car seat in the toddler years and then finally adjusts to a booster seat for use up to age 12.
Combination Booster Seat
A combination booster seat is a simpler version of the convertible booster seat, as it can be used both as a forward-facing car seat with a harness and as a booster seat without the harness.
High-Back Booster Seat
A high-back booster seat is more similar in appearance to a normal child’s car seat. They’re made up of both an elevated cushioned seat and a backrest with a headrest. While high-back booster seats are often more expensive, some prefer them for the added cushioned protection they provide for your child.
Across all these different types of booster seats, you’ll notice two installation techniques. Some booster seats simply install using your existing shoulder belts and lap belts, while others use what’s known as the LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). The LATCH system connects the booster seat to your car’s anchors, securing the seat between and behind the car seat cushions.
What to Consider Before Buying a Booster Seat
Obviously, one of the first things you want to consider when buying a booster seat is safety.
How safe will this booster seat keep your child? And that all depends on your child’s age, weight, height and other factors. However, don’t neglect researching any booster seat you’re considering to ensure it meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration safety standards, as well as that it hasn’t been recalled.
In general, booster and car seats have a lifespan of about six years. They actually have expiration dates, just like foods, drugs and cosmetics. Check for an expiration date on the seat, as that can tell you whether or not it’s up to current safety standards.
Additionally, if you decide to buy a used booster seat versus one from a popular retailer like Amazon, ask the current owner about any accidents, it may have been in and ask for the owner’s manual to be included in your purchase.
Beyond safety, you’ll want to likewise consider:
- Ease of Use
You want your child to be comfortable in their new booster seat. Look for booster seats with plenty of padding and lots of adjustability, so you can adjust the seat to best fit your child’s comfort and safety needs.
When it comes to ease of use, you want to think about how often you move your child’s car seat from one vehicle to another, and how often you take it traveling. Do you need something lightweight that you can take on a plane? Do you need something easy to install, so that even grandparents can easily take your tot on the go? What about messes and spills? Will you need a booster seat with removable covers and cushions that can be thrown in the wash at a moment’s notice?
All of the above can impact how much you like (or dislike) your child’s booster seat.
The 9 Best Booster Seats
Ready for the nine best booster seats currently on the market? Here are our top picks.
1. Clek Oobr Booster Seat (Best Safety Features)
Suitable for children up to 100 pounds, this high-quality Clek Oobr, high-backed booster seat has performed very well in crash tests, and users praise its reliable safety features.
The booster seat features an easy-to-clean fabric, adjustable headrest and armrests; however, it is on the heavier side, at nearly 20 pounds. This can make moving the booster seat from vehicle to vehicle a pain. Still, it’s easy enough to quickly install (just make sure it’s always fastened down, even when your child isn’t riding with you — you don’t want this heavy booster seat to turn into a dangerous projectile in the event of a collision).
The Clek Oobr booster seat is $300.
2. Graco TurboBooster (Best Value)
If the Clek Oobr booster seat is a little too pricey for your budget, consider this high-backed booster seat from Graco. At under $100, the price tag is a bit more palatable. It’s also significantly lighter, at under 10 pounds.
This Graco booster seat is suitable for children from 30 to 100 pounds. The seat cover is washable for easy care, and it even comes outfitted with two cup holders on either side, for storing snacks and sippy cups.
3. Diono Monterey XT (Easiest to Use)
This sleek and stylish high-backed booster seat performs well in side-impact crash tests, and the adjustable backrest works for children of varying heights. It’s easy to install and set up with your car’s current seat belts, and once it’s ready to go, children can buckle themselves in with ease.
The booster seat is convertible, with the high back removing as needed, to act as a backless booster seat. It also features two cup holders on either side of the seat, for extra storage.
Unfortunately, the booster seat is on the wide side, so if you have multiple children in your back seat or just not a lot of room in your vehicle in general, you may want to consider other options.
4. Cosco Topside Booster Car Seat (Best Budget-Friendly and Backless)
For a really budget-friendly option, try this $20 Cosco booster car seat. The backless option is suitable for children 40 to 100 pounds and 43 to 57 inches tall. Small and compact, yet still plenty plush, the booster seat is easily removed and moved from vehicle to vehicle, and parents find that it’s particularly convenient when traveling.
Parents of multiple children also like that you can potentially fit three of these in a standard back seat.
5. Chicco KidFit 2-in-1 Belt Positioning Booster Car Seat (Most Adjustable)
This high-back booster seat is super-adjustable, with 10 different height settings, so it grows along with your child. It even reclines, too, so your child can kick back and relax during a long car ride. Two cup holders make it easy for them to access their snacks and drinks.
The booster car seat converts into a backless booster seat once your child is ready to move to the next stage of child passenger safety.
Cleaning is easy, as the seat pad, armrest covers and cup holders can all be removed for machine washing or, in the latter case, a run through the dishwasher.
The booster seat, which comes in at around $100, has a weight limit of 110 pounds and is suitable for children 38 to 57 inches tall.
6. Evenflo Big Kid High Back Booster (Best Reviews)
At under $50, parents love this booster seat from Evenflo. Not only is it affordable, but it’s high-quality and highly adjustable as well. With lots of cushioning, six adjustable height positions, two cup holders and a removable back to transition this high-back booster seat into a backless booster seat, there’s a lot to love.
The narrow, lightweight design means parents of multiple children can fit multiple booster seats in an average vehicle.
This booster seat is suitable for children 30 to 110 pounds, 40 to 57 inches tall.
7. Britax Frontier ClickTight Booster Car Seat (Best for Younger Children)
The Britax Frontier ClickTight booster seat sets itself apart as one of the few highly convertible booster seats that are suitable for a child as young as a two-year-old and as small as 25 pounds. It works for children up to 120 pounds later, with nine different harness positions to fit your child’s growing needs.
In the event of a side collision, its side impact protection keeps your child safe and the latching system prevents any sliding, no matter how you’re using the seat or the age of your child.
8. BubbleBum (Most Convenient)
This backless booster is small, convenient and easy to take on the go, whether your child is headed off for a visit at grandma’s or traveling on vacation. A simple, inexpensive and lightweight cushion, it’s only $20 and one pound. It works for children 40 to 100 pounds.
Unlike some backless boosters that are mere foam cushions, the BubbleBum inflates, raising your child up a little more and making seat belt adjustments easier.
9. mifold Grab-and-Go Car Booster Seat (Best for Travel)
At under $30, this affordable, travel-friendly booster seat is a good pick if you hate struggling with a traditional backless or high-backed booster seat when on a trip. This booster folds until it’s small enough to fit in a tote bag.
When fully unfolded and in use, the booster seat fits children between 40 and 100 pounds, and a height limit of 40 to 57 inches.
Keeping Your Child Safe
As a parent, your top priority is keeping your child safe. When they’re in their booster seat, you’ll want to ensure that you follow the recommended safety guidelines.
Firstly, ensure that the booster seat is properly installed. Follow all manufacturer guidelines.
Then, when your child is actually using the booster seat, stress to them the importance of car seat safety and remaining seated with their seatbelt buckled.
Lastly, if you’re having doubts about whether or not your child is ready for a booster seat, play it safe and wait. It’s always better to keep a smaller, lighter child in their forward-facing car seat rather than rush them into a booster seat that may harm them in an accident.
Choosing the Best Booster Seat for Your Family
Choosing the best booster seat for your family requires looking at a range of factors and considering your personal needs and preferences, as well as those of your child or children.
The most important factor is always safety, though, so if you keep this in mind, you’ll do well with whatever option you choose.
You might also be interested in: 17 Home Management Skills to Teach Your Kids
The 9 Best Booster Seats:
- Clek Oobr Booster Seat (Best Safety Features)
- Graco TurboBooster (Best Value)
- Diono Monterey XT (Easiest to Use)
- Cosco Topside Booster Car Seat (Best Budget-Friendly and Backless)
- Chicco KidFit 2-in-1 Belt Positioning Booster Car Seat (Most Adjustable)
- Evenflo Big Kid High Back Booster (Best Reviews)
- Britax Frontier ClickTight Booster Car Seat (Best for Younger Children)
- BubbleBum (Most Convenient)
- mifold Grab-and-Go Car Booster Seat (Best for Travel)