Things to Consider Before Buying Booster Car Seats
The main purpose of a booster car seat is to protect your child in the event of a car crash. So the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) regulates and rates each booster car seat depending on their safety. The IIHS conducts crash tests and looks at the proper fitting of SUVs, cars, vans, etc.
The IIHS has 4 different safety ratings as follows:
- Best bet rating for booster car seats that provide attested belt fits children between 4 years and 8 years old in nearly every car, SUV, or van.
- Good bet rating for booster car seats that provide allowable belt fits in nearly any car, SUV, or van
- Not recommended rating for booster car seats should be avoided as they do not provide good belt fits ( according to IIHS there are no booster car seats with this rating).
- Check fit rating for a booster seat that the IIHS has tested but has varied results for children with different sizes and car models.
These ratings emphasize how much the safety belt fitting enhances the child’s safety. So you should note that booster car seats, just like car seats are only safe when your little one buckles him/herself properly.
When buying a booster car seat, you should check out for ones that have LATCH connectors. This is a type of latch system which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. This latch system makes it easy to install a booster car seat without a seat belt.
For backless booster seats, they should only be used if your car seat has a headrest and the back of the car seat is high enough to reach your child’s ears.
There are mainly two different types of booster car seats available. High backs and backless boosters. High back seats come with both a bottom and a back. Some come with features that allow the backrest to be adjusted to the child’s height and others have padded headrests or both. These extra features make them more expensive than backless seats.
On the other hand, backless boosters are budget-friendly and their primary function is to elevate your child to ensure that the seat belt fits properly.
Ease of use
The belt adjustment system of car seats should make it easy to tighten and loosen the belts on the seat. And for parents who will use the booster in more than one car, consider harnesses and straps designed to be moved from one car to another.
The comfort of your child is important during travel. It ensures that your child stays calm throughout the journey. Features such as adjustable arm/leg rest and thick-energy absorbing padding will keep your child cozy.
When the booster seat is lightweight, it will be easier to transfer it from one car to another. Parents who want portable booster seats should go for the backless booster seat rather than high back seats. Though you should ensure that the conditions of using a backless booster seat are met first.
Value for money
The best booster car seats come at varying prices. From the luxurious ones where you would have to pay more to, in turn, get additional comfort and convenience features. To the cheaper ones that will only bring the functionality aspect of booster seats.
To make it easier for you, set your budget and shop within your range while choosing a booster seat with the best features for your child.
FAQs about booster car seats
What is a Booster seat?
Booster seats are specifically designed for children to keep them safe in case of collision. Its main function is to elevate your child to a height where your car’s seat belt will protect them. They make sure that the seat belt goes across your baby’s thigh instead of his/her belly. It also prevents the seat belt from strangling your baby by guiding the belt safely across your child’s chest.
Why should you use a booster seat?
Why can’t 4-8 years old kids use the car seatbelt? In most states, it is against the law. Most states have enforced laws that children under 8 years must use a car seat or a booster seat.
These laws come with good reason. Research and analysis compiled from previous car crashes showed that kids in booster seats were 59% less likely to be injured than if they were only using the car seat belt. Though from the data, only one percent were injured. And even a lower percentage(0.77%) for those using a booster seat.
A booster seat is recommended mainly because the car seat belts are not designed to fit kids. The lap beltscutg across their belly instead of securelycutg across the hips like grown-ups. The shoulder belts strangle your baby’s neck, but a booster seat will guide it across the chest.
For grown-ups, the seat belt keeps them from flying rigorously out of the car in the event of a car crash. It also distributes the energy from the crash to the hip bone and the chest- these are parts of the body that can handle the force. For the case of a child, the car seat belt may end up further injuring your child’s neck and belly in case of a car crash.
So why should you use it? It makes the car seat belt work on children like it is designed to in case of a crash. Booster seats will protect your child from serious injury.
When should you start using a booster seat?
Once your child has outgrown the 5 point harness and is ready to graduate to the big kid seat. This happens, when your child is at least 5 years old, weighs at least 40 pounds, and is responsible enough to sit in their booster seat properly without any naughtiness like unbuckling the seat or putting it behind their back.
For backless boosters, your child can safely ride if the headrest is above their ears. This will protect them from whiplash during a collision.
The safer option to start with is the high back booster seat, especially if your vehicle has a low back seat. But they are overall both good as long as they safely guide the seat belt.
Are booster seats tested for safety?
Independent test labs such as the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety test booster safety and rate them to four different categories
- Best Bet: for booster seats that provide attested belt fits children between 4 years and 8 years old in nearly every car, SUV, or van.
- Good bet: for booster seats that provide allowable belt fits in nearly any car, SUV, or van
- It is not recommended for booster seats that should be avoided as they do not provide good belt fits ( according to IIHS there are no booster seats with this rating).
- Check Fit: for booster seats that the IIHS has tested but have varied results for children with different sizes and car models.
These ratings form guidance for buying to ensure safety in your car. It is recommended to always go for the best bet rated booster seats.
Moreover, our top 10 list consists of companies such as Evenflo and Gracoconductingt their crash tests. However, these companies are notorious for recommending misleading age, height, and weight recommendations.
You should always note that 40 pounds is the minimum recommended weight for booster seats.
How to install a booster seat?
For backless booster seats, they are placed on the car seat, and no fastening is needed. Most high backs come with LATCH connectors, which snap metal bars inside the car seat. This LATCH system ensures that the booster seat does not move around. This makes it easy to come in and out of the booster seat.
LATCH connectors are not effective over 65 pounds. However, LATCH connectors are not a must in a booster seat because the car seat belt holds your child safely in the booster seat.
When not used, booster seats should be stored in the trunk as they won’t be steady in a car crash if a child is not on them.
What are the types of boosters seats(which one is best)?
It all comes down to your family’s needs and not safety issues. In fact, studies have shown that neither of the two has a safety advantage over the other. Safety depends on whether your child is safely secured with the seat belt or not.
Both high back and backless booster seats have their advantages and disadvantages, as you will see below.
High back booster seats have the bottom just like a backless seat but have a high back for support.
The high back seat is designed with wings on the side for impact protection.
High backs have the edge over backless booster seats since the back part is removable in some. This means that you can convert it to a backless seat later hence getting the best of both worlds.
The convertible high back options are cheaper in the long run since they grow with your child.
- Usually extra padded for comfort
- The headrest provides head support lacking in most vehicles
- Well suited for younger kids by keeping them in the safest position
- Guides the shoulder and shoulder belt positioning
- They are more expensive compared to backless
- They are not as portable as backless, since they are heavier and bulkier.
These booster seats are straightforward and mainly designed for functionality. Its main purpose is to elevate your child so that the seat belt will properly fit them on the chest and lap.
Unlike the high back booster seats, most backless seats do not have a fastening mechanism on your car seat.
- They are very portable due to their lightweight nature weighing in as low as 2.2 pounds
- They are cheaper compared to high backs since the features are reduced
- It is easy to install since you place it on the car seat
- They provide more independence to older kids. Easing them into the use of seat belts like grown-ups.
From the above points, you realize that it all comes down to the parents’ needs and preferences. However, most parents prefer to buy high backs that grow with their children. Later, they can detach the back part to leave them with a backless booster seat for their older kid.
How to buckle up your child properly?
For both high back and backless boosters, the lap belt should run across the top of your child’s laps and the shoulder belt across the middle of your child’s shoulder. Most high back and backless booster seats come with visual illustration manuals to ensure proper use.
Is my kid slouching a problem?
Yes, slouching is a serious problem not only for children but also for adults. Slouching pulls the lap belt to the belly, making it dangerous in case of a car crash. The energy from the crash will be transferred to the soft body organs such as the liver, kidney, intestines, and even as serious as the spinal code.
Slouching makes the belt loose; hence the body is not securely held. In case of a crash, the whole body will move, especially the head, which may hit the back of the front seat, causing neck and brain injuries.
If your kid slouches, leans over his/her siblings, hangs out the window, and cannot sit calmly and upright, then the child is not ready for a booster seat.
You can always consider a forward-facing 5-point harness for taller and heavier children. They will protect from side impact while holding your child in place. You do not have to rush because the priority is safety.
However, most kids outgrow the 5-point harness quickly, so ensure to pick a taller one.
Is my 3-year-old 30-pound child ready for a booster seat?
No, the 5 points harness forward-facing car seat is the best option for kids less than 4 years(40 pounds). The 5-point harness distributes the crash force over a larger area than a safety belt and booster seat.
Most booster seats have misleading information on the minimum requirements for your child to use it. So to be on the safe side, ensure your child is at least 40 pounds before using a booster seat.
See also: 13 Best Car Seats to Buy Right Now