24 answers

Car Seat Vs. Booster

My 5 year old daughter still rides primarily in a car seat however she does have a booster in my husband's car. She prefers the booster but I feel she is safer in a car seat. The weight limit on the car seat is 65 pounds (6 years)and she is only 40 pounds so we could get another year out of it. We are getting ready to take a driving vacation (11 hours) and she is begging to be in the booster as she feels more comfortable. I am interested how many moms still have their 5 year olds in car seat and/or any great wisdom about when to make this transition.

2 moms found this helpful

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Thanks for all of the great advice. I really appreciated all the different responses. We have decided to stick with the 5 point harness. All of the input reminded me why we originally bought the car seat we did. Thanks again.

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Both of my girls are in booster seats and have been for about a year. I was told by my pediatrician and after doing my own research that once their sholders are above the shoulder straps or their head is above the back of the car seat than it is no longer safe. Then it is time for a booster seat. The ones we have are for 40 lbs and up. I hope this helps.

My 5 year old is in a booster seat and has been since she was 4 but it is a tall one, not just a base that they sit on. We were actually in an accident when she was in that seat and she was perfectly unharmed I feel she is very safe in it, it is a Compass brand. I never really cared for the boosters that were just a base, I would go with the taller booster.


I have my 6 1/2 year old son in a high backed booster seat that was his car seat (just removed the 5 point harness. I plan to keep him in it as long as possible.


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Hi S.,

Below is a portion of an informational email my friend and I put together as so many of our friends kept asking us questions about carseats- the link has a lot of information....basically I'll tell you that I have a 5 year old who is currently in a Britax Marathon in one car and a Britax Regent in the other car...if I could I'd buy the new Frontier carseat which harnesses to 80 lbs and then turns into a great booster that can be latched into the car....after doing lots of research I really feel that the 5pt harness is the best way to restrain a child until they are much older...I don't really care that almost everyone else starts using boosters at age 3 and 4...I know I'm choosing the safest option for my child...my son who is 27months will be rearfacing until he reaches 33 pounds....is it possible your daughter has run out of space in her seat (sounds like it might be a Britax Marathon, Boulevard....)..how about looking the pretty pink Britax Frontier...use it as a harnessed seat for now and then a booster...it looks like a booster as it has armrests and everyone I know loves the pink for their girls....online it's around 235.00 shipped...and it will last her forever...

Anyway,, here's the link and feel free to email me with any more questions or the full email...



The best rule of thumb is:

Keep your child in a carseat till child meets maximum weight or height and has outgrown it (either they will outgrow height limit or weight limit). Whenever they reach the maximum of one of the limits it is time to move them to a bigger seat. After the “infant seat” there are lots of “convertible” carseats that have limits to 65 lbs and/or 49 inches tall.

After the “convertible seat” there are carseats now that they call “youth seats”. They are
bigger and look like a high back booster but still have a 5 point harness. There are several brands that now make these to accommodate up to an 80lb and/or 53 inch tall child. There are also seats that convert from harness to booster. So they go to 80 lbs and then convert to a booster seat accommodating up to 100 lbs.

There is a variety of “High back boosters” that can accommodate a child up to 100 lbs and /or 60 inches tall.

Following these guidelines will help you keep your child safe and ensure they are in the proper carseat/booster based on their weight and height.

Here are some facts why a 5 point harness seat is safer than a booster seat:

* The crash forces are spread over the skeletal body over five points rather than three.

* The crash forces are spread to the strongest parts of the child's body.

* Forward head excursion (the distance the head is thrown forward) are lessened.

* The child is secured in the correct seating position rather than being able to wiggle
around, lean forward etc

In 5-point child restraints, there is also the added safety of the top tether (so long as the vehicle has this feature). The top tether or top strap (as its sometimes called) helps hold the top of the child restraint back against the vehicle. In a frontal crash at 30mph with a car seat installed properly and no top tether, there is a 32" frontal head excursion.

In the same seat, same crash, child restraint installed along with the top tether, you reduce that frontal excursion to 4-6", thus making it more likely that the child will not hit the seat in front of them.

When used correctly, 5-point harness car seats provide significant safety advantages over securing your child in a booster seat using the adult seatbelt. A child is safest in a 5 point harnessed seat. A child should remain in a 5 point harness until they outgrow it.

Here is a great link with detailed information and a video clip of a vehicle crash test video comparing a 5 pt harnessed seat vs a booster seat:


If you want to go straight to the crash test video, here is the link:


Highly Recommended 5 Point Harnessed Seats:

1. Graco Nautilus and it turns into a booster after the harness is outgrown but
is a 5pt until 65 pounds)
2. Britax Regent will harness to 80 lbs and/or 53 inches tall
3. Frontier a great new seat can harness to 80lbs and then can be used as booster to
100 lbs and/or 60 inches tall
4. Britax Marathon is a good seat to harness to 65 lbs and/or 49 inches tall
5. Evenflo Triumph Advance is also great

If you choose to put you child in a booster it is important to choose a HIGH BACK BOOSTER with side impact protection...those LOW BACK/NO BACK boosters are really meant for children age 9 and up....

Here is a study that talks about side impact protection and booster seats and quotes from this article:



· Most of the injuries to children seated in backless booster seats were head

· Possible explanations for non-significant reduction in injury risk for backless
booster seats are that parents may be less likely to use to use the shoulder belt-
positioner that comes with backless booster seats and that high back boosters have a
contoured back that may better contain the occupant in side-impact crashes.

· The risk reduction provided by booster seats in side-impact crashes varied by booster seat
type: 4-to 8-year-olds riding in high back booster seats were at a 70 percent reduction in
injury risk, while those in backless boosters did not experience a statistically significant
risk reduction as compared with seat belts alone.

Booster seats protect against serious injury 3 ½ times better than seat belts. High back Booster seats protect against head injury 4 times better than seat belts.

Here are some links of videos showing crash tests for different booster types:

Video of a no back booster


Video of High Back Booster with deep side wings:


Video of high back booster with shallow side wings


There is a big difference in booster quality...listed below are some good choices...most are available online very reasonably.

This info is from a carseat tech who is the best we've ever found! She states:

Avoid the Cosco/Eddie Bauer ones because they have virtually no side impact protection and they all require high headrests behind them.

Highly recommended Booster Seats:

Sunshine Kids Monterey
Britax Monarch
Recaro (any of them).
Jane' Indy/Indy Plus
Maxi Cosi Rodi (though it has the headrest rule)
Compass Premier or Deluxe (new names for B510)
Britax Frontier

Avoid Evenflos (not good side impact)

Graco Turbo is easy to find and ok, but not on my top list of excellent seats (not designed especially for side impacts, plus kids tend to route the belt wrong over the armrests...but it's a lot better than an Evenflo or Cosco!)

3 moms found this helpful

Hi S.,

My son will be 5 in August and he is still in the car seat, he is only 42 pounds and I think he is safer in that seat. His shoulders still come below the straps and if that is the case I was told by a fireman that the harness is WAY safer if their shoulders still fit under where the straps come out. So, I agree with you on the saftey of the car seat vs the booster. With your daughter being so light (in weight) I would keep her in the car seat.
Good luck! Have a fun trip!

Most 5-yr olds I know are in boosters. However, if you are going on a roadtrip, she'll be much more comfortable sleeping in the carseat. The boosters are so uncomfortable for sleeping kids.

Aside from the roadtrip, I'd let her sit in the booster. Think of how it feels to you when your seatbelt is locked. It's very uncomfortable. That's what a carseat feels like to a child who has experienced a booster. I have three kids and when they are big enough for the booster and can stay in the booster without trying to climb out and climb all over the car, then they can sit in a booster. My oldest was in the carseat much longer just because we didn't have a booster. The other kids have wanted to switch earlier. Currently my 3-year old is in a booster and does fine. I think you are right that the carseat is safer, but with all the "big kids" in boosters he feels like a baby in the car seat so, it became a battle and I decided to let him win this one.

Verify the regulations on the car seat you have. I had a five point harness that removed to be a back seat booster and the weight limit was 40 lbs for the 5-pt harness, higher for the booster.

My daughter felt the same way. She currently prefers her booster with no back to the one with a back (which holds the belt better).

Our 6 1/2 year old has been in a booster for a few years. 5 was about the transition point.

A long car ride is a very difficult time to have an upset 5 year old. Does it look like she's uncomfortable? Some carseats position a child differently (like four month olds trying to sit up in infant seats). Is she willing to bargain? If you'd like her in the harness, can you bargain with some new coloring books, etc. that she will enjoy in the ride?

Good luck.


I have my 6 1/2 year old son in a high backed booster seat that was his car seat (just removed the 5 point harness. I plan to keep him in it as long as possible.


Hi S.,

When I went to a car seat safety check, I was told by a Fireman and a State Farm Auto Insurance Claims Adjuster that when your child's shoulders (regardless of weight & age)are higher than the shoulder straps in your car seat, it's time for a booster seat. Now depending on what type of seats you have in your vehicle is what kind of booster seat is the safest. For bucket seats and captains chairs a no back booster seat is the safest. I was told it's very dangerous to have a high back on a high back or a booster seat with a snap down padding over the lap (not sure what they're called).

My children are very tall(90%) and have been out of their car seats since 3 1/2.

Hope this helps, and safe travels.

if she is more comfortable in the booster your 11 hour car ride is going to be more fun.

Hi S.,
I have to agree with several of the moms who have told you to stick with the 5pt harness car seat. It IS the safest - especially since she is so light. You're the mom, put your foot down for safety!!

We have our 4 year old in the Britax Regent (LOVE this seat, by the way). And because of his size, he will probably be in that seat until he leaves for college! :-)

I hope you have a great (and safe) trip!

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