Booster Seat - Confused About the Basics

Updated on December 21, 2010
A.S. asks from Chicago, IL
12 answers

My older son is 3-1/2, and I've been thinking about getting him a booster seat because he's taller than his convertible (Britax Roundabout). He's comfortable but just looks big, but maybe the bulkiness of winter coats and being bundled up makes him fill up the seat more :) I've been reading some of the other posts about booster seats, and they're mostly asking about recommendations. I don't have questions about brands (yet), but have some basic questions:
1) Is there an height/weight guideline for using a 5-pt harness versus seat belt? If the child is big enough for a booster seat, my impression is that going with the harness vs. seat belt is personal preference.
2) Is the 5-pt harness removable once you start using the seat belt?
3) What's the difference between a booster with back and without? If you get a booster that uses the seat belt, why get one with a back? Is it for comfort and head stability if/when the child falls asleep? Again, is there an age or ht/wt point when kids progress to a backless seat?

My little guy is 42" and about 38lbs. I want what's safest, but also want to avoid having to buy another booster seat in a couple of years, especially since we'll need a seat for my husband's car as well.

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answers from Dallas on

Keep him in the booster seat until he reaches the limits for his seat. Even then there are convertible car seat that are rated 5 point harness higher and then you can use the same seat as a booster when the time is right for your son. Which will be when he is to tall for the straps. The 5 point is absolutely the best place for him to be.

Also you need to take his big bulky jacket off in the car, you can't get the straps tight enough with the jacket on. He will be cold for a few minutes but if you put a blanket in the car he can cover up in this between getting in and out of the car.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

CAWriter below response is not quite right..... The convertible seats ARE "real" booster seats. A booster seat is anything that uses the car's seatbelt to secure the child. When you start using a convertible seat as a booster, you stop securing the seat to the car and just use the seat belt to secure the child and the seat to the car. The purpose of a booster seat is to boost a child up to the right height so that the lap belt will fit across the hips and the top belt will fall over the shoulder blade instead of against the neck (ie the way a regular adult seatbelt is supposed to fit an adult).

The minimum for a booster seat should be 4 and 40. Most older carseats you had to remove the harness at 40 lbs. However, in the last several years there are a lot of new seats on the market that can harness up to 65 or 80 lbs and then convert to a booster. A 5 pt harness is always safer and is the best bet. Regardless of it's convenience or comfort. And most of the extended harness seats these days are pretty plush.

Your child does sound too big for his roundabout. But I would not be moving him out of a harness. I would look for a seat that has the higher weight limit harness. If you think this is silly or want the convenience of a booster, please take a look at these videos:

The first one by itself just shows you the dramatic difference between a child being securing in a 5 point harness and a child secured with an adult seatbelt in a bootser seat.
There are alot of seats that harness above 40 now......Graco MyRide 65 (which you can rearface to 40, FF and harness to 65 but does not convert to a booster), Graco Nautilus which is FF only but harnesses to a higher weight limit and then converts to a high backed booster, Britax has several good ones (I think Frontier is the only one that converts to a booster, and prob at this point I wouldn't buy one that didn't convert). It is a great seat, but it is very very big and can be difficult to install. There is also the Apex 65 and I think a couple Evenflo seats. You really have to go to the store with your child and read the fine print to see what is appropriate, try them out with your child and find one that is appropriate and then try it in your car as well. You want something with a good tight fit if you are going to use it as a 5 point harness seat. Toys r us will let you do this if you leave your driver's license....even if you dont' end up buying it there (they do run pricey).

When you do go to a regular booster, high back is better because it positions the seat belt properly over the shoulder. No back boosters usually do come with a positioning clip but most people don't know what it is and don't use it. High back boosters also provide some head support...sometimes side impact protection. If you have a car with a low seat back (no head rest and the child's head comes above the back of the seat) then you def should get a high back. I am not sure why anyone uses no back boosters unless you are buying one for a significantly older child who isn't quite ready to ride without one.

Here are the guidelines to know when you are ready to do without a booster:
Most states the absolute minimum is 8 yrs and 80 lbs. But I would want my child to pass the above rules before I moved him out.

I had my older son who is tall and thin for his age in a harness until about the middle of his 5th year. I could have kept him in longer but I needed the seat for my younger child who was moving out of his infant seat. At that point I felt he was mature enough to sit properly in a booster (ie not be wiggling out of the belt, bending over, pulling the belt behind him) and it fit him properly. Test out how well it works as a booster too...making sure it positions the belt over the hips and shoulder blade, not against the neck or belly because if it does this and you are in an accident, a lot of soft tissue damage will happen instead of spreading the force over the hard bony structures.

Any time you are ready to transition or have any questions about specific seats there are a lot of great people with a lot of great info on the forums at this site

Also other posters are correct about the bulky coat. I know Chicago winters are harsh, but it is better to either remove the coat and put it on backwards, take the arms off, buckle the belt and then replace the coat, or wear thin layers and a thicker fleece jacket on top. Land's end and LL bean make some nice ones that I think are 300 gram fleece that would keep kids pretty dang warm without causing the problems with carseats.

Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Gainesville on

First, no bulky coats in the car seat. In the event of an accident the coat compresses and leaves too much of a gap between little one and straps.

40lbs in the minimum for a booster but the other thing to consider is that little ones have to be able to sit up appropriately at all times in the seat. I have to remind my 6 year of this when he rides in his high back booster in dad's car.

Kids are safest when kept in 5 point harness for as long as possible. My 6 year old is still in a 5 pt in my car (where he rides 99% of the time). His seat will carry him to 80lbs. Anytime you downgrade what they are using, it's also a downgrade in safety features.

Take a look at the Britax 85 (Frontier maybe?). It will go 5 pt harness to 85lbs then will go high back booster to 120lbs! That's a lot of use for a seat.

Both my kids are in Britax seats and I love them. Built like tanks and don't budge when they are installed properly. Worth every single penny I spent. The high back booster in dad's car is also Britax. It has an additional safety feature that is called anti-submarining. It hooks around the lap belt to prevent him from slipping (submarining) under the lap belt if God forbid there was an accident.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

The main reason I got one with a back is that when he falls asleep in the car while traveling his little head will have a.......thing...flat surface....something to keep it from falling all the way over to his shoulder. It really heps if they fall asleep to have that ridge on the side.

As for the back vs not having a back, to me it makes no difference. The seat is made for people and kids to so if it is comfortable for you then it is probably going to be okay for him too. We got a booster too and made sure it had cup holders on both sides so that if he had to move to accommodate more adults then he could have a drink no matter where he sat in the van.

It is entirely personal preference but you might check with your local fire station to see if they are going to have any free car seat checks going on soon and see if they have any information for you in the form of flyers or brochures. They know the laws of your state and they fit hundreds of kids a year for new car seats.

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answers from Sacramento on

Most states, it's 4 years AND 40 lbs. to move to a booster. Check your state laws.

There is a big harnessing until prom time movement. I think that's great with smaller kids, but they get impractical with larger ones. Our kids were never comfortable with harnesses. I know I would have gone bonkers having to wear those as a kid. Who wants to sit like a mummy for hours on long car trips?

If you buy the convertible/booster combo seats, you remove the harness and use the seat belt. This does NOT create a real booster seat, however. You'll still have a massive combo seat that has to be attached to the car. If you really want a regular booster, you don't get that with a combo seat. It's not portable and easy to transfer, like a real booster.

We had to buy a combo seat because our daughter passed the 40 lb. limit with the Roundabout but wasn't four year yet. Her pricey Frontier is now sitting in the garage. We replaced it with a real booster when the time came after discovering the Frontier didn't turn into a real booster.

There's no safety difference with back with/without boosters. Some kids like having the back because it's like the car seat. Kids can start with backless same age as any booster.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dover on

Five-point harnesses are safer than those that use the car's seat belt so if you can get a booster seat with a harness that is rated for his size then that is the best option. Each seat is different so you will have to check the ones you are looking at. Next best is a high-back booster that uses the car's seatbelt. Some do have the removable harness to convert to the belt-poisitioning style booster seat (again, check the models you are looking at). The high-back boosters fit the child better, less wiggle room, and it helps position the belt (which should NEVER go behind their arm/back).

The ones w/ no back are the least safe and should not be used to toddlers (they tend to have too much room to move).

Whatever one you decide on, read the instructions. Mine converted from a regular baby infant carseat to a forward facing and now a high-back booster and specifically says do NOT secure to the car except through the seatbelt once it is converted. Every seat is different.

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answers from Dayton on

I would go by the ht and wt recommendations on the seat. The booster with the back positions the seat belt at the right height until the child is tall enough to have it at the right height without positioning - -the backed ones are also called belt positioning boosters. Also, our backed booster gives some side impact protection you wouldn't get without the back.

It depends on seat as to if the 5 point harness comes off to make a booster and a seat belt. I think the 5 point harness is generally safer than the belt with booster because it keeps the child more secure in the seat in case of accidents.



answers from Chicago on

if you want to be the safest having him in a 5 point harness is the only way to go hands down. he shouldnt have a coat on in his seat anyways. you can put him in and then use coat on top OR unzip jacket once hes seated, pull the sides through so the straps are on his chest and NOT on his oat, buckle him and then zip his jacket over his chest straps...could you put him in a booster now, of course but its by far the least safe option



answers from Minneapolis on

There are hight/age and weight requirements that vary by state you need to start there.



answers from Pittsburgh on

I agree with the PP that bulky jackets do not belong in a car seat! (A pain, I know, but very dangerous.)
Do yourself a favor and find a local, FREE, safety seat inspection site near you and have them look at your kids, your seats and your kids IN their seats. All it takes is an hour of your time and you will feel so much better getting professional advice/laws/knowledge.
Do you know that something like 50% of safety seats are used incorrectly? That's scary!
Good luck!



answers from Chicago on

The law in IL states 40 pounds before a booster seat. I however think you should stick with a five point harness as long as you can. My son is in a Britax Regeant and five and half. They have a new Britax booster the Frontier and it is a five point harness up to a very high weight limit and can also be used with the seat belt eventually..... Additionally, after being in a car accident I learned that you should limit bundling up your child in the car have to pull out and loosen the harness so much that in impact they will move around more....I stick with a fleece jacket in the car and take the time to put on a better jacket if its really cold out.



answers from Chicago on

Hi A.S. I can answer your first question.

The law in the State of Illinois is: "The Child Passenger Protection Act requires that all children up to their 8th birthday must be secured in an appropriate child restraint system (a carseat or booster that meets NHTSA safety standards). Children between 8 and 16 years old must be seated in a seatbelt."

1) Yes, using 5-pt harness is personal preference. The height/weight guildelines you need to follow are those provided by the manufacturer of the seat you are using. I believe your Britax Roundabout can be used forward-facing until your child is 55 pounds and 46". So you are okay for now. When your child reaches one of these mazimums, you'll have to purchase a new seat with a 5-pt harness (for a larger child) or a booster seat.

2) We have a car seat that offered 5-pt harness until the child was 40+pounds and then converts to a booster with a back. The 5-pt harness is removable. But I don't know the ins-and-outs about using it as a boost with or without the back. (I hate this car seat and only use it when absolutely necessary.)

Let us know what you decide to do.

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