Booster Seat or Car Seat??

Updated on September 16, 2010
L.C. asks from Downers Grove, IL
18 answers

My almost 4 1/2 year old is too tall and almost over the weight limit (45lbs) for his regular car seat. We have 2 nautilus convertable car seats for him and his brother w/ the 5 point harnes up to 65lbs. Those are in my husbands car which we take on longer trips and its a great seat. But for my car, i was debating on spending another $150 for the same seat for my car or get the Graco booster seat which only uses the regular seat belt but is about $50. Im not sure if the regular seat belt is enough protection. I know the 5 point harness is better, but is the booster seat as safe???? Does anyone use a booster seat for their toddler?

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answers from San Francisco on

BeckyW - My children have 5point harness rated to 65 lbs. Most carseats now (with 5 point harness) are rated to a heavier weight.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

My daughter will be 5 in December, and we use the Graco booster. It fits her fine. I just read an article on line within the last week that explains how the seatbelt should hit a toddler properly. It was very helpful. Depending on how tall he is, the booster might work.

Good luck!

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answers from Chicago on

booster seat is NOT as safe at all. I could send you scary statistics and videos of parent who lost their children to this error, but i will not. you can look it up yourself if you need to be scared into it.

and to clarify its not just the proper position of the seat belt its also the amount of seat belts that malfunction. again if your reasoning is to save $$$ and you can afford the safer seat go with the safer seat.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

5 pt. harness all the way. We purchased the Britax Frontier and couldn't be happier with it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

you will have tons of people tell you that he needs to stay in a 5 pt harness, and you will have tons that say a booster is fine for his age.

But what you need to consider is his SIZE and his age and capability to listen to you. Will he move the seat belt off his shoulder or keep it there? Is he tall enough and at the weight for the booster? Does he LIKE the 5 pt harness or fight you on it?

I had one daughter who stayed in a 5 pt harness till she was 7 and done with 1st grade. She was small, in both height and weight, and she liked it and didn't complain. She would follow my rules so that wasn't an issue, but since she wasn't complaining, and was still fitting in the seat I kept her in it.

Her sister on the other hand had sensory issues and the harness pissed her off to no end. Her clothes bunched cause of it, it didn't feel good. She was bigger then her sister had been , and her sister by this point was in a booster, so she moved to a booster at 3 1/2. She understood the rules and kept the seat belt where it belonged (cause she knew otherwise I was putting her back in that nasty hurting harness (hurting to her, harnesses are safest!).

So, for my older daughter harnessing worked for a great long time, for my younger daughter the booster was a better thing. If he doesn't complain about the 5 pt keep him in it till he does reach the height limit then go buy a booster. He is almost 5, it will be just fine to have him in a seatbelt positioning booster. They ARE safe.

One suggestion once you DO go to a booster that uses the seat belt - one day on your own street make a short sudden stop with the kids in the car. I have found this demonstrates to them WHY they need that seat belt in the right place. I do this sometimes when I transport kids who don't immediately use the seat belt properly and they NEVER complain again in my car! They feel the seat belt protecting them.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I would stick with the 5-point harness, as long as it's something you're able to afford. Britax makes car seats for kids much larger than 45 pounds (and I'm guessing other brands do, too), and although they're definitely not cheap, I would urge you to look from the viewpoint that you really can't put a price on your child's safety.
At the risk of sounding morbid, a hospital stay, even with good insurance, would probably set you back more than a couple hundred dollars. More importantly, the emotional toll an injury accident could have is of more concern than a potential medical debt.
To address one of the other posts here, just because people haven't always used car seats and/or seat belts and happened to live doesn't mean going without one or the other is a good idea.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

My sons Evenflo Generatio 65 5 point that turns into a booster is rated to harness up to 80 lbs. You might want to look into getting another seat, just remember you can't put a price on your sons safety.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

At his size, the booster will work well for correctly positioning the seatbelt. My daughter started riding in the Graco Turbo booster at age 4. I just saw a study that was done on booster seats, and that one was rated well. If the seatbelt comes across his shoulder, not neck, and the lap belt comes across his lap, not tummy, then he is buckled properly.


answers from Minneapolis on

There is no car seat that holds to 45lbs, so he's probably over the weight limit now anyway, unless its a newer seat or a higher harness weight seat, they only harness to 40lbs. If his shoulders are over the top harness slot or he's over the weight limit (40lbs, read the manual) then he's outgrown it NOW and needs a new seat NOW.

If dads car is only for long trips, then I would take the Nautilus out of there and use it in your car full time, and just move it back to dads car when taking longer trips. You want him the most protected in the car he is in the most, and if he's in your car daily then get th Nautilus out of dad's car and use it in yours. Its not a hard seat to install so if they aren't in both cars daily, just use the one seat and move it back and forth when necessary.

At 4.5yrs old, he could probably fit into a booster seat (WITH a back) just fine, but he's also only 4.5.... a harness is still much safer for him.

If you DO use a booster seat, make sure its a high back booster seat. Make sure hte lap belt is low on the hips.... if its up on his belly AT ALL he's not big enough for a booster seat. Make sure he knows how to sit, upright at all times, no slouching, reaching, bending, or falling over to sleep at all. The shoulder belt needs to lay on his shoulder and across his chest properly, and his knees need to bend at the edge of the seat. The MOST imoprtant thing though is making sure he's mature enough to stay in the seat correctly, and that the lap belt is low. A bad fit on a booster is like using nothing at all. Google Seatbelt Syndrome for more information on that.



answers from Pittsburgh on

A five point harness is safer, used properly, of course, but it sounds like he's of legal weight and height for a booster. has state-specific child restraint laws and you can even find a nearby, free inspection site where a professional can assess the situation and make recommendations for your children.



answers from Indianapolis on

Oh, my. I could have written your post.

We just went with the Graco booster. Our 4 year old son is 42 inches, 42 lbs. We were getting ready to spend the $175 X 2 for a second set of Nautilus 5 point boosters for his sister.

The pediatrician encouraged us to go the $50 booster route. The Graco was named a good recommendation by the Insurance Safety insitution.



answers from Springfield on

I would highly reccommend that you contact your fire or police department and ask for them to put you in touch with the person who does the car seat safety checks in your area. They are who can look at your car and your child and provide you with the best information.

My daughter is 7 and one thing I have learned in 7 years is that people are completely ignorant about car seats and completely happy to spew whatever they think about it to anyone who will listen. That very few people actually know what the law is, what the safety reccommendations are (which is usually more stringent than the law) and where their child fits in that. That is why I reccommend that you do not take our advice in this instance, but get with the professional.

I still use a tall back booster and my child is large - but this is the safest set up for her now. One is a convertable one that we paid lots of money for so that it would hold a child up to 100 pounds as a tall back booster, but it started as the 5 point harness seat and the other is a much more substantial tall back booster that will hold a child up to 110. It's hard to find these and information isn't that easy to find either. I think you can go to and check that out without being a member.

Anyway, that is my two cents - I strongly urge you to find the car seat safety checkers in your area. When we were tracking down the second booster, I bought a couple different ones, put them in my car with my daughter. I could immediately tell that some of them were not going to work, others I had to ask the safety folks.

Best of luck to you and I sure wish more people took this as seriously as they should. I see so many children without a booster at all, very young in a backless booster and even kids in the front seat who do not belong there. We, as parents, have so little that we are ultimately in control of as far as their safety - why don't we take this seriously? It is such an easy thing to do - ok, maybe it does require a little work - but in an accident - aren't we all going to wish we had the best for our children....I hope your question makes lots of people think about this and take action on it.



answers from Washington DC on

I vote for the 5pt harness.

My daughter is almost 4 and 34lbs. I tried her in the booster with the regular car seat seatbelt and she had way too much movement for my comfort. Even with the seatbelt locked down she could still move and reach sidewayes and basically get out of the belt.

My son was in a 5pt harness until he was 55lbs and we realized he had outgrown the weight limit on his booster.



answers from Dover on

If he is too tall OR too heavy (either one not necessarily both) for the carseat then it is not safe to keep him in it. Personally I would use the 5 pt harness seats that I already have until they they reach the weight or height restrictions of them. When that happens, I would purchase a high-back booster seat (preferably one that will then convert to just a booster for when they get too tall for the back). This avoids you spending extra money right now while keeping the kids as safe as possible. The 5pt harness is the safest way to go.

My girl is 3yr 9 months and her carseat (in my car) is a convertible carseat that she is approaching the upper limits of and it will then convert to a high-back booster. She outgrew the seat in my husband's truck so we recently purchased a highback booster for her. It will later convert to be used without the back. I don't like the "no back booster" style until they are bigger.


answers from Medford on

I would say it depends on where you live and how fast you go in the car. We have the 5-point harness that goes up to 65lbs also (Safguard Go Booster) in my car. My husband's truck has a backless booster, but we only go around town (35 mph or less). If you go on freeways or highways in your daily routine I would get the 5-point harness, even though they are more expensive. Its worth it knowing your kids are safe.

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answers from Rockford on

That depends on fit and maturity. My son at 4 had outgrown his 5pt harness but was not mature enough to be able to sit correctly all the time in the booster. We tried and he was wiggly and would lean down to pick stuff up and over to bug his sister. So we had to buy another 5pt harness for him. Now my younger daughter could have sat in a booster at that age but we already had the harnessed seat to pass down so we just did that.

I understand the money issue. But, figure most kids do not fit into a regular seat belt until they are 9 or older so you have probably at least 5 more years to use whichever seat you choose. With the Turbobooster, that is $5 a year. With the Nautilus it is $15 a year. Not such a big difference when you think of it that way. There may be other good options too. I have gotten a lot of good advice from this group over the years.

One last thing regarding the Nautilus - it requires that ALL of its base be on the vehicle seat. Most seats allow for an 80/20 rule. In our van, we cannot put the Nautilus on the rear bench because of this rule. I would make sure it fits before buying another if you go that route.



answers from Chicago on

At 4.5 years old and 45 pounds, I would go for the booster seat. Your child is well over the minimum so it is no stretch at all to use a booster seat with the car seat belt. (We do for our 4.5 year old at 42 pounds and our 6 year old at 44 pounds. Both are over the height limit for the convertible car seat we had.) Considering reality beyond the scare tactics, I wouldn't realistically buy another $150 car seat for the child to outgrow and then need to buy the other seat anyway, especially for backup car rides. In my opinion, it's for the sake of cost as well as less wasteful as well as what is practical (perfectly within the seat's height and weight guidelines). Car seat belts are rigorously tested just as car seats are and the design of them is very sufficient for a 4.5 year old used as intended with a correct booster seat. To be extra assured that your child will sit correctly in it, you could pull the seat belt all the way out and then let it back in while your child is buckled to "lock" the seat belt so it does not come out/give, thus not allowing your child to lean forward or such. Letting the seat belt all the way in after unbuckling unlocks the seat belt again. The five point harness assures that the child will sit correctly in the car seat. Most 4.5 year olds are capable of sitting correctly in a car seat with the cars seat belt, as adults are capable of sitting in a car seat belt without a five point harness. That's my take/opinion on it for what it is worth as you consider your choices/decisions.



answers from Chicago on

I would just go for the booster. Your son is big enough. Heck when we were kids, nobody rode in car seats or used seat belts. So big improvement, don't stress. Plus, what five year old will ride in a carseat? In central America, the whole family, mom, dad, and toddler will be riding around on a motorbike. So again, your kid is restrained, good job!

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