Booster Car Seat – The 3 Types
When your child is old enough to transition from their infant car seat or convertible car seat, you will need to find a suitable booster car seat for them to use until they are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle’s seatbelt on its own.
The problem is that there are 3 different types of child booster car seats to choose from and it can be quite confusing for parents if they are not familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of each particular type. Buying the wrong type of seat for your child can be an expensive mistake and potentially compromise their safety as well.
The 3 types of child booster car seat are:
The purpose of this post is to provide you with a simple explanation of the different types of child booster car seats so that you can choose the correct one for your child. In particular, I am going to highlight the important differences between highbacked vs backless booster car seats as they are probably the most popular choice amongst parents, especially those with older children in the 6 years of age+ group.
You can buy harness-to-booster seats, like the Britax Frontier ClickTight, but they are much more expensive than most of the highbacked and backless options and tend to be preferred by those who have transitioned from a smaller car seat at a slightly younger age. If you are interested harness-to-booster car seats, you can find some excellent options here.
Harness-to-booster car seats are fitted with 5-point harnesses rather than simply relying upon the vehicle car seat to restrain your child. They are a great option if you are buying a booster car seat for a younger child and want the benefits of a 5-point harness.
What is a Backless Booster Seat?
A Backless Booster is a very basic child seat that is simply designed to raise your child’s body into a better position so that the shoulder part of the vehicle seat belt can (hopefully) fit safely across their shoulder and chest area rather than across the neck.
They do also come with retaining arms that are designed to assist the lap belt part to achieve a reasonably good position as well.
But, aside from that, they don’t really add any other safety a convenience features apart from perhaps a cup/snack holder.
They are relatively cheap and lightweight to transport, but highbacked booster seats provide some important extra safety and convenience features that you need to consider before making a purchasing decision.
Personally, the only time that I would consider using a backless booster seat for a child under 7-8 years of age is if I was using a taxi that could/would not accommodate a larger child seat or if I was going on holiday and needed to travel light.
Below that age, there are some important safety deficiencies with backless booster seats and I discuss them below.
If you have already decided to purchase a Backless Booster seat, you can find some of the better models here.
What is a Highbacked Booster Seat?
The Peg Perego Flex 120 Highbacked Booster Seat (shown above) is an example of a premium model and you can quite clearly see the difference in design between the Flex 120 and, for example, the Chicco Backless Booster.
Some highbacked booster seats have removable backs that means they can be converted into a backless booster seat when your child is older and has outgrown the limits for use in “highbacked mode”.
In terms of age/size restrictions, most premium highbacked booster seats are suitable for use between 40 and 120 pounds (although those children at the very bottom of that range might be better suited to a harnessed booster seat. The height limits are often in the region of about 38 to 63 inches. Of course, you should always check the specific recommendations for your specific seat as there are slight differences between different models.
Benefits of Highbacked Booster Seats?
Although different highbacked booster seats come with different features, they all share the same basic shape and basic features. Of course, the more that you are prepared to pay, the greater the number of safety and convenience features that you can expect to get.
The main benefits of highbacked booster seats are as follows:
1. Side Impact Protection
You don’t need to be an expert car seat engineer to appreciate that backless booster seats do NOT come with any meaningful side impact protection features. Side impact protection features are usually found within the main body and headrest areas of a child car seat and, since backless booster seats don’t have any of these areas, they can’t benefit from them.
Highbacked booster seats, however, DO have side impact protection that can be found in the main body part of the seat and the headrest. These features are designed to protect your child’s torso and head areas in the event of a collision, and this alone makes highbacked booster seats a safer option for most children.
The new Britax Highpoint Booster Seat, for example, contains 3 layers of side impact protection in the body and head areas.
You can read my Review of the Britax Highpoint Booster Seat here.
2. Seatbelt Guides
Although backless booster seats have retaining arms to help position the lap belt across the child’s thighs rather than their abdomen, they do not have any mechanism for helping you to get a good fit for the shoulder/chest part of the seatbelt.
Highbacked Booster Seats, however, almost always come with seatbelt guide clips at the shoulder area of the seat in order to help position that part of the vehicle seatbelt in the correct position. Ordinarily, these seatbelt guide clips can have their height adjusted at the same time as the headrest can be adjusted as your child grows, which means that you can always get a good fit whilst using these seats.
Obviously, if a seatbelt cuts across a child’s neck area rather than over their shoulder and across the chest, this can cause serious injuries in the event of a collision.
One other issue that a first time parent might fail to consider is the practicalities of using a booster car seat on long journeys. It is a fact of life that children tend to fall asleep on long journeys and, if they do not have any body/head support from their car seat, they will very likely lean over to the side and effectively slip out of the shoulder part of the seatbelt. This is an extremely dangers position for them to remain in and this problem alone provides a powerful reason for buying a highbacked booster seat rather than a backless one.
The headrest and body part of a highbacked booster seat provides a very useful support for your child to rest their head in the event that they fall asleep in the car and this means that they shouldn’t end up in a dangerous position.
Benefits of Backless Booster Seats?
There are only 2 benefits of backless booster seats to consider.
Firstly, they are usually much cheaper than highbacked versions. However, you will probably get many years of use out of a good quality highbacked booster seat and so it will be well worth the extra money.
Secondly, they are easier and lighter to transport if you need to take one on holiday or regularly need to move them between different vehicles.
In my opinion, neither of these benefits comes anywhere close to outweighing the safety benefits of highbacked booster seats.
Highbacked vs Backless – My Verdict?
I have no hesitation in recommending highbacked booster seats over the backless booster seats.
I really do not like backless seats unless your child is almost ready to transition to using the adult seatbelt alone and is not likely to fall asleep on the journey.
You can read more about some great highbacked booster seats by following these links:
After purchasing any child car seat, you should always read the User Manual thoroughly before using it. It is also advisable to visit your local Fire Department or NHTSA Child Car Seat Inspection Centre to ensure that the seat is definitely suitable for your child’s specific requirements and that you have installed it correctly. These services are usually provided free of charge.
You can find your nearest NHTSA Centre here.
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