The move away from sedans and towards SUVs and minivans has a lot to do with two words — car seats. Ironically, an item that has the word ‘car’ in it doesn’t typically fit well into small vehicles, hence the lineups of large autos that fill parking lots at schools across the country. Safety experts recommend that children use an advanced car seat, known as a booster seat, sometimes until age 12. Thankfully, this final phase of car seat living is also the most compact. Parents (and your strained backs), rejoice!
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children use a booster seat until they are at least eight to 12 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall. Children will graduate from their forward-facing car seat with a harness to a booster seat once they exceed the maximum weight and height for their car seat, when their shoulders are above the top harness slot and when the top of the ears have reached the top of the car seat.
When choosing a booster seat, there are two styles. A high-back booster seat looks more like a traditional car seat (they’re big!) and is best for cars that have low seats and don’t have headrests (think: sedans). Backless booster seats are smaller and more portable and better for vehicles with high seats and headrests (think: captain’s chairs in SUVs and minivans). Both seats have the same goal — raise children up so that lap and shoulder seat belts fit over the strongest part of a child’s body. Unlike car seats, booster seats typically aren’t secured to the car, which makes them easier to move from one vehicle to another.
Booster seats are not FAA compliant and should not be used on a plane, which only has lap belts. If you are going to travel with a booster seat, make sure you have a storage bag to check it or store backless options as a carry-on (many airlines also allow passengers to gate check full-sized car seats and booster seats).
Parents, the days of car seats are almost over. Check out our list for the best booster seats and enjoy your final big purchase … until college.
1. Graco TurboBooster Backless Booster Car Seat
For big kids in big seats, a backless booster is a great way to lift them up to a safe height for their seatbelt. For parents who want an affordable and lightweight booster seat, it doesn’t get much better than the Graco TurboBooster. The backless booster seat can hold kids ages four to 10 and 40 to 100 pounds. The crash-tested booster seat exceeds US safety standards and includes several features kids will like, including padded armrests and cup holders on each side of the seat. The seat cushion is removable and machine wash friendly and best of all, the affordable booster seat weighs only five pounds, making it simple to move between cars or take with you when traveling.
2. Graco 4Ever DLX 4 in 1 Car Seat
BEST BABY TO KID OPTION
As much fun as it is to research car seats every year (not!), there are some one-and-done options, including the Graco 4Ever DLX 4 in 1 Car Seat. This four-in-one car seat will take you from the hospital all the way to elementary school, which saves you time and money. Designed to last 10 years, the 4Ever starts as a rear-facing infant car seat for 4 to 40 pounds, flips around to a forward-facing harness for 22 to 65 pounds, then can be used either as a high back or backless booster for 40 to 100 pounds (120 pounds for the backless version). The cover can be fully removed in about one minute for washing and two cup holders are included for little ones. Parents will like smart features such as a one-hand, 10 positions adjustable headrest, fuss-free harness storage for little ones, and a six-position recline. The seat, which is available in several color options, includes an InRight Latch attachment and integrated belt lock-off for easy seat belt installation.
3. Mifold Original grab-and-go Car Booster Seat
BEST TRAVEL OPTION
Traveling parents, take note. While the Mifold, which does not provide support for the back of the legs and requires re-threading with each use, is not recommended for daily use, it does make travel more efficient. A great option for when lugging around a booster seat isn’t practical (think: jumping into cabs during international travel), the Mifold presents a unique booster seat option that slightly raises big kids up and brings the seat belt down to the correct height. The booster can fit into a backpack or purse and works for kids who weigh 40 to 100 pounds and are 40 to 59 inches tall. A great option for carpool or anytime you need to fit three kids across a backseat, the Mifold weighs less than two pounds, making it travel-friendly.
4. Cosco Finale DX 2-in-1 Booster Car Seat
BEST FULL BACK TRAVEL OPTION
If a backless booster isn’t right for your little one but you still want to hit the road, there’s the Cosco Finale DX 2-in-1 Booster Car Seat. This affordable booster seat is a great option for a second vehicle or to be used when traveling since it weighs less than 12 pounds. The Cosco can be used as a forward-facing harness seat for kids weighing 30 to 65 pounds or as a belt-positioning booster seat for kids weighing 40 to 100 pounds. The Cosco has an IIHS Best Bet rating, is made in the US, features detachable dishwasher-friendly cup holders and is narrow enough to fit three across in most vehicles while still providing a comfortable seat for kids.
5. Graco TurboBooster Highback Booster Seat
EASY FOR KIDS TO USE
It’s a great day for parents when their kids are old enough to buckle themselves into their own booster seat. With the Graco TurboBooster, the open-loop belt guides help parents and kids properly thread the seat belt for a secure fit. Meeting and exceeding all safety standards, including those by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the TurboBooster can be used as a full back or backless booster for kids weighing 40 to 100 pounds (our top pick was the backless-only option). The multi-layered headrest can be adjusted to comfortably fit kids up to 57 inches tall. EPS energy-absorbing foam keeps kids safe, while padded armrests and hide-away cup holders keep them comfortable.
6. Diono Solana 2 Latch
HIGHEST BACKLESS WEIGHT LIMIT
While most backless booster seats have a max weight limit of 100 pounds, the Diono Solana extends the life of a booster with a max weight of 120 pounds for kids who need a little more time with a booster. The wide seat is ergonomically contoured to give kids a comfortable ride and prevents slipping. We also like that the extra-long seat includes leg support. An integrated Latch connector keeps the Solana secure and the bright seat cover is removable and washable. Two retractable cup holders provide kids with a place to put their snacks and the lightweight 6.6-pound Diono is easy for parents to carry between cars or even when traveling.
7. Britax Grow with You ClickTight Harness-2-Booster Car Seat
HIGHEST FULL BACK WEIGHT LIMIT
For a seat that goes from front-facing harness to booster, there’s the Britax Grow with You ClickTight Harness-2-Booster Car Seat. Once toddlers are big enough to ride forward-facing, the Britax can be used in the front-facing harness position for 25 to 65 pounds. As kids get older, the harness can be removed to create a high back booster seat that is comfortable for kids from 40 to 120 pounds. Four-way stretch athleisure fabric creates a booster seat that isn’t an eyesore in your backseat, while comfort pads help to keep kids safe and secure. A V-shaped tether at the back of the booster keeps the seat in place and reduces movement in the event of an accident. The seat is finished with two layers of side impact protection and Britax’s exclusive SafeCell Technology, which crumples to help absorb the impact of a crash.
8. Graco Affix Highback Booster Seat with Latch System
BEST LATCH OPTION
Want a booster seat that is stable and gives you choices? We like the Graco Affix Highback Booster Seat with Latch System. The seat can be used as a high back or backless booster seat, making it a great option for anyone who needs a booster that will work in several vehicles. The built-in Latch system keeps the seat in place, making it easier for kids to climb in and out on their own. The Latch also prevents the booster from becoming a projectile in the event of a crash. The affordable Affix can be used in both modes for kids weighing 40 to 100 pounds and measuring 43 to 57 inches tall. An integrated cup holder, stowaway storage, and padded armrests help keep kids comfortable, while energy-absorbing foam keeps them safe.
9. UPPAbaby ALTA Belt-Positioning Highback Booster Car Seat
BEST FOR SMALL VEHICLES
Whether you have a small vehicle or need to fit several booster and car seats in one backseat, the UPPAbaby ALTA Belt-Positioning Highback Booster Car Seat is a great option that doesn’t take up much room. The sleek booster seat is safe for kids ages five to 10 and has a weight limit of 40 to 100 pounds. Weighing just over 16 pounds, the booster seat features side impact pads for added protection and EPP energy-absorbing foam. SecureFIT integrated shoulder belt guides and a lap belt position create a comfortable seat for kids and a latch connection helps to keep the seat in place when little ones are climbing in and out. A seven-position active support headrest makes this a great option for vehicles with low-profile seats. We also like the large, removable and dishwasher-safe cup holder that can fit thermoses.