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Types of Booster Seats

Posted in: Booster Seats

Are there different types of boosters? Which type of booster is right for my child? Which type is right for my vehicle?

There are three different types of booster seats: Backless boosters, High-Backed boosters, and Combination seats. Read on for a description of each. Also note the Booster Warnings section at the bottom of this page for general information. Of course you should always read both your booster seat instruction manual and your vehicle owner’s manual before installing or using a booster.

Backless Boosters

These are specialized cushions children sit on. The booster raises the child up off the vehicle seat, leading to a better seat belt fit. Backless boosters all have seat belt guides which keep the seat belt over the correct place on the child’s body. Sometimes armrests serve as the seat belt guides, other seats use metal tubes or rings. In this photo, you can see the seat belt runs through two red rings on either side of the booster.

Note: The vehicle seat MUST come up to your child’s ears in order to use a backless booster. This is because the top of the ears is the same height as the bottom of the skull, which needs protection in a crash. If the seat back does not come up to the top of the ears/bottom of the skull, the child is more likely to suffer whiplash injuries in a crash. If your child’s ears come up past the vehicle seat, he should use a high-back booster, where the high back of the booster itself will prevent whiplash.


High Back Boosters (BPB/Combo)

rodifix-blackThere are two types of High Back boosters: Belt Positioning Boosters (BPB) and Combination Seats.

Belt Positioning Boosters (BPB): Like a backless booster but also has a back and head support which goes up past the child’s ears. Normally used as a high-back booster, many of these models also allow you to remove the back, turning the seat into a backless booster – this option is very helpful for travel and for storage.

Combination: Functions either as a car seat with a 5-point harness for children up to at least 40 pounds OR a belt positioning booster for kids over 40 pounds (you simply remove the harness and use the vehicle’s safety belt to secure the child). The back is usually not removable on these models.

Booster Warnings

45 Responses to “Types of Booster Seats”

  1. Nicole Thompson says:

    Thank you for the info on different booster seat types. Would you consider adding information regarding harnessed to high-back booster models that fit well in newer vehicles with stationary, angled headrests? I’m having that problem and am finding through my searches others are as well. Thank you!

  2. Michele says:

    Would a high back booster be good for a tall 4 year-old who isn’t quite 40lbs yet?

  3. Susie says:

    Hi there,
    My kindergartner is 33lbs. and uses a graco nautilus car seat/booster combination. This seat says that it’s safe for using the seat belt with back booster option from 30-100lbs. Do you recommend waiting until she hits 40lbs to stop using the five point harness or is it safe for her to use the seat belt option now. Thanks!

    • We recommend using a 5 point harness until the child is AT LEAST 4 years old AND AT LEAST 40 pounds AND mature enough to sit properly in a booster.

      • Jen says:

        My daughter is very tiny, and grows very slow. She will be 7 next month and she is 34lbs and 42 inches. We still have her in a 5 point harness and is having issues emotionally about it and her size- obviously her physical health and safety comes first- but any recommendations on a good one that will protect her and not make her feel like a baby? It will be years at this rate before she is over 40lbs. She grows about 1-3lbs per year:

  4. Anna says:

    My 6 year old is too tall for our Diono Radio RXT120. I’d prefer a high back booster as we take long car trips and he often sleeps. Is there a specific one you’d recommend.

    • For taller kids who like to sleep, the Maxi Cosi RodiFix & Cybex Solution M-Fix are favorites of ours – they do a really good job of keeping a sleeping child’s head well contained in their head rests, making it less likely for the head to fall down. When the head falls down during sleep, the rest of the body often starts to slump as well, which means the seat belt isn’t properly positioned and won’t protect as well as possible in a crash.

  5. Alison says:

    My daughter is 3 1/2 and 3’8″ and 58 lbs. She is very mature and can sit still. She has outgrown her carseat with 5 point harness. Is she ok to move to a booster? Are there any boosters with a 5 point harness that she can use with a higher weight limit? I kept her rear facing as long as possible and I hesitate to move her to a booster too early, but I don’t want to spend a fortune for another carseat! Thank you!!!

    • The Britax Frontier/Pinnacle would be the best option as it will allow her to stay in a 5 point harness longer than any other seat – and then converts to a booster. Make sure to use the tether strap on hers (and every) forward-facing car seat!

  6. Katie says:

    I’m a little confused. Can I switch my 33 pound 3 year old to a combination booster seat as long as he is in 5 point harness or should I keep him in combination car seat until he is 4? Thanks for clarification.

    • Children should use a 5 point harness until they are AT LEAST 4 years old AND AT LEAST 40 pounds AND mature enough to sit properly in a booster for the entire trip. It doesn’t matter what type of seat it is, so long as the child is using a 5 point harness (and is obviously within the height and weight parameters for that seat’s 5 point harness).

  7. Heather says:

    Is a high-backed booster more safe than a backless? We have one that can be either, but I’m uncertain if it’s fine to use it either way or if I’m waiting for some milestone to stop using the back. Thanks!

    • We would suggest using a high back booster for as long as possible and whenever possible. For times when you may not be able to bring a high back booster along – like on a playdate, vacation, etc – then a backless booster will still offer good protection and we would strongly recommend using this.

  8. meghan says:

    My 5 yr old is 50 lbs and just converted her seat to a high back booster. Her seat has a recline feature. Does the seat need to be in the most upright position? Is it dangerous for her seat to be slightly reclined when forward facing if the seat itself is installed tightly with LATCH system?

  9. Kate W says:

    I am struggling to find a seat that will convert to a booster for my 42″ tall, 42 lb 3-year-old. I’d like to buy an affordable seat for my mother’s car and to take on vacation, and I don’t want to have to buy another seat for her car ever if possible. Is a booster with a five-point harness appropriate? Is there a search term I’m missing? “Combination” seems to get me RF to FF seats rather than FF to booster. (Please don’t say Diono, I don’t have $250 for a seat that will be used once a month)

  10. Brian says:

    I know the middle seat is the safest position for a carseat and the safest carseat for bigger kids is a high back booster with the wings. In my vehicle the I can do either a high back booster on the left or right or a regular booster with no back in the middle. If I try the high back in the middle it completely blocks my rear view. So my question is, which is safer? High back on right or left or standard booster in the middle (with a headrest). Thanks for any thoughts.

    • Part of it depends on whether the child can sit properly in the backless booster for the whole car trip. Also, make sure you have a center head rest or seat back that is high enough to come up to at least the top of the child’s ears – as with a backless booster the vehicle needs to provide the whiplash protection. If this is not the case in the center, then the child will definitely ride on the side. I don’t know which is safer – and would base it more on how well the child sits in the 2 different boosters and pick the one the child stays better positioned in for more of the trip.

  11. Anna says:

    Hi,

    Can you tell me if high back boosters need the back tether like the forward facing seats do? I am trying to figure out seating arrangements when our new baby arrives. Currently, I have 2 in forward facing 5-point harness seats. We have a 2015 Town & Country. Right now, they are both in the second row. When the baby arrives, our oldest will be 4 and is already 43 pounds (our biggest deciding point on moving to booster will be if he can sit well enough in the seat belt/booster). Would it be possible to put one forward facing seat (2 year old) and a high back booster in the 3rd row, and the rear-facing infant in the second row? I didn’t realize when we purchase the car that it only had one back tether in the third row. Thanks so much for your help!

    • Boosters – where the child uses the vehicle’s seat belt across them – do not need tethers.

      I’d suggest having the 2 year old rear-facing if possible as it is safer for the child.

  12. Ursula says:

    Hello, my daughter is 6 years old, almost 4 feet tall and 50lbs. We are looking for a second booster for my husbands car. His car is older and does not honor the latch system like mine does. Are high back boosters only held down by the weight of the child and the seat belt? What about when not in use? Thank you.

    • All boosters can be used without being LATCHed into the vehicle – and are held down by the weight of the child and the seat belt that is across the child + booster. The key purpose of LATCHing a booster is so that when it is not in use it does not become a projectile. If a booster is not LATCHed in, make sure that the booster gets buckled in when not in use so it can’t fly around when empty.

  13. Pamela says:

    Can you recommend a narrow style of high back booster (that can be converted to backless) that may fit 3 across in our 2nd vehicle? It’s a Subaru WRX.

  14. Allison Stone says:

    This is such a helpful website. I’m so glad I found it! My question is this: our daughter is just 5 years old last month, is 43 inches tall, but only about 35 pounds. We have her in a Britax Pinnacle in our car, using the 5-point harness. It’s great, and we will switch to the lap belt when she reaches the appropriate weight (in California I believe this is 40 pounds). However, we are going on a trip to England in August and I’d love to use something more portable for the very short car ride from the train station to the hotel in this little English countryside town. Could we use a backless booster for this?

  15. Trish says:

    My daughter is 5yrs old, 45lbs and 43″ tall. She behaves well in a car& sits still. Is a booster with back appropriate?

  16. Christine H says:

    I am looking for a high back booster seat that can be converted to backless to accommodate my 3.5 year old who is 32 pounds. I’m looking for the most inexpensive option. Thanks!

    • A 3.5 year old who is 32 pounds needs to be in a 5 point harness car seat for at least another 2-3 years as the child has not met the age (4-5 years) or the weight (40 pound) or the maturity (able to sit properly for an entire trip in a seat belt) minimums to use a booster. A booster is a seat where the child sits on it and uses the vehicle’s seat belt across them as their restraint.

  17. I am looking for a booster with a back that folds for travel. Is there such a thing? My son is 6.5 yrs old and only about 42 lbs and fits in an Immi Go but from what I understand that will not fit in all cars and we want something to bring in cabs/airport car services, etc.

    Thanks!

  18. Andrea says:

    Is there a decent option for a highback booster with head support under $100? My 5 year old falls asleep on longer trips and is slumped over.

  19. Erin Toohey says:

    My child is in an Evenflow high back booster but now is so tall that it doesn’t go all the way behind her head. She’s 48″ tall now. Since the backrest isn’t adjustable, should I just move her to the seat booster?

    • If you can afford it, it would be best to get her a high back booster that can accommodate her – but if not, then using the seat in the backless booster mode will be what you need to do (so long as the vehicle’s seat back/head rest will support at least up to the top of her ears). I would also double check your Evenflo – as it may be adjustable in a way you didn’t realize as 48″ is very short to have outgrown a high back booster.

  20. Wendy Davis says:

    One daughter is 10 yrs, 55.5″ tall, and weighs 69 lbs. She is in a backless booster and hates it (LOL). I am constantly having the talk about safety and my love for her and am checking WI DMV car seat PDF for guidance. She is very embarrassed because she does not want to look like a “baby” to her friends. I see a lot of kids not in boosters or in the front seat that are similar size to her. She shows me that her feet touch the car floor and the shoulder belt touches just below her neck (clavical?). I know other cars she may ride in may be different. Going by the chart, I believe she still needs a booster even with this show of fit. My husband is starting to side with her. What do you think?

    • Kids need a booster until they pass ALL 5 steps here – thecarseatlady.com/5steptest (note that the lap belt being properly positioned and the child not slouching are the most important parts in that it is the lap belt that is most likely to cause injury to the child in a crash).

  21. Julie says:

    My daughter is 6almost 7 she using backless booter but when she sleep in the car her body go to side sleeping should I get her a booter with back

    • Yes – she needs a booster with a back – and one with a back that provides good support for a sleeping child (as some high backs are too flimsy or shallow on the sides to do this). We really like the Maxi Cosi RodiFix – especially for kids who sleep in the car.