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Choosing a Booster Car Seat

When your child reaches about 40 pounds, it's time to move her out of a convertible car seat and into a booster seat. Most boosters are designed to accommodate children from 30 to 100 pounds.

A Common Misconception

Many parents choose not to purchase a booster seat, as they feel the auto's seat belts alone are adequate protection. Others consider buying a booster only because it allows the child to see out the window. An automobile's seat-belt system is designed for adults, not small children, and most likely will not fit your child properly. A booster seat is designed to use your car's seat belts, but makes important adjustments to provide better fit and comfort, which encourages your child to wear the seat belt properly. A booster raises your child so the car's lap belt goes over his pelvis and hips, not his abdomen. In addition, many boosters provide an adjustment clip to ensure that the shoulder belt does not cross your child's face or neck. (If the shoulder strap crossed his neck or face, your child might be tempted to move it out of position, which could be dangerous in the event of a collision.)

Types of Booster Seats

Booster Child Restraints are specifically designed for children who have outgrown their convertible child restraints. Booster child restraints are designed for forward facing use only with children from 30 to 100 lbs. (or 4-8 years of age.) Please note that some seats are designed for use outside of this weight range and can accept children who weigh up to 100 lbs. Please refer to your child restraint system instructions for the weight limit of your child restraint.

Carefully read the manufacturer's instructions prior to installing and using your booster child restraint. NEVER use a booster child restraint in a seating position with an active air bag.

There are several types of booster child restraints: With and without a back, and with a 5-point harness. A belt positioning booster is a child restraint designed for use by children between 30 and 100 pounds, and up to 8 years of age. It is designed to improve the fit of the vehicle's safety belt system across the child's body. Booster seats provide a transition from restraints with full internal harness to adult vehicle belts. A belt positioning booster should only be used with a lap and shoulder belt combination.

Backless Belt Positioning Booster

The weight limits on belt-positioning boosters range from 30-100 lbs. (Seat weight limits vary, please refer to your instructions for your booster's weight specifications). Note: Belt-positioning boosters are available with and without a seat back. High Back Belt Positioning Booster

Securing your child in a belt-positioning booster restraint - Make sure the lap belt is placed low across your child's hips. The lap belt should never rest on the child's abdomen, as this can cause severe or even fatal injuries in a crash. Place the shoulder belt in front of the child, so that it rests comfortably on the child's collarbone.  5-point Harness

High-back boosters are also available with 5-point harness systems. High-back boosters with 5-point restraints are secured by the vehicle seat belt for children up to 40 lbs. If your child is over 40 lbs., the 5-point harness should be removed and the child must be secured with the vehicle lap and shoulder belt. Note: Some 5-point harness systems offer greater weight range flexibility. Please refer to the child restraint system manufacturer's instructions carefully to make sure you are using your seat properly. 

 It is time to move the child out of the booster and begin using the vehicle's seat belts when the top of the child's ears are:

  • Above the back of a high back booster. 
  • Above the back of the vehicle's seat back when using a booster without a back.

Protection

Once your child reaches 40 pounds, the most important way you can protect him in a car is to use a booster seat. Many parents opt not to use one, either because they believe a booster is unnecessary or because the child resists using it. A booster helps properly position existing seat belts for a young child and raises her, providing her with a better view (which increases the child's willingness to use it).

Once you've decided to purchase a booster, you should resist the temptation to pick one up at a flea market or garage sale. Using a secondhand seat is risky, as you don't know how old the seat is, whether it has been in an accident, whether it has all its original parts, or whether it was designed in light of current automobile environments. In addition, federal motor vehicle safety standards change regularly, and old seats may not comply with current standards.You may use a relatively new secondhand seat from a family member or friend, but only if you know the seat's history, have the instructions, and are sure that the seat has all its parts.

Your Budget

In order to expose yourself to options and features you otherwise might have missed, however, make price your last consideration when purchasing a booster seat. After all, $10 or $20 extra could provide you and your child with features that will save you time and provide more comfort for your child. (And since your child could spend up to four years in this seat, time and comfort are important commodities.)

Remember, a booster seat is not just intended to allow your child to see out the window; it is a device designed to help properly position the lap and/or shoulder belt to restrain your child in the event of a collision.