Booster Seat Advice Needed
November 18, 2012 8:15 PM   Subscribe

It's time to switch my kids from regular car seats to booster seats and I can't figure out which to buy or what features I should be looking for. If you've gone through this, can you please share your experiences to help me make a decision?

My kids are 4 and a half. My son is 42lbs. My daughter is 40lbs. They're currently in Graco car seats. I'm looking at high-back booster seat models. My car does not have the Latch system, and space constraints are not a factor.

Is there a brand or model that I should be looking at over any others? Are there any brands I should be avoiding completely?

Are the more expensive seats really more effective at protecting a child during a crash/impact?
posted by zarq to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Generally speaking there are two kinds of booster seats. The simpler models just raise your child up a few inches and provide guides for the normal seatbelt system (including shoulder harness) to work properly. These units are inexpensive, and they don't themselves attach to the vehicle at all, so there's no question of latch or non-latch.

There are a smaller number of booster seats that provide a five point harness for added protection. These allow your child to sit upright in something approximating a normal car seat posture, but they're fastened in with a five-point harness that is similar to what you see in the car seats for younger kids. These booster seats do fasten to the car, either with a latch system or via the seat belt.

There are some booster seats that convert between these two approaches. You might take just the seat cushion portion when you're traveling, for example, but use the full setup when you're in your family car at home.

We actually have one of each. The five-point harness booster is more-or-less permanently installed in our car. We have a backless booster that we can throw into other cars for shorter trips, or to use when we have an extra kid riding along.
posted by alms at 8:25 PM on November 18, 2012

I have one of the simpler kinds, made by Graco, that just boosts the kid up so the regular shoulder harness fits properly. It provides essentially no extra protection in a crash. (boy, that makes me sound irresponsible). The kid hasn't complained about it being uncomfortable or anything so it seems fine in that regard. There's not a lot too this kind so I'd imagine any one is as good as another.

I doubt it matters to you but the one we have fits my vintage F-14 Ejection Seat Handles in the proper position.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:37 PM on November 18, 2012

I shop off a list from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The most important thing about any booster you buy is that it properly position the seat belt to fit your kids. Check out their page about fit, then take a look at their Best Bets list. There's a wide range of styles and prices.

In general I've found that more expensive seats have better padding and more features, but as long as the seat belt fits well, any style seat works just fine. We use a combination of high-back and backless seats in our two cars - I'm more comfortable with having my 4 yr old in a high-back right now since it keeps her from moving around too much, but my 7 yr old does great in the backless seats.

Latch isn't a big deal on boosters, but without it you're supposed to buckle the boosters in when the kids aren't in the car so they don't become a projectiles in a crash.
posted by hms71 at 9:27 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

My kids are in Britaxes that go to 120 lbs. I like the addition head/neck protection and it makes it easier for kids to nap in the car. Plus they get 5-point harness protection for years.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:21 PM on November 18, 2012

Most LATCH systems cannot be used at "booster weight"and aren't on booster seats.

In my experience, the "more expensive" seats have been more comfortable for the kids, but we do a lot of long-distance driving. The cupholders on ours are essential as there are no passenger cupholders on my car (I bought a bargain that was SUPPOSED to have decent gas mileage and doesn't and now I have a car for the next 10 years with no CUPHOLDERS.)

Additionally, the covers seem to last longer and are easier to get on and off for washing. I had one five point convertible years ago that have terrible crotch positions and started to look like crap right away.

I've had the giant Regent carseat (when I had a weenie car and I needed something to last from RF days to booster for two of the kids) and yeah, it's big. If you've got a cool cover they might like it for a long time, with it's "race car" or "space rocket scientist" harness belt. My kids never fussed over it but we never gave them much of a choice.

When it was time to get all of them into boosters (and the Regent had expired), we ended up in the Parkaway SG. I thought about the SGL for side impact and LATCH, but all of our cars now have side curtain airbags, so I cheaped out on the SG instead of the SGL. When you start multiplying it by the number of seats (I was getting four) it really adds up.

My main reason for picking the Britax Parkaway SG, though, was the submarine clip, pure and simple. It was the differentiator between other booster options.
posted by tilde at 5:40 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

All the carseats have to meet a certain standard to even make it into stores, and some carseats exceed the standards in some areas and not in others. Some are rated higher on side impact crashes, and some are rated higher on rear ends, etc. But they're all required to meet specific standards, so how they hold up otherwise is on top of the standards they're required to meet.

We have the Graco Nautilus for my son. It converts from a highback booster to a low back booster, and it's weighted to 100 lbs. It should be the last carseat he ever needs. So the price, given that, isn't that terrible.

I like it because while it is a bit bulky, it fits nicely in one standard seat in the back, and it is really, really, really easy to get in. Plus, it has a cup holder for kids, which has turned out to be really useful and practical, and there are some little side pockets where Kid Zizzle can put some of his toys when he's done with them.
posted by zizzle at 6:00 AM on November 19, 2012

I want to add, keep your kids in a 5 point harness system for as long as possible.

There's some thought that even adults should be in 5 point harness systems in cars (like race car drivers are) because they are the safest belt mechanisms. But the prevailing thought is that adults won't wear seat belts if they're 5 point harnesses, so that's why the single shoulder-lap belt persists.
posted by zizzle at 6:03 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

+1 to the booster seats with 5-point harness and the added head and neck protection. Not only safer, they make napping easier without their heads rolling around all over the place!
posted by barnone at 11:54 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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