We conducted hands-on testing with 8 parents to find the best booster car seat for 4-10 year olds (usually about 40 to 80 lbs). We identified the best booster seats in terms of ease of use, price, safety, reliability, and its ability to accomodate a wide range of weights and heights. The results revealed four primary brands to focus on: Britax, Graco, Evenflo, and Recaro. If you're interested in our reviews of infant car seats instead, click here, and for convertible car seats click here (convertible car seats under $150 are here). Before we tell you the results, let's list a few things to pay attention to when finding the best booster car seat for your child. When we did our hands-on reviews to find the best booster seats of the year, we focused mostly on flexibility, convenience, ease of use, comfort, safety, and price. If you want to see more details about each of these factors, scroll down to the bottom of this article. Otherwise, let's get into the results!
The Best Booster Seats of 2018!
Britax is the king of car seats, and booster seats are no exception. They make 4 of them: the Pinnacle, Frontier, Pioneer, and Parkway. That list goes from most to least expensive, ranging from nearly $400 for the Pinnacle, to about $150 for the Parkway. Instead of reviewing them all, we selected and tested out two of them, one toward the more expensive side (this one), and the least expensive one (the Parkway, below). They are all truly excellent. They are super safe, use true side impact protection, use SafeCell impact absorbing material, and are equipped with easy to use LATCH connections. They are also extremely well built, one might even say over-engineered, making them last for several years even under harsh use conditions. And all of that does come at an increased price tag. This particular Britax booster, the Frontier ClickTight, is no exception. This versatile booster can support kids from 2 years old (25 pounds) up to 120 pounds. From 25-90 pounds, you can use the 5-point harness system, attaching the booster to your vehicle using the lap/shoulder belt or included LATCH system (until about 40 pounds). From 40-120 pounds, you can store the 5-point harness behind the seat and use only the vehicle's lap/shoulder belt, and attach the seat itself to the vehicle using the LATCH. That last part is not necessary, just a nice feature. So this is a very versatile booster, and it is ideal for parents who are ready to graduate from an infant car seat and skip the convertible car seat stage entirely. Safety features abound: it has two layers of side impact protection (head rest and shell), the ClickTight installation system that lets you use the vehicle's lap/shoulder belt in a very intuitive way to thread the seatbelt and firmly secure the seat (and be certain of it by checking the indicator), it has a SafeCell impact absorbing base, and it has a steel frame inside the booster itself. Of course, the steel frame increases the weight of the seat a bit (to 25 pounds), though we think it's definitely worth it. Features also abound: it has a quick-adjust headrest and harness height adjustment (9 levels), two cupholders integrated into the seat (not dangling from the sides), a machine-washable cover, front-access incline adjustments (this was a great feature!), and an intuitive level indicator. We found the chest strap and crotch buckles really easy to use, and had an audible click to give us the confidence they were secure. We also liked the quality of the fabric, which was soft and supple while still being easy to wipe clean. Overall, we fell in love with this booster seat immediately, and it is withstanding the test of time. This is definitely the best booster seat of the year, and we highly recommend it! If you're looking for a similar booster without the 5-point harness capability, then check out the Parkway (below).
This is the second best booster car seat we could find. In our testing, this booster was really fantastic, and moms raved about its Secure Guard belt-positioner which makes sure that the lap belt is properly positioned for safety and reduces the risk of abdominal injury during an accident. The seat comes with the famous Britax Safe Cell impact absorbing base and side impact protection. The side impact protection is unique for booster car seats, absorbing crash forces and shielding your child from debris. The fit and finish are excellent, the fabric is soft yet easy to clean, and the colors and designs are subtle and not overwhelming. This booster fits children from 40 to 120 pounds, and only weighs about 15 pounds itself making it easy to pull in and out of the car. If your child still takes naps in the car, this is a great booster car seat, providing ample head and neck support and preventing the head from flopping down during a nap. Moms also noted that the dual cup holders that fold into the seat are a nice touch, allowing you to tuck them away when not in use (or if you're carting it through an airport!). This booster car seat retails for about $120-150, and includes the ISOFLEX latch system, meaning that you can easily and confidently tighten the LATCH system to secure it into the car, and then use the car's seat belt to secure the child into the booster. Though the latch system isn't necessary, it's quite a bit easier to secure firmly into the vehicle, and it also prevents an empty booster seat from flying around in the car in the event of an accident or sudden braking (because the shoulder belt isn't holding it in when there's no kid in it). This is a a great booster seat and there are no real drawbacks to be found, except for the fact that it doesn't have some of the added features of the Britax Frontier, like the option to use a 5-point harness, or the integrated cupholders.
This booster option by Graco was a close second place to the Britax Parkway. The Graco has everything the Britax offers: high quality and soft fabrics that are easy to clean, one cup holder and one "stuff" holder, and color/design options that are subtle and not overwhelming. It has a couple advantages relative to the Britax Parkway. First, it has the LATCH system to secure the booster into you car. Second, it has a convenient LATCH tightener on the front that you can pull on to make the booster fit snugly in your car. Third, it is only about $70. Finally, it is only 9 pounds, making it 6 pounds lighter than the Britax options. So why is it lower on our list? Just some small things. First, it has no lap belt positioning system to reduce the chance of abdominal injury during an accident. Second, it supports kids from 40 to 100 pounds, which is 20 pounds less than the Britax can manage. Finally, the feel of the fabric isn't quite as soft (and high quality feeling) as the Britax. And overall, it doesn't feel as substantial and well-built as the Britax options; that's a subjective opinion based on our experience, but it's worth mentioning. The Britax options feel really solid and well constructed, while this one feels a little more hollow and inexpensive. Really, you can't go wrong with the Britax or the Graco; it really just depends on if you want to spend the extra $40 to get something a bit more versatile, higher quality, and possibly safer in terms of abdominal injury.
This is a relatively new booster car seat option, and we only recently were able to get our hands on it for testing. It's very similar to the Graco Affix Booster with LATCH system, above, though it does have a higher price tag and some additional features. The core features are highly similar: it supports kids from 30 to 110 pounds, though we find it hard-pressed to imagine ever using a booster car seat for a kid under 45-50 pounds. It has multiple easy to adjust headrest heights, specifically 10, which is necessary for fitting taller and older children. And it's not just the headrest part that adjusts, it's the entire back, which is important for getting that perfect belt height on the shoulder. We did find the seating surface a bit comfier than the Graco Affix above, like it has some extra padding, but it's not anything substantial. The one feature that we were really excited about was the LATCH system and its front tightening system that is just like the one on the Affix, this is a really great feature that helps especially when you frequently swap the booster seat between vehicles. It does also have a built in recline, which is nice for fitting more upright back seats (like in trucks or Jeeps), or relatively reclined ones like in sedans and SUVs. While the Affix has a cup holder on one side and the slide-in snack drawer on the other, this seat has two cup holders, both of which are collapsible to make room for tighter situations (like when trying to squeeze 3 car seats or boosters in a row). We found the fabric reasonably soft but durable, and easy to clean. For tougher cleaning situations, you can easily remove the cover and throw it in the washing machine. Negatives? Well, we thought the belt-positioner didn't always do a great job holding the seat belt in place, if the booster gets jostled around at all the seat belt sometimes pops out. Though it was rare, we didn't have that issue with the Affix, Also, it's unclear why this particular booster is about $20 more than the Affix, even though feature-for-feature we found it very similar. Overall, a great seat and if the colors and patterns strike your fancy relative to the Affix, it might be worth the extra cash!
This booster seat is very similar to the Graco Affix: high quality, soft easy-clean fabrics, two shallow holders (we were able to fit a narrow cup, or a snack), and several color/design options to choose from. The critical difference between the Affix versus Highback TurboBooster is that the Affix has the LATCH system but the Graco TurboBooster does not. But because it doesn't have the LATCH system, it is a bit cheaper than the Graco, coming in at only about $50. It supports kids from 30 to 100 pounds (40 to 100 when the back is removed). Finally, it is only just over 8 pounds, making it lighter than every other option on our list except for the Evenflo AMP (below). You can't go wrong with these two Graco options, and it really just depends on whether you want the LATCH system. In our household, with two kids and two cars, we find it much easier to use the seat without a LATCH system to quickly swap the booster between the two vehicles. And no, the LATCH system is supposedly not any safer for the child, but it does secure the seat in the car when it isn't being used so it won't fly around in the event of heavy braking or an accident. So if you want the LATCH, go with the Graco Affix, but if you don't need it, go with this model.
This is an awesome transitional booster seat, totally cool looking, with tons of great features. It is much better than most other boosters on this list, and basically is tied with the Britax. The primary difference is that it's close to $300 or so (way more than the price of any other seat on this list), though you do get quite a lot of features for that price. This booster transitions from a 5-point harness that supports kids from 20-65 pounds, to a high-back booster without the harness that supports kids from 30-120 pounds. The harness is very easy to adjust and doesn't require any rethreading (unless you're removing it entirely). It has memory foam for high comfort, nice soft fabrics with air ventilation (we found that this helps a lot with odor and sweat on long car rides), full body side-impact protection (torso, neck, head, face, pelvis), energy-absorbing EPS foam, and LATCH connectors to secure to the vehicle in case of an accident while the child is not in the car (including a universal top tether). It has two built in mesh cupholders, twist-free harness belts that we actually found helpful, and some of the bulkiest safety features on the market, including metal reinforced side walls. This seat also has the adjustable back to accomodate a growing child (up to 59 inches tall). Most sources suggest only using a booster after your child is at least 40 pounds, and many states require this by law. This booster has an easy installation process, and kids love the racing colors and luxurious feel! It is a bit bigger, wider, and heavier (over 20 pounds) than the other options, making it difficult if you need to squeeze in 3 seats in a row or switch it back and forth between cars. And it's pretty expensive. But if you're looking for a substantial, comfortable, big, heavy, safe, and sleek and stylish booster car seat to look perfect in your luxury vehicle, but could be a great option for you!
Here is an inexpensive (about $60) and highly versatile booster car seat that can be used in two ways. First, as a harnessed booster (basically a convertible car seat) from 22-40 pounds, and then second as a belt-positioning booster from 40-110 pounds. The belt-positioning booster is the same as the others on this list: it uses the vehicle's shoulder belt and includes a slot to position it correctly over the child's shoulder. In our testing, we thought it really had a lot of bang for the buck. Coming in at such a low price, we were impressed by the weight range and overall comfort and styling. But there are some disadvantages. First, it doesn't function fantastically as a car eat or a booster, so while it's versatile it's not an expert at either functions. The primary limitations we found were: first, we think the seat is quite small for a growing kid, being both narrow and not very deep. Second, the lower seat padding leaves something to be desired. Third, it only has one recline setting so it doesn't fit very well in most vehicles. We did try it in a RAV4 with reclining rear seats and that helped, but it's disappointing that the booster itself has only one fixed recline position. Finally, it uses the LATCH system, but it's the old version of the system which is quite a pain to work with. Good overall bang for the buck with this booster seat, but some big limitations.
This is the most basic booster car seat option we have in our best booster seat rankings. It provides a lot of basic features, and comes in at the lowest cost of the bunch (less than $40!). Evenflo is known for providing low cost baby products with reliable quality, but without the fancy features, multiple pattern options, or high quality fabrics. This booster has a lot of things that the Britax and Graco offer: easily cleaned fabrics, two cup holders, some side impact and head/neck support, and height adjustment. It is lightweight at only 8 pounds, and the manufacturer states it can support children from 30 to 110 pounds. It is very low in price, and that shows in some of the features. First, the cup holders are small and awkward, holding contents with stretchy elastic straps. In a lot of cases, this requires 2 hands to get working, and things smaller than a cup tend to fall out. Second, the head and neck support aren't as substantial as the Britax and Graco options, making it more likely for you child to bob their head down during a nap. Third, it has thin foam padding that isn't as comfortable as the other options. Finally, the fabric softness and overall quality aren't on par with the other options. Overall, we give this a #5 because it has some good basic features, comes from a reliable manufacturer of children products, and sells for less than $40. That's enough to get it on our list of the best booster car seats of 2018. But if that low price point isn't enough to get you excited, we suggest one of the pricier options!
Here are some more details about how we found the best booster car seats!
Why Use a Booster Car Seat? Though many parents do skip from a convertible car seat directly to seat belts, this is not recommended by the NHTSA because the booster seat positions the child correctly for using the lap and shoulder belts. Without the booster car seat, the child's lap and shoulders will be too low and the seat belt will not fit properly, posing a substantial safety risk. For example, if the lap belt is too high it can cause abdominal injury during a crash, and if the shoulder belt is too high it will be on the neck instead of the shoulder. The booster car seats do a great job of reducing injury risk due to improper seat belt positioning.
Ease of Use: Now that your child will be expected to buckle and unbuckle him/herself, ease of use becomes very important. The easier the latching mechanisms and reach-over to the buckle, the less frustrating of a transition this will be to a booster car seat. For our focus groups, we got 10 different booster car seats. For the ease of use portion of our ratings, we focused on how easily kids could manage any buckles and latches, and how well the booster positioned the car's shoulder belt in a way that made it easy for kids to reach. All of our below options scored very well in this category. Some of them provide their own buckle positioning mechanisms, ensuring ease of use and safety. Some also provide a LATCH system to secure the seat to the car; this is not for child safety, this is to keep the booster secure in the car when it's not in use. For instance, if you have an accident or need to stop short without your child in the car, you don't want the booster flying toward you. Many parents thought that relying on the car's shoulder and lap belt is great because you can be more confident regarding safety standards of the vehicle manufacturer, and it teaches your child how to use and correctly position a regular seat belt (a skill they will use throughout life!).
Price: Now that your child is graduating from a conventional car seat (see our list of the best convertible seats here!), you will be happy to find out that booster car seats are substantially less expensive. We suggest spending about $50-100 on a high quality booster seat, though you will notice that our most expensive option is about $130. We don't think it's necessary to spend that much to get a great booster car seat, but if you really like the features there are some very comfortable and high quality options. Of course, the most expensive booster car seats also tend to be plusher, with softer fabrics, and use higher quality and lighter parts. It is important to mention, though, that more expensive booster car seats are not necessarily safer. When used correctly, all booster seats meet safety requirements of the NHTSA. Some of the less expensive brands may meet NHTSA minimum requirements whereas others go beyond those standards. A good example of going beyond NHTSA requirements to increase safety is using multiple (or very thick) layers of side impact protection.
Child Weight and Height: The U.S. federal government recommends booster car seats from as early as 4 years old (and a minimum of 40 lbs) to as late as 12 years old. Typically parents switch to just the vehicle's seat and seat belt at around 8-9 years old. Most booster car seats are for children from about 40 to 100 lbs, though some go up over 100 lbs. In terms of height, they are usually made for kids 38" to 60" tall (that's 3'2" to 5' tall). But always check the details on the box or label because even within a single brand, different models have different specifications. We do our best to list those below along with each review.