Jun 2, 2021, 1:47:18 PM CDT Mar 12, 2024, 11:04:30 AM CDT

When to switch to a booster seat

Learn booster seat requirements and tips to keep your child safe

Booster seat requirements guide Booster seat requirements guide

Eventually, your once teeny tiny child will outgrow their car seat. But that doesn't mean they are ready to travel in a car like an adult with only a seat belt. A booster seat helps the seat belt fit your child properly and keeps them safe in case of a car crash. In fact, children are 45% safer in a booster seat as opposed to a seat belt alone.

But since there is no specific age that determines when a child can use a booster seat, it's not always clear when it's time to make the switch. See our recommended booster seat guidelines to make sure you don't switch too soon.

What is the difference between car seats and booster seats?

Car seats and booster seats both keep children safe while in the car, but they are designed for children of different ages and at different stages in their development.

  • Car seats are for smaller children, typically from birth until they weigh 40-60 pounds. Car seats use a harness that goes over the shoulders and around their hips to secure a child into their seat.
  • Booster seats are for children who have outgrown car seats and typically weigh more than 40 pounds and are about 4 feet tall or taller. A child sits on a booster seat and uses the car’s seat belt.

How do booster seats keep kids safe?

Booster seats keep children safe by raising them up so a seat belt fits them properly. When a child is in a booster seat, the belt fits across a child’s body and over their hips, rather than fitting across their face, neck or belly.

When can a child start to use a booster seat?

There is no specific age when a child should switch from a car seat to a booster seat. A child is ready for a booster seat when they have outgrown the height or weight limit of their 5-point harness car seat. Kids are generally between the ages of 5-9 when they begin to outgrow these limitations.

You can check your car seat's manual for its height and weight limits and if it can be converted to a booster seat. Before you make the move from a car seat to a belt-positioning booster seat, make sure your child meets these requirements:

  • Generally, kids weighing over 65 pounds are ready to switch to a booster seat. Some booster seats are made for kids weighing 40 pounds or more.
  • When your child reaches 49 inches (about 4 feet) tall.
  • When you believe your child is mature enough to properly sit in a booster seat with the seat belt correctly positioned at all times.

It's important not to rush the switch to a booster seat. If your child still fits the height and weight requirements of their car seat, that is their safest option.

What are the different types of booster seats?

There are two types of booster seats: high-back and backless.

  • High-back booster seats have a cushioned base and a built-in backrest. This type provides additional head and neck support for a child.
  • Backless booster seats have a cushioned base but no back rest. These don’t offer a child as much head and neck support, but they are smaller and more portable.

How do you install a booster seat?

A booster seat is typically held in place by the child's weight and the vehicle's lap-and-shoulder belt. Some booster seats use your car's lower anchors and LATCH system like a car seat. It's important to read the booster seat instruction manual before installing your child's booster seat. Your car's instruction manual can also help you determine how to properly and safely install the seat. If your car doesn't have headrests, you should use a high-back booster seat.

Here are some important tips to follow when you install your child's booster seat:

  • Always place the booster seat in the back seat.
  • Always use a lap and shoulder seat belt with the booster seat.
  • Place the booster seat flat on the vehicle seat.
  • Have your child sit in the booster seat and pull the seat belt across your child's body to make sure the belt fits properly. The seat belt should rest low on the hips, not across the stomach. Across the chest, the belt should lie firmly in the middle of the child's shoulder.

At what age can a child stop using a booster seat?

Texas law requires that all children use a car seat or booster seat until they are 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall. Even if your child is 8 and it is legal for them to stop using a booster seat, if they are under 4 feet 9 inches tall, you should continue to use a booster seat to keep your child safe. When your child reaches the height requirement, the seat belt will fit them safely and comfortably.

Children should always travel in the back seat of the car, never the front, until they are 13 years old. They should always have the seat belt on their chest, never around their back. The lap belt should rest against their hips, and the shoulder belt should rest in the middle of their shoulder. If it doesn't, you should keep using the booster seat.

Do booster seats expire?

Yes, car seats and booster seats do expire. That's because of wear and tear and changing regulations along with recalls and manufacturer testing. In general, car seats expire between 6 and 10 years from the manufacture date.

Before you purchase a used booster seat or borrow one from a friend, check for a recall from the manufacturer's website. Safe Kids also maintains an ongoing list.

If you can't find an expiration date on the bottom or back of the booster seat, you can also check the manufacturer's website for your booster seat brand and information on how to find the expiration date.

Learn more

Children's Health℠ certified child passenger safety technicians can help you understand what car seat is right for your child and how to install it. Learn more about our car seat services.

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