Booster Seat Madness!
My oldest son is almost ready for a booster seat. Well, more accurately, he's been ready for a while (he gets jealous when he sees his friends in boosters): he's just not tall or heavy enough yet. The Car Seat Lady advises that kids who are at least 3-4 years old and at least 40 pounds can safely ride in a booster seat. My son is 4 1/2 and 38 pounds; also, his shoulders are not yet higher than the top set of harness-strap slots in the car seat's back, which this Babycenter article says is an indication your child's grown out of his five-point-harness car seat.
I found it difficult and confusing to locate consistent information about what kind of seat a four-year-old needs. Some sites say go for the full protective package - find a seat with a high back, side-impact collision protection, and a five-point harness. Others assured me that a backless booster - basically, a little cushion that the kid sits on, which helps the lap and shoulder belts rest in the proper places on his or her body - will work fine. (Here's a great pictorial example of where the belts should rest on a child's body. Here's another example with extensive explanations; start the Google Docs presentation at slide 2.)
All kinds of scary details emerged when I started doing more research. I discovered I shouldn't use a backless booster if, when my child sits on it, his ears come up above the back of my car's seat (not my car seat. See the difference? Confusing, right?). In this case, I should opt for a high-backed seat. I should avoid using a high-back seat, however, if the shoulder belt guide doesn't let the shoulder belt move freely - if a kid sits forward and the belt doesn't retract once he sits back, he's basically no longer wearing a seatbelt. Also, I should make sure that his movement doesn't pull the shoulder belt onto his arm rather than keeping it snugly on his chest. Finally, I needed to remember to keep the car seat strapped in even when my son was not in it, lest I crash and the seat become a projectile. (Neither of our cars has a LATCH system to keep the seat strapped in at all times.) This last point was one of the most frightening for me, since my postpartum brain is a sleep-deprived sieve. Hopefully, by the time I decide to buy the booster, I'll have gotten more than three hours of shut-eye at a stretch.
The more protection, the better, I feel - and I doubt many parents would disagree. The problem is, a full-on booster with all the bells and whistles can cost close to $250: the Recaro ProSPORT combination harness-to-booster seat is $223.99 on Amazon.com. In comparison, Amazon lists the Bubble Bum backless booster (try saying that five times fast) at $39.95. I'm attempting to find a happy medium, but when I looked into mid-priced high-back boosters, several of them had reviews complaining that the shoulder belt didn't retract properly.
I'm in no hurry to move my son out of his five-point-harness car seat (a Britax Marathon, if you're wondering). I'd like to make a purchase soon, though; Toys R Us is having a trade-in sale, and I've got a baby swing I'd love to get rid of. I feel like I need to do more research before I come to my final decision.
What's your kid riding in? Do you like it? Do they?
If you're looking to do some research yourself, here are a couple of good resources I found. Here's the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's 2011 booster seat evaluation list. Here are the Car Seat Lady's top booster picks (start the Google Docs presentation at Slide 9).