Comparison of Budget-Priced Backless Boosters Under $25

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The Best Backless Booster Bargains: How Do They Stack Up?

There are tons of backless belt-positioning boosters on the market now. Some have lower LATCH connectors to secure them to the vehicle, which makes them more stable for climbing into and less of a projectile risk. However, LATCH drives the price up and it’s not used to restrain a child. The entire purpose of a booster is to help an adult-sized seat belt fit a smaller body.

When my children were in boosters, I spent countless hours trying to find boosters that worked for our situation. In some ways, it’s more difficult to find a booster than it is to find a harnessed seat: boosters have to be easy for a kid to buckle himself, lightweight for portability between all the cars they’ll be in, and have good belt fit on a child (ah, not all do). The good thing is that, like harnessed seats, you don’t need to spend top dollar to find a favorite backless booster. There are many choices in the $20 and under category and even more if you can expand your search to the $25 range, and sales often bring prices down to super affordability.

Because of the general price range of backless boosters, I decided to limit this list to $25 and under. I chose backless boosters that are readily available, though I did add two online-only purchases that have a reputation for being narrow. All but one are listed as IIHS Best Bet Boosters.

Buckling a booster in my vehicles, a Tesla Model X and a Tesla Model 3, is difficult because the seating spaces are narrow and the buckles are flush with the seat cushion. While it gives better lap belt fit on passengers, it makes it really tough to buckle, especially for a kid who has to weave a seat belt around booster arms before buckling. Because only narrow boosters fit in the Model X, these will be the better choices for 3-across situations. But remember that for 3-across to truly work, boosters not only need to be narrow, but mesh well with the other carseats in the back seat.

Backless boosters require a vehicle seat or head restraint behind them to protect the child from whiplash. The child’s ears should not go above the top of the seat or head restraint. Boosters of any kind require a lap AND shoulder belt; shoulder belts provide upper body restraint. Without the shoulder belt, boosters raise a child’s center of gravity and increase the chance of jackknifing over the lap belt and hitting his head on the front seats or center console.

Expirations run the gamut, so be sure to read the instruction manual and look on the seat itself for a date. Some models had the date stamped into the plastic and I’ve included pics of those.

COVID-19 makes finding models difficult, so I put my medium-sized bum in the boosters myself. Some I fit into and others I didn’t. I figure if I can fit in one of these boosters, it’ll be good for a wider kid. A wider booster will fit a thinner child whereas a narrower booster won’t fit a wider child.

Cosco Rise

Who it fits: Kids with a wider build

Weight limits: 40-100 lbs.

Height limits: 43-57”

Age limits: None listed though age 4 is mentioned in the instructions as the typical age when a child outgrows a harnessed carseat; given that most children are in higher weight harnessed carseats now, they aren’t outgrowing their seats until age 5-6 or older

Typical MSRP: $13.68 at Walmart

Pros

  • Very lightweight
  • Cover has some padding to it
  • Single page of instructions, double-sided
  • Made in the USA

Cons

  • Single page of instructions, double-sided

Inflatable Seat Belts: Not allowed

Basics and Measurements

  • 10 year expiration
  • Not FAA-approved (no shoulder belts on commercial aircraft generally)
  • Width between armrests: 11” at narrowest
  • Seat pan depth: 13”
  • External widest width: 15” at knees
  • External narrowest width: 11 ½” behind armrests
  • Width at belt path: 12 ½”
  • Weight: 2 lbs.

Comments

The Cosco Rise is a lightweight booster that’s anything but basic and you can’t beat the <$10 price tag. The cover has some padding, though it’ll get hard on longer rides. Despite tapering at the back of the seat, the armrests flare out at the hips, so a wider child will feel more comfortable on this booster.

The instructions are on a single, double-sided paper; you really don’t need a lot of guidance on how to use a booster. However, this means that the information on it feels a little crammed. One really excellent warning (I know, who gets excited about warnings—me!) was laid out in a super clear table, of which I’m including a pic.

Cosco Top Side

Who it fits: Kids with a thinner build

Weight limits: 40-100 lbs.

Height limits: 43-57”

Age limits: At least age 4

Typical MSRP: $19.99 at Walmart

Pros

  • Very lightweight
  • Cover has some padding to it

Cons

  • Non-traditional shoulder belt routing
  • Made in China

Inflatable Seat Belts: Not allowed

Basics and Measurements

  • 10 year expiration
  • Not FAA-approved (no shoulder belts on commercial aircraft generally)
  • Width between armrests: 10 ½” at narrowest
  • Seat pan depth: 14 ½”
  • External widest width: 15” at knees
  • External narrowest width: 10 ½” behind armrests
  • Width at belt path: 12”
  • Weight: 2 lbs.

Comments

The Cosco Top Side is a lightweight booster that fits very well in narrow spaces. The cover has some padding, though it’ll get hard on long rides. It does have a non-traditional shoulder belt path: the lap belt is routed under the armrest while the shoulder belt is routed over the top. If this is the only booster your child uses, it may not be an issue. But it is something else to tuck into your memory when using this particular booster. It also will fit kids with a smaller build better because the armrests are so low; those with larger thighs will be easily frustrated trying to get the seat belt under the armrests.

Cosco puts some great colors on the Top Side. The beautiful bright blue, shown below, and pretty purple are kid-friendly.

Dream On Me Coupe

Who it fits: Kids with a thinner build

Weight limits: 30-100 lbs.

Height limits: 34-57”

Age limits: At least age 3; we don’t recommend a kid use a booster until at least age 4 at the minimum—a child must reliably be able to stay sitting properly in the seat belt

Typical MSRP: $21.13 at Walmart

Pros

  • Very lightweight
  • Cover has some padding to it

Cons

  • Made in China
  • Instruction manual printed in extremely small font size
  • No stated expiration date

Inflatable Seat Belts: Not allowed

Basics and Measurements

  • Not FAA-approved (no shoulder belts on commercial aircraft generally)
  • Width between armrests: 10” at narrowest
  • Seat pan depth: 15”
  • External widest width: 13 ½” at knees
  • External narrowest width: 10” behind armrests
  • Width at belt path: 11 ¾”
  • Weight: 2 lbs.

Comments

After waiting 2 weeks for the Dream On Me Coupe to arrive after I ordered it (WalMart took 5 days to ship it, then FedEx couldn’t find my house, despite my calling and giving specific directions), I was extremely disappointed to find a date of manufacture of 05/15/2014. Granted I got the booster for 30% off, but a 6 year old booster might be expired (and a 6 year old booster should have been much more than 30% off). However, I wouldn’t know if this booster was expired because there’s no expiration guidelines given in the manual; date wheels molded into the bottom of the booster give a date of 01/2019. If these do indeed mean expiration, WalMart sold me a booster that is 1 ½ years expired. If you haven’t inferred yet, I’m frustrated there’s not easy guidance for parents who may order this booster off WalMart.com and get a potentially expired seat.

I did call Dream On Me and the nice person who returned my call (yay for a company who returns a message!) did not know about the Coupe at all and stated that all the company did was handle hardware parts, presumably for their furniture. Because of the lack of expiration guidance and a company who doesn’t know about it being manufactured, I do not recommend purchasing this booster

Of course, the Dream On Me Coupe is a narrow booster that fits my car well. It doesn’t come with a shoulder belt positioner, which is a must now in order to pass the IIHS Best Bet Booster test. Because of that, the Coupe garners only an IIHS Check Fit, which means you decide if shoulder belt fit is good. But again, I don’t recommend purchasing this booster unless you check the date of manufacture carefully.

Graco TurboBooster Backless

Who it fits: Kids with a thinner build

Weight limits: 40-100 lbs.

Height limits: 43-57”

Age limits: At least age 4

Typical MSRP: $24.99 at Amazon

Pros

  • Cover has nice padding in the seating area
  • 2 built-in cup holders
  • Adjustable armrests (screws are inserted in backless models)
  • Armrest covers

Cons

  • Made in China
  • One of the heavier backless boosters
  • Armrest covers: even though they are secured with a small elastic, my experience—personally and in witnessing lonely armrests on airport floors—is that they come off easily

Inflatable Seat Belts: Allowed

Basics and Measurements

  • 10 year expiration
  • Not FAA-approved (no shoulder belts on commercial aircraft generally)
  • Width between armrests: 11 ¼” at narrowest
  • Seat pan depth: 15 ½”
  • External widest width: 16 ½” at knees
  • External narrowest width: 16 ½”
  • Width at belt path: 15 ½”
  • Weight: 4.2 lbs.

Comments

When you think of a backless booster, you probably picture the Graco Turbo. It’s been around since 2002 so it’s a tried and true product. Because of the straight-up design of the armrests, a kid with a wider bum might not fit comfortably. The booster seat pan is one of the longest, so kids with long legs will feel the most support with this seat.

The regular TurboBooster is incompatible with the Tesla Model X; it’s too big (it does barely fit outboard in the Model 3). You can see in the picture that in order to have room to buckle, the booster needs to be moved to the side, which then covers up the lap-belt anchor.

Graco Turbo GO

Who it fits: Kids with a wider build

Weight limits: 40-100 lbs.

Height limits: 43-57”

Age limits: At least 4 years old

Typical MSRP: $24.99 at Amazon

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Cover has some padding in the seating area

Cons

  • Made in China

Inflatable Seat Belts: Allowed

Basics and Measurements

  • 10 year expiration
  • Not FAA-approved (no shoulder belts on commercial aircraft generally)
  • Width between armrests: 14 ¼” at narrowest
  • Seat pan depth: 14 ½”
  • External widest width: 13” at knees
  • External narrowest width: 11 ½”
  • Width at belt path: 14 ¼”
  • Weight: 3.6 lbs.

Comments

The Turbo GO is one of Graco’s newest booster models and it’s more portable than the regular TurboBooster. The back of the base rotates into a compartment while simultaneously rotating the armrests down to make it more portable. It easily fits into a standard-sized backpack, which makes it very portable (and storable) despite being one of the heavier backless boosters on the list.

 

Harmony Youth Booster

Who it fits: Kids with a thinner build

Weight limits: 40-100 lbs.

Height limits: 34-57”

Age limits: None listed; we don’t recommend a kid use a booster until at least age 4 at the minimum—a child must reliably be able to stay sitting properly in the seat belt

Typical MSRP: $19.99 at Walmart

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Cover has some padding in the seating area
  • Covers are fun: one has flames on it and another is a pink zebra design

Cons

  • Made in China

Inflatable Seat Belts: Not allowed

Basics and Measurements

  • 6 year expiration
  • Not FAA-approved (no shoulder belts on commercial aircraft generally)
  • Width between armrests: 10 ¾” at narrowest
  • Seat pan depth: 15 ½”
  • External widest width: 16 ½” at armrests
  • External narrowest width: 10 ½”
  • Width at belt path: 13 ¼”
  • Weight: 2.1 lbs.

Comments

The Youth Booster has been around for many years; my 20 yr old and 18 yr old rode in one (called the LiteRider before a name change). It has a very similar narrow-at-the-back shape to the Cosco Top Side, so it’ll make buckling easier for kids. It also will fit kids with a smaller build better because the armrests are so low; those with larger thighs will be easily frustrated trying to get the seat belt under the armrests.

Here’s a chart to sum it all up. Please share the chart and the blog if you find it helpful! Chart updated 07/15/20.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. wagonlover July 15, 2020
    • Heather July 20, 2020

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