The Best Car Seats for 4-Year-Olds: Keep Your Kids Safe
Keep your child safe with these top-rated car seats for 4-year-olds
Having a proper car seat for your child's age is more than a matter of safety — it’s the law. Car seats protect kids in a collision, but they're much more than that. Seat size varies by age, weight, and height. Choosing the best car seat for your child’s age is a matter of familiarizing yourself with the necessary features: neck support, side protection, leg protection, and harnessing. It’s there for more than accidents. From rapid braking to quick turns, car seats keep your child safe and comfortable.
For infants, the seat must face backward. Four-year-olds, on the other hand, need a forward-facing seat. Sometimes, if the child is tall and heavy enough, you can use a booster seat. Often, car seats are convertible, letting you switch modes as the child grows. To help you find the best car seats for 4 year olds, we’ve crafted a list of the top selections. This article breaks down everything you need to know about keeping your child safe in the car. Let’s get started.
Benefits of Car Seats For 4-Year-Olds
Why Trust Us
Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.Learn more
- Keeps your child safe. The main benefit of car seats is the ability to protect your child from harm while you are driving. The padding and harness are designed to prevent damage to the child while on the road.
- Promotes comfort on long trips. Car seats enable your child to stay comfortable while you’re on the road for long periods. The padding is soft and the harness is made specifically to prevent damage and maximize comfort.
- Adds convenience as you drive. Most car seats feature cup holders to keep sippy cups and snacks close to the child. This way, you don’t have to turn around constantly to pass supplies.
- Contributes to peace of mind. Instead of worrying and doing a perpetual shoulder-check to see your child, a quality toddler car seat lets you rest easy knowing that your 4-year-old is safe.
- Protects the child’s neck. This type of injury is incredibly serious, especially for developing children. Car seats are specifically designed to protect the neck, with the size requirements changing as the child ages.
- Grows with the child. Car seats for 4-year-olds are valuable since, in most cases, they transition to booster seats. This way, instead of getting a whole new one, you can just adjust the seat when the child grows.
- Prevents serious injury. Car seats incorporate comprehensive features. The front is meant to protect legs, the side protection and neck protection fortifies these benefits.
Types of Car Seats For 4-Year-Olds
This type of car seat is probably the most common for 4-year-olds, especially those who just had a birthday. As the name suggests, the car seat faces forward. Just like a regular chair, the seat is sized so the headrest reaches the top of the child’s skull. The legs are meant so the knee reaches just at the end and can bend comfortably. These car seats feature a five-point harness system, going over the chest of the child. To use a forward-facing seat, the child must be at least 22 pounds and no more than 40 pounds. When the child is within these parameters, you can get the most safety value from the seat.
The decision to move to this type of car seat for 4-year-olds is a matter of weight. Usually, this type of car seat goes on a 4-year-old once they weigh 40 pounds. Often, a forward-facing car seat can transition into a booster seat by removing the back. These seats are very simple, geared toward protecting against impact in a different way. There is no harness, instead relying on the car’s seat belt system. The flat base adds height and uses the car’s design to offer neck protection. Provided the child meets the weight threshold and is less than 4 feet and 9 inches, a booster seat is the go-to.
This type of car seat is very uncommon amongst 4-year-olds, though with height and weight disparity amongst children, it is worth noting. This car seat faces backward and it is generally used on infants. However, if the 4-year-old doesn’t meet the weight threshold for forward-facing seats (is under the 3rd percentile for growth), a rear seat may still be in order. These car seats offer maximum neck protection and are geared to prevent damage from side impact as well. If your child weighs less than 22 pounds, a rear-facing seat is in order. For further details regarding the proper child seat, your pediatrician can assist.
COSCO, located in Columbus, Ind., was founded in 1935 as the Columbus Specialty Company, but in 1941, began using the Cosco brand name (COlumbus Specialty COmpany). Cosco made military equipment during World War II and later introduced home goods and furnishings. A top selection is the COSCO Finale DX Car Seat.
An American business that has roots in North Carolina, Graco has been creating baby products since 1998. Quickly becoming an industry leader in everything from car seats to strollers, this company focuses on quality and durability. A popular offering is the GRACO Tranzitions Harness Booster Seat.
An international supplier of child-safety products, Safety 1st began work in the 1990s. It offers everything from safety to hygiene supplies, all geared towards children. With a wide range of products and a successful track record, as the name suggests, it focuses mainly on safety. A top offering is the Safety 1st Grow and Go Car Seat.
Opening its doors in 1920 in Ohio, Evenflo began as an infant food-supply company, ranging from sippy cups to soothers. Now, this international supplier of childcare gear has expanded its product lines to include highly-rated car seats. One of the top products is the EveryFit Convertible Seat.
Car Seats For 4-Year-Olds Pricing
- Under $100: Car seats in this price range are usually single or dual-functional, meaning they will convert between two settings (forward-facing and booster seat). Durable and meeting all safety standards, seats at this price point are fairly durable though lack some bells and whistles.
- $100 and up: Products within this price range tend to have multiple transition settings, moving from a rear to forward-facing and then a booster seat. Usually quite plush and easy to maintain, you can often find things like cup-holders and more user-friendly harnesses.
In effect, the harness component is the seat belt for the child in the car seat. In most cases, the seat belt attaches the seat into place and the harness keeps the child in the seat. Check for five points of attachment. The harness disperses pressure in the event of a collision. The straps (and their direction) dictate where the force moves. Find something that features five points of attachment and is simple to adjust yet sturdy.
Though forward-facing seats have less protection than rear counterparts, it is still important. The key to this is protection from debris or impact caused by surrounding objects. Basically, the sides need to keep things from sliding into the child. Check how distinctly the sides protrude. This feature must be sufficient to secure the child against impact in the event of a collision (or even a sharp turn).
Another critical feature is neck protection. This feature is two-fold. The first is whether it clears the top of their head and has reasonable padding. The next step is to look at the sides of the neck protection. It needs to rest evenly on the child’s head, otherwise it needs adjusting. Ensure that the seat features an adjustable headrest if it is separate from the body of the seat (through a smaller attachment). If it is attached, be sure that the sides extend beyond the child’s face.
While this is less a matter of safety, it does contribute to the product’s overall viability. Be sure that there is enough support to have the child sit comfortably. The material should be sturdy, so the padding needs to balance plushness with security. Most car seats include this feature, though some have more advanced padding than others.
Car seats quickly become frustrating when they are tricky to install. Check for a couple of things when looking into this feature. Does it come with instructions? In terms of both safety certification and installation procedures, your car seat requires documentation. Car seats are only viable if they meet DOT standards. This plays into installation because an improperly setup seat won’t perform correctly. Choose something that is proven and user-friendly for best results.
- Duration of Use. Think about how long you’re going to need the seat for. Is it just a few years until your child ages out of the seat? Are there younger siblings who can benefit from it further down the line. This consideration is important because it speaks to the amount of value you’ll glean. For longer-term use, consider a seat with multiple settings.
- Quality of Material. Especially in children, skin sensitivities are prevalent. In terms of both metal and fabric, you need to check if the material is safe for your child. Sometimes, the upholstery can be scratchy or metal may be irritating to the child’s skin. Consider this when making your purchase, because it is tricky to cover a car seat with another material.
- Comfort of Child. This plays into how much use (and peace and quiet) you’ll get on longer rides. Keep an eye out for added features like cup holders. Think about the amount of padding, the softness of material, and whether it impedes your child’s ability to communicate (blocked view, etc.).
- Size of Vehicle. The car seat needs to fit into your vehicle. Think about this when you go to make your purchase. Each item will state dimensions. Consider whether there are other car seats in the back. Think about any storage needs and how much gear you travel with. Be sure that the seat will fit into the vehicle.
- Upkeep. Eventually, you will need to clean the seat and make adjustments. Keep an eye on how easy this is going to be. Think about how easy the material is to stain. Is the cover removable and machine washable? Can you clean the buckle with relative ease? All of these considerations factor into how easy it is to keep the seat in good condition for longer.
Best Car Seats For 4-Year-Olds Reviews & Recommendations 2021
Best OverallGraco Tranzitions Harness Booster Seat
When you are looking for high quality and comfort, the Graco Tranzitions Harness Booster Seat is a fantastic way to go. The seat has a well-crafted five-point harness to minimize discomfort and enhance the spread of force throughout the seat. The seat can grow with your child since you can shift its form between three modes. Its neck protection is very easy to adjust, clearly showing where to set it against your child’s head. It takes little work and holds steadily in position. Crafted to withstand roughly twice the amount of force than the industry standard, it is composed out of tough materials that are carefully constructed. The seat can safely handle up to 100 pounds, letting you switch it to that mode once the child ages out.
While this is a solid choice overall, the padding can leave something to be desired. Prioritizing security over comfort, the car seat is entirely safe and easy to use.
Best ValueCosco Finale Booster Car Seat
Child care expenses add up, so to save without foregoing quality in any way, the Cosco Finale Booster Car seat is a good way to go. You can get it in three color options, each capable of holding up to 100 pounds. It meets all industry safety standards and is very easy to use. The affordably priced car seat moves from a front-facing model to a booster seat. The harness is secure and easy to clean, giving you a reliably tight hold. With comfortable neck support and gentle fabric, this seat is suited to those with sensitive skin. The seat is small enough to fit with two others in the rear of most standard vehicles. Despite this, it is large enough for the child to sit in both comfort and safety.
Keep in mind that, while this seat is impressive and affordable, it doesn’t have any add-ons like cup holders. Because of this, the seat is better suited to growing families or those with crowded back seats.
Best Child-FriendlyKIDSEMBRACE Harness Booster Seat
With 4-year-olds, the small things count for a lot. The KidsEmbrace Harness Booster Seat lets you jazz up the decor, keep kids interested, and ensure safety at the same time. Though it comes at a higher price point, this is clearly due to the design. With Marvel-inspired characters, there is everything from Spiderman to the Incredible Hulk. In terms of function, the five-point harness is well designed. You can switch it within three different settings, maximizing utility. It works for children that are as heavy as 100 pounds in booster seat mode and up to 65 pounds as a forward-facing seat. The headrest is adjustable too, letting you easily switch between modes. Crafted with high-grade foam meant to absorb impact, this seat is definitely a high-grade option.
It’s worth noting, though, that the fabric (especially the design parts) are easy to stain and kids' interests can sway with time. However, as a functional car seat, this is a great option.
Most InnovativeBig Kid LX High Back Booster
The Big Kid LX High Back Booster is available in several colors, including black and Boston blue. Children should be at least 22 pounds to use this booster, which is safe for older kids and gives them the height they need to properly wear a seat belt. The seat can be transitioned from a high-back seat to a no-back booster. The height can be adjusted six different ways, and it has a belt clip to position the safety belt properly around your child's shoulder.
The seat includes two built-in cup holders and a removable seat pad that is easy to hand wash or throw in the washing machine. It's lightweight, so it's simple to move from one vehicle into another. Parents report that the cushion is soft and comfortable, and the seat is easy to assemble and install. The seat belt loop also lets the seat belt move easily, unlike some rival high back boosters.
Unfortunately, the Big Kid LX does not have an anchor system, and it can slide around a little bit. The cup holders are also a little flimsy.
Honorable MentionGraco Affix Highback Booster Seat
The Graco Affix Highback Booster Seat is recommended for children who are between 40 and 100 pounds and 57 inches tall. The LATCH system securely attaches it to the seat in the vehicle, and it's designed so your child can lock the buckle herself. The adjustable headrest has several layers of material for comfort and full-coverage back support. It's designed with energy-absorbing foam for safety.
The seat includes a cup holder and a hideaway storage compartment that can hold small items. The seat is also Graco Protect Plus Engineered and has undergone crash tests to meet requirements in fontal, side, rear, and rollover crashes. The belt guide allows the seat belt to easily glide through without tangling and getting stuck, and it's reasonably priced.
One downside is that the padding in the headrest isn't as cushioned as some other brands. It can also take a little longer to uninstall because it uses the LATCH system.
Honorable MentionMAXI-COSI PRIA Convertible Car Seat
When you’re on the hunt for something truly high-end, the Maxi-Cosi Pria Convertible Car Seat is definitely worth considering. Sure, the price tag is higher, but the features justify the difference. Everything from the buckle to the adjustment is crafted with ease of use in mind. The clip is magnetized to slide into place easily and add an extra level of security. Since the harness covers incorporate spring assistance, there is added shock absorption. The buckles are easy to move and adjust, making this excellent for a growing 4-year-old. Does your child have siblings? The three settings (rear, forward, and booster) of this car seat mean that you can get years of function out of it. The upholstery is easy to clean and maintain, making this a high-quality option overall.
Of course, nothing is perfect. This car seat can be difficult to move between vehicles, so for best results, keep it in a dedicated location.
Honorable MentionCHICCO KIDFIT Booster Seat
If durability is one of your top concerns, the Chicco KidFit Booster Seat is a good direction to take. You can get it in a range of different colors, all relatively muted to mask any potential spills or stains. Meant to fit alongside other car seats, this option has cup holders built into the structure. Retractable to add space, they protrude only a little past the armrests. In terms of safety, this seat has a user-friendly harness system which also retracts. The seat can take up to 110 pounds when used as a booster and up to 100 pounds as a forward-facing seat. Ideal for growing 4-year-olds, this seat is made to last. All parts are easy to maintain, with both the cover and arm-rest padding coming off for easy machine washing.
It’s worth noting that, while this seat is super-easy to clean, it cannot be machine dried. The shrinkage could result in the cover not fitting back into place.
Honorable MentionEVENFLO MAESTRO Sports Harness Booster Seat
Coming at a friendly price point, the Evenflo Maestro Sports Harness Booster Seat is a solid option. You can switch it between both a forward-facing seat and a booster. It is capable of handling as much as 110 pounds, making it a very strong selection. The harness has five points and is crafted to maximize safety without causing discomfort. When it is used as a booster, the car seat can switch to using your seatbelt. The seat itself is easy to maintain. The fabric can be washed by hand in between rides. For deeper cleans, you can also remove the padding and throw it in the washing machine. For added convenience, there are cup holders at the sides of the seat. In terms of safety and design, this seat definitely earns an honorable mention.
Keep in mind that, while the seat is fairly straightforward to clean, it can be pretty time-consuming. The padding needs to air dry, so plan ahead before a long road trip.
- Familiarize yourself with the safety standards of car seats for different ages and weights.
- Ensure that the car seat will fit in your vehicle, particularly if there are already seats in the back.
- Choose something that is as adjustable as possible. Continually check on the fit of your child in the car seat.
- Be sure the headrest is at the top of your child’s ears. It is a matter of force dispersion and ensures head and neck safety.
- Make sure that you change the seat when needed. Children grow and require different harnessing, headrest placement, and even the seat type.
- Use the cupholders, though keep maintenance needs in mind. Car seats are washable, though the process is time consuming.
- If you are using a blanket, put it over the top of the harness and never behind it.
- Make sure your child’s legs rest easily over the end of the car seat for both bone safety and their comfort.
Q: What car seat should a 4-year-old be in?
Depending on the height and weight of the specific 4-year-old, they should either be in a forward-facing or a booster seat. Since the weight and height factor into how the child is best protected from a car accident, it is essential to check the specifics of the car seat and your child.
Q: Is a booster seat legal for a 4-year-old?
Provided the child meets the height threshold and the weight parameters (over 40 pounds minimum), the child can safely go in a booster seat. This shifts the attachment from a harness to the car’s seat belt. If you are in doubt about making the switch, consult your pediatrician.
Q: Can a 4-year-old use a booster seat?
It all depends on the individual 4-year-old, their development, and how long until the child turns 5. Sometimes, children stay in forward-facing seats for longer, others switch to booster seats sooner. The essential consideration is making sure they meet the weight and height thresholds.
Q: Are backless booster seats safe?
It is more common to use a booster with a back for 4-year-olds. The safety is directly related to the height and weight of the child. There’s a car seat for every size, it is simply about finding the right one.