Car seats vs. booster seats: What’s the difference?

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If you have tiny humans in your care, you’ve no doubt got a list of the ‘essentials’ you need. Cot (or bassinet), pram, and car seat are the three biggies. But if you’re researching car seats, you’ve probably come across booster seats, too. What’s the difference between the two?  What’s the safest option? And which one do you need for your child (or grandchild)?

Read on to see how we break down the difference between car seats and booster seats, so you can choose the one that’s right for your needs.

The lowdown

The main deciding factor between buying a booster seat or a car seat will likely come down to how old your child is,  and importantly, their height. In Australia, it is the law for children up to six months to be in a rear-facing car seat.

A booster seat can be used if your child is between the ages of 4 and 16—basically until your child is of a height where they can be safely secured with an adult seatbelt.

Kids up to the age of seven must be in some kind of child car seat whenever they’re travelling in the car, whether it’s a forward-facing or rear-facing car seat, infant capsule or a booster seat.

Car seat vs booster seat: Features

Car seat: Whether it’s a forward-facing or a rear-facing baby car seat, the features are similar.

  • Faces towards the back, or the front of the car.
  • Has an in-built harness to secure the child.

Booster seat: Often slimmer than a car seat and usually sits on top of the adult car seat.

  • Faces towards the front of the car.
  • Does *not* have an inbuilt harness.
  • Usually used in conjunction with an adult lap-sash seat.

If a booster seat only has a lap belt, and not a belt sash, then you’ll also need to use a child safety harness to ensure your child is restrained safely. Always check the booster seat instructions if using a safety harness

When to make the switch

Babies are said to be safest in a rear-facing restraint, which is why it’s the law that they must be rear-facing for the first six months. However, according to the Royal Children’s Hospital, it’s recommended that children stay rear-facing for as long as possible, and would be expected to make the switch to forward-facing when they’re two to three years old.

And, when you do make the switch to a forward-facing car seat, it should be in one with inbuilt harnesses, and only when your child reaches the maximum height requirement for their rear-facing seat.

While Australia has strict laws when it comes to the safety standards of car seats, it’s always best to check the manufacturer's guidelines for details surrounding maximum heights for car seats, as this can differ between products.

Once your child has reached the maximum height requirement for their car seat (as early as 4 years of age) you can then look to put them in a booster seat. The minimum height for a booster seat is 145cm.


As a general rule, booster seats are more affordable than car seats as they don’t have the in-built harnesses that car seats do. Booster seats can be purchased from as little as $49 from places like Kmart and Big W. 

You can compare prices for baby car seats below:

Compare the best baby car seats

Best for
Suitable ages
Protection rating Icon Tooltip  Dark
Ease of use rating Icon Tooltip  Dark
Learn more
Best baby car seat overall0 to 4 years4.32.4
Best baby car seat runner-up0 to 4 years42.3
Best forward-facing baby car seat6 months to 8 years3.93.3
Best rear-facing baby car seat0 to 12 months3.92.6
Best booster seat4 to 8 years4.13.3

Prices are accurate as of post date. Read full disclaimer.

Final thoughts

The main takeaways when it comes to car seats vs booster seats are:

  • The difference between car seats and booster seats is that car seats have in-built harness are are required by law for the first six months.
  • You should choose a restraint that fits your child’s height, rather than basing it on their age.
  • Make sure you check the restrain regularly and adjust as your child grows.
  • The minimum height for a booster seat is 145cm.

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time of publish and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on the retailer’s website at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. SafeWise Australia utilises paid affiliate links.
Kate Reynolds
Written by
Kate Reynolds
Kate Reynolds is a writer who's at her happiest when there's haloumi on the brunch menu and a dog to give pats to. She's worked as a travel writer, journalist, theatre reviewer, broadcaster and radio creative, and spends her weekends with as much of the aforementioned haloumi and dogs as possible. She writes on Cammeraygal and Wangal land.

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