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Are Built-In Booster Seats Worth the Extra Cost?

After years of wrestling with child-safety seats, most booster seats seem like they'd be easy to install, but depending on the car, they may not work well with a particular seat belt or seat configuration. Sometimes the booster covers a recessed seat belt buckle, or the car's seat is too bolstered and the booster is pushed at an angle.

Car Seat Basics: Beyond the Booster

There's a solution for this: an integrated, or built-in, booster seat that's tailor-made for the vehicle it's in. In the 2014 Dodge Journey, all I had to do was tug on a strap at the front of the seat bench and the booster popped up. I pressed down on it to snap it securely into place, and it was ready to use: No fighting seat belt buckles or contending with seat bolsters. Built-in booster seats are only available on a handful of models. If you're considering a car that offers this feature, there are a few things to think about.

One advantage a portable booster seat has over an integrated one is just that: portability. Built-in boosters can't follow your child if they go in someone else's vehicle, so you'll need to have a portable booster on hand for those occasions.

Another potential downside to integrated boosters is they're backless and don't have side head protection as high-back boosters do. Whether you're looking for the peace of mind that comes with this feature or your child sleeps a lot in the car and rests his head on the side cushion, this is something to consider.

However, a portable booster can become a projectile in a collision if it's not secured to the vehicle — either by using the seat belt to keep it in place when no one is riding on it or using the Latch connectors to hook it to the anchors, if it has them. This isn't an issue for a built-in booster.

Surely integrated boosters are budget busters, right? In the Journey, two built-in boosters cost $225. Given that a booster seat can cost from $30 to more than $200, you might consider the integrated booster a bargain, even if you buy a less expensive booster seat for the times your child is in someone else's car.

Are built-in boosters a bust for you or are they brilliant? Let us know in the comment section below.

Cars.com photos by Sara Lacey

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