Tuesday, July 27, 2010

They said it was impossible... - fitting 3 car seats across the back seat - some tips, tricks & "go to" seats

Safety 1st Go, Chicco Key Fit 30, Britax Boulevard
3 car seats in 2008 Range Rover Sport

Fitting 3 car seats across the back seat is a challenge.  Truth be told, it is not possible in many vehicles.  In other vehicles, it requires just the right combination of seats - not only a specific car seat, but putting it in the best position in the vehicle to allow the other seats to "puzzle" next to it.

You might be thinking - this is a Range Rover Sport, of course you could get 3 car seats in a huge truck like this.  But there you would be wrong - as just having a large vehicle in no way guarantees that you will be able to fit 3 car seats, just as having a small vehicle in no way guarantees that you won't be able to fit 3 car seats.  Case in point - the Range Rover HSE, which has similar exterior dimensions to the Range Rover Sport, will not accommodate 3 car seats due to the awkward layout of its back seat and the narrow dimensions of the center seat.

Having installed thousands of car seats, The Car Seat Ladies have some "go to" seats when it comes to fitting lots of seats into not a lot of space.  In the vehicle shown in the pictures (the 2008 Range Rover Sport) I installed the Safety 1st Go behind the driver (using LATCH), the Chicco Key Fit 30 in the center (using the vehicle's shoulder/lap belt), and the Britax Boulevard behind the passenger (using LATCH).  Had there been two forward-facing kids and one rear-facing, I likely would have tried the Safety 1st Go behind the driver, the Britax Boulevard forward-facing in the center, and the Chicco Key Fit 30 behind the passenger - as putting the Boulevard and the Go next to each other would allow the Go to tuck itself underneath the Boulevard and use up a little bit less space in the back seat with this overlap (each seat would be installed and the belt marked to make sure that the car seat was installed tightly INDEPENDENT of the other seat - i.e. and not relying on its neighbor to feel snug).

"Go To" Seats
  • Infant
    • Chicco Key Fit
      • with a starting weight of 4 pounds it is guaranteed to fit almost any infant
      • very narrow where the handle attaches (the widest part of most infant seats) - which allows it to fit nicely next to other car seats
      • built in locking clips - very important for an easier seat belt installation
      • 30lb weight limit so you get more use out of it than the 22lb infant seats
  • Convertible (Rear to Forward Facing)
    • Britax Marathon / Boulevard / Decathlon
      • extra tall seated height to accommodate older kids rear-facing
      • narrow where it needs to be and wide where it needs to be - making it fit in spaces where seemingly smaller seats won't
      • built in locking clips - very important for an easier seat belt installation
      • high weight limit forward-facing
    • Combi Coccoro
      • at 15 inches it is the narrowest convertible car seat
      • built in locking clips - very important for an easier seat belt installation
      •  note: it is shorter in seated height than the Britax/Sunshine Kids so will last less time rear-facing & forward-facing
    • Sunshine Kids Radian
      • high weight limit rear-facing & forward-facing
      • narrow profile
      • Note - this is typically a difficult seat to install securely using the vehicle's shoulder/lap belt as it does not have built in locking clips for either rear-facing or forward-facing.  As such, it is often not our first choice.  Installing this seat rear-facing with a shoulder belt is typically a very challenging installation as since the seat has no built in locking clips (and using the switchable retractor - the locking mechanism built into most shoulder belts - will tilt the car seat on its side) - you must use a metal locking clip to keep the seat belt tight.  A metal locking clip is a 2 person, multi-step process that is hard to do properly (and easy to do wrong).  Another issue with this seat is that in many vehicles it sits quite reclined when rear-facing which may mean that the adult in front of the car seat does not have adequate space to drive/sit comfortably. 
  • Combination Seat (5 point harness car seat to booster)
    • Safety 1st Go Hybrid
      • Narrow (17 inches) with an exceptionally narrow profile at the top due to its lack of sides (except at the child's head) - which allows it to fit very nicely next to other seats, including puzzling underneath seats with an overhang like the Britax Marathon/Boulevard/Decathlon
      • Great seat for older kids as:
        • it doesn't look as much like a "baby seat"
        • provides a 5 point harness for longer
        • allows older kids some independence as with another car seat next to them they often have difficulty buckling themselves into a booster - but with this seat they can use the 5 point harness and many kids by the age of 5 can buckle themselves in
      • Note: When installed with the vehicle's seat belt the top shoulder strap height is just 14.5 inches - but when installed with the vehicle's lower anchors (LATCH system) the shoulder strap height is 17.5 inches.  Therefore this seat must be installed with the lower anchors for most kids over the age of 3-4 as they need the additional shoulder strap height.  Since most vehicles only have the lower anchors for the side seats, this seat will usually have to go on the side.
  • Belt Positioning Booster
    • Nania High Ride
      • Narrowest backless booster - 14.5 inches wide (1 inch narrower than the next narrowest booster)
      • Note: this booster is only available in packs of 6 (with shipping it is about $15/booster) - but since it is great for fitting 3 kids across the 3rd row of a Honda Odyssey I'm sure you can find a few neighbors who will buy a few from your 6-pack
    • Ride Safer Travel Vest
      • A vest that functions like a booster - but since there is no "seat" you only need to have enough room for the child's bottom to fit instead of the extra 6-8 inches that most boosters take up


  1. Hi, I'm desperately looking for some help or some back up:) here is our situation.
    We are leasing a Volvo xc90 with third row and have one more year on the lease. Breaking the lease, as you can guess, is very expensive.
    Our family consists of:
    a five year old boy, about 38 pounds, 38 inches
    A four year old girl, about 36 pounds, 36 inches
    (these are estimates, we haven't been to the doc in a bit- point is, they are both on the edge of being ready for boosters)
    AND we are expecting twins in a couple of months.

    My husband says we buy a backless booster for our son and put him in the third row. Is this a good idea? I feel he is small, obviously would love to jut buy a minivan but the money is a factor. Would prefer he stay in his 5 point for much longer but nothing seems to fit in the back row. Second best to me is a high back booster with padded sides but, well, nothing seems to fit.

    I have purchased 2 snug rides for the babies for the second row. I'm assuming something will fit in there for my daughter.
    We would love your thoughts on getting 4 small people into an XC90

  2. Ps. My name is mindi Spenner. I wrote the above. Computer was a little funky so the sign in or join link wouldn't work. My email is andromeda96ms@yahoo.com
    Thank you
    Oh, and an update, my son is 42 inches and my daughter is 40. I suppose they have grown faster then I thought. I bet they have hit 40 pounds by now too.

  3. Hi carseat lady:)
    We spoke over the summer about my situation above. I wanted to thank you again for calling me. We did, in the end find a great solution, which was the clek oobr highback booster. We bought two of these and they fit in the third row of my Volvo xc90. This seat got great reviews and, miraculously, fits in that third row. It has latch so when we do upgrade to a minivan it will be even more secure. Right now we just use them with the belts and the kids are situated well. The twins were born, six pounds each and the gracos are in the middle row using the latch system. It's a full car to be sure but it all seems safe and will get us through the year as we need it too. Thanks again for your wise and personalized attention. It really meant so much to me with regards to a situation I found very stressful and so important, the safety of my children in the car.

  4. Hello,
    I am not sure if this is the right place to post this or not, but I am desperate for some help. We currently have three children ages 4, 2 and 1. They are all in Britax Blvds. My lease is ending (2008 chrysler town and country) and I have to get a new vehicle. Currently, my eldest is in the third row on his own, and the other tow are in the second row captains chairs. Ideally we would like to have all three children together in the second row of the new car....using their britax blvs car seats. That way we have more cargo room and space for the dogs. We are thinking of the ford expedition, chevy suburban, honday oddesy or another town and country with a bench seat in the second row as opposed to captains chairs. In your experience do you have any recommendations?? I am very stressed about this....thank you. I can be reached at kyia2@yahoo.com

  5. Please please help me! WE have a 2005 Honda Odyssey with five children. Currently my 6 year old 48 lb son is in a Graco backless booster. My 44 lb daughter is in the Graco Nautilus. They are both in the third row, and enter and exit the vehicle through the back. In the 2nd row are a graco snugride infant seat for my almost 7 month old (19lbs), and two graco comforsports for my 3 year old (35ish lbs) and my 20 month old (30ish lbs). We need to get three across the back NOW! The 20 month old is not able to sit next to anyone without causing lots of problems, and the getting in and out of the back is not working anymore for the older two. Please help!!!

  6. Laura -

    Here is what I propose:
    3rd Row:

    6y/o: Nania High Ride on passenger side of 3rd row - http://www.uihealthcare.com/depts/safetystore/travelsafety.html

    3y/o: Britax Boulevard in center of 3rd row (this seat is cut out at the bottom which facilitates getting other seats to fit next to it more easily) - note, get the "non-70" version as the newer 70 versions don't work as well for tucking other seats next to them - http://www.albeebaby.com/britax-boulevard-car-seat-castlerock.html

    4y/o 44lb child - you can try the Nautilus on the driver's side of the third row, but you may have to go with another Nania High Ride there

    2nd row:

    7m/o - Graco Comfort Sport rear-facing (baby is just about too big for the Snug Ride)

    20m/o - Graco Comfort Sport rear-facing (assuming the baby is <30 pounds) - if the baby is >30 pounds, I would NOT put the child forward-facing until a bare minimum of 24 months, and would suggest getting a rear-facing seat with a higher rear-facing weight limit like the Graco My Ride 65 (which will also last longer forward-facing too). The My Ride is quite wide, which will be OK since this seat is going on a captain's chair and not in the narrow 3rd row.

    If you have more questions, email me at info@thecarseatlady.com and include a phone number where I can reach you.