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The Three Car Seat Dilemma

Dec02

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Swagger-Wagon-Video

Hi Amy,

I have a super important question that’s been running through my head for weeks now, but I just can’t seem to find the time to get answers – hoping you can help!

My almost 3-year old son (in Feb) is currently in a front-facing car seat. My 8-month old daughter is in her rear-facing car seat. Both are Britax models, but I can’t recall which specific type. Big, is all I know.

Which brings me to my dilemma – my husband and I are thinking of having baby #3 within the next year. If we do that, how in the world will we fit 3 car seats into any kind of vehicle besides a minivan? Because, no. I just won’t do it. (I currently drive a Volvo V70 wagon.) Can my son move into a booster soon, freeing up some valuable real estate? Or are there any cars/wagons/SUVs that can fit 3 car seats all in one row? Or must we look at the super huge Tahoe-type vehicles?

Please help me figure out what my options are.

Thanks.
Kate

For the record, just so you can know straight-up that I am openly biased here, we caved and bought a minivan. We test drove every giant wagon and SUV (Envoy, Tahoe, etc.) that we thought might work — ones with third rows, ones with bucket seats in the center row to make the back row more accessible, big hulkingly wide truck-like monsters, etc. And we considered keeping our Subaru Forester and swapping all three of our current car seats (a Britax Frontier, a Britax Marathon and a Graco infant bucket) for the narrow Sunshine Kids Radian seats (Sunshine Kids is now narrow Diono Radian car seats)that are specifically designed to fit three across in most vehicles.

PERSONALLY, we found too many drawbacks with all the “anything but a minivan” options. And once I test drove a Toyota Sienna I kind of honestly had to laugh at myself for having such a problem with a car that is PERFECTLY DESIGNED for families with three children. (The remote controlled/automatic sliding doors! The cargo room for double strollers and luggage for long trips! The feeling like you are driving a regular car instead of a Hummer! The leg room! HOLY GOD THE LEG ROOM.) So as one former “I will never in a million years drive a minivan and will cut anyone who makes the suggestion” mother to another — do yourself a favor and don’t completely cross it off the list just yet. You can now buy a minivan that is nothing like the minivans of old that you are probably basing your deep-rooted prejudice on. Just…trust me on this one. (You can hook a freaking Xbox up in our Toyota. A freaking Xbox.)

But yes, there are other options, if a minivan is completely out of the question, or you need to avoid buying a new car altogether. The Sunshine Radian seats are one of those options, though you’ll need to be prepared to shell out close to $900 just on new car seats (and selling your existing, expensive car seats is generally advised against). And you’ll be without the convenience of an infant carrier seat, unless you can find a super-narrow model and buy THAT before later buying the third Radian, oh my hell. Ezra never really cared for his infant car seat and I did end up removing him from it at our various destinations a lot, so I thought this wasn’t a dealbreaker…but Ike is one of those babies who falls magically asleep in the car every time and I hate disturbing him, and find it’s easier to pull out the whole seat and plop it into a Snap-n-Go, ESPECIALLY with two other small kids to corral. I also didn’t like imagining trying to buckle the middle kid in while leaning over another child…or an empty seat while that seat’s occupant hung around the outside of the car in a parking lot while I barked DON’T YOU MOVE AN INCH SO HELP ME.

(Again, minivan: Hit door buttons on remote as you approach. Two smaller kids scramble in while I pop baby seat in, Noah buckles self up in the back row, I buckle Ezra in after Ike is secure, get in driver’s seat, hit button on ceiling to close and lock doors.)

(Okay, I’ll stop. I’M SORRY.)

As for a booster seat for your son…the recommendation is that children not move to booster seats until four years old and weigh 40 pounds. The laws do not always actually match up with this recommendation, which is why you can find some boosters that say they are intended for 3 years old and 30 pounds. We bought one of these for Noah so Ezra could have his Britax…. and I didn’t really know any better and was promptly CRUCIFIED on the Internet when I innocently mentioned it, because no no no no no. And while that kind of booster seat is perfectly legal in our state for a three-year-old, I can sadly report that it was not at all safe. Noah at three was too young and immature to leave the five-point harness behind and sit with a shoulder strap. He’d still fall asleep occasionally and slide over, and one time he threw a tantrum and managed to slide completely out of the seat and onto the floor while I was driving. NO THANK YOU.

We bought Noah a Britax Frontier booster with the five-point harness. It is narrower at the base than the traditional Britax convertible seats…but not by that much, I don’t really think. Your son could sit safely in this seat now (it’s for 25 pounds and up, front-facing only), but I’m not sure how much backseat real estate you’d save. But I would highly discourage you from doing what we did and switch to a small booster prematurely for space reasons. Even after he turns four and hits 40 pounds, I wouldn’t necessarily rush it. Noah does sit in the high-back booster with just the shoulder strap now, but he’s six years old and weighs 50 pounds. (And we just made the switch this past summer, which is to say, LATE. But I have no regrets, and honestly if he could manage snapping himself into the five-point I’d probably still have him use it.)

Again, we test drove a lot of cars and there are a LOT of SUV options that seem to exist mostly as a minivan alternatives. There are definitely other non-minivan models that will fit three or more car seats of various sizes just fine…though possibly at the expense of cargo room in the trunk or leg room, but again, if your primary goal is to avoid the minivan at all costs, it CAN be done. When we had two kids and were just trying to imagine what three would be like, they seemed pretty doable. And I’m sure they are, for a lot of families. I didn’t like driving any of them — too big, too high up, too truck-like in the handling — and now that I am in the trenches of trying to get from Point A to Point B with two small, unpredictable mobile children and an infant and all the various crap and accessories we lug around on a regular basis, I’m EXTREMELY happy with our choice. Even if I did lose a million cool points in the process. And the respect of dozens of y’all reading this column.

(Whatever. XBOX. WIRELESS HEADPHONES. REARVIEW CAMERA. PROGRAMMABLE SEATS. IT’S NOT A MINIVAN IT’S A ROCKET SHIP.)

********

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Photo: from Swagger Wagon video via Weekly Drop

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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65 Responses to “The Three Car Seat Dilemma”

  1. Kim Dec 02 at 2:59 pm Reply Reply

    I have 3 kids under the age of 3 (all girls, 3, 2 and 2 months). I previously had a Ford Escape but I knew that it would not hold all 3 car seats. I had to get the dreaded minivan. It actually isn’t that bad. I have the automatic doors, that the kids can just run into. I have extra seating for when family comes into visit (the Odyssey seats 8). I’m able to configure the car seats so that my friend with a baby can come along instead of having to take 2 cars. Although I don’t like the soccer mom stereo-type, a minivan is pretty convenient with 3 kids. 

  2. Procrastamom Dec 02 at 3:07 pm Reply Reply

    I have to agree with the minivan option.  We had a Pontiac Montana when our three kids were growing up and it was the absolute best choice we could have made for transporting our large(ish) family and all of their gallons of crap around town.  It also had the automatic sliding door and a TV/DVD to keep the inmates quiet in the back.  Plus, I really am a Soccer Mom, so there was no stigma attached to that label.

    I swear, most of the minivan hate comes from people who’ve never even tried one out.  Like your Mama always said, “you won’t know til you TRY IT!”

  3. Lesley Dec 02 at 3:11 pm Reply Reply

    Yeah, another minivan lover here. I have a 2010 sienna, 8 passenger, and the middle seat is a bench so it can fit 3 carseats, leaving the back seat to STILL be folded down and have a ton of room for all your stuff.

    I have a bunch of friends who also refuse to drive a minivan, and then they get in mine and realize how awesome it is and wish they had gotten one too.

    What are you so afraid of? That people will realize you’re a mom? Sorry, you’ve got a bunch of kids in the back. That’s what gave it away. At least go for the comfort/awesomeness option.

  4. Mary Lou Dec 02 at 3:13 pm Reply Reply

    No money for the van honey. 3 boys- kept the Britax booster, boy 2 in a graco 5 point harness, baby in the middle in the sunshine radian. We are all (somewhat ) happily smashed into our chevy impala. money for 1 carseat was an option, a 40,000 van sadly, was not. Not that I don’t wish I had one, because, come one, rocket ship people.

  5. A Dec 02 at 3:23 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve got a 2010 Town and Country minivan and while I’m not a fan of the handling necessarily the room inside is amahazing! I fold one seat completely into the floor and put my 6 and 3 year old in the back row, the 17 month old in the middle row and I can actually get in there with them in the ginormous space with no seat in it. Extra nice when there’s a lot of stuff to haul around or it’s raining and I’m trying to buckle them all in. I previously had a Pacifica SUV and I love the way it drove and it looked pretty bad ass, but once we had the third kid it was impossible to move around and buckle all the kids even though technically there were enough seats for everyone. My 6 year old was having to crawl over the backseat to get out because the dang car seats took up so much room. There was also no storage space. Go test drive a minivan. You really might change your mind just like I did (I also swore I would never go minivan FWIW).

  6. Tina Dec 02 at 3:34 pm Reply Reply

    My sister has a two year old, and one-year-old twins (yeah, it’s as crazy as it sounds), and she drives a Ford Flex, and all their carseats go into the middle bench seat with no issue (including when they had two infant carriers snapping into bases). The only downside to it is that you can’t get any additional passengers into the third row seat without removing a car seat… but beyond that, it’s worked really well for her and her kids!

    • Wendy Jan 31 at 10:42 pm Reply Reply

      Which carseats does she use??? We have the SAME set up-a two-and a half year old and one year old twins–racking our brains, trying to decide which combo to choose.

      • Kristen Nov 10 at 11:43 am Reply Reply

        And Wendy — did you ever find a configuration that works three across on the Flex bench seat?

    • Kristen Nov 10 at 11:40 am Reply Reply

      Yes, which carseats fit three across in a Flex? We’re looking to buy one and want to have carseats decided beforehand to make sure it works! Thanks!!

      • Katie Jun 09 at 6:35 pm Reply Reply

        We have a ford flex with 3 car seats in the second row. Two forward facing britax marathon 70s and a chicco keyfit 30. Our 4 1/2 year old sits in the middle, 2 1/2 year old on the driver side and the baby on the passenger side.  I’m thinking of moving the baby into a convertible but I’m not sure 3 marathons will fit. 

  7. Liz Dec 02 at 3:45 pm Reply Reply

    I was anti-minivan too, but when I was single I borrowed my brother’s Honda Odyssey to cart around 5 nieces and nephews. I was sold on it right then. Comfort and convenience, holy cow. Right now I have 1 kid and a fun Jetta Wagon, but I know that if we have more than 2 I will get an Odyssey or Sienna. I have rented Town & Countrys and Grand Caravans for long family trips and did not care for the handling or comfort at all. Same goes with SUVs. I would say borrow or rent a minivan and see how it feels.

  8. Jessie @ Graze With Me Dec 02 at 3:46 pm Reply Reply

    I actually drive a Hummer (H3) and it drives beautifully! Turns on a dime, really. BUT I only have the one child and even with the carseat and the stroller in the back, I have no room! We’ve squeezed 4 adults and my baby into it several times but it’s such a hassle. They look big and (let’s face it) AWESOME and GORGEOUS, but I swear the body is 15 inches thick or something. It’s such a strange phenomenon…the interior seems so tiny.

    I’m really biased against minivans as well but I already told myself that if we do end up with three kids, no matter how far apart in age they may be – yes, I WILL get the damn van. Plus, yeah the Xbox thing is pretty cool.

  9. Angela Dec 02 at 3:49 pm Reply Reply

    We did three in the back of a Camry for a few years.   When we started my girls were 5, 2.5 and a newborn; we used two Radian* 65’s and a Chicco keyfit 30.  When the youngest needed a bigger seat we used a Evenflo Triumph rear facing with the the Radians, later we used a booster with two Radians or one Radian and the Triumph.  It’s doable…we paid a little over $200 each for the Radians, and bought them one at time. I figure the savings in better gas mileage in the car paid for the seats. You might get away with two rear-facing Britax seats and one forward facing Radian until your son can move into a booster and your daughter can forward face.
    We moved up to the van this past spring (kiddos 8/5/2.5) because it was just time for more space.  We can carpool, drive for field trips, etc.  Plus #4 is due in April so we needed more seats just for our family. My 8.5 year old still uses a high-backed booster, and my 5.5 and 3 year olds use the Radians.  There is plenty of room to add another seat when baby comes.  I love it.
    *Don’t bother with a Radian 85…your kiddo will outgrow it in height/butt width before they hit that weight.  And though they can be technically used rear-facing, the Radians are very tall, and they will probably jut too far into the front to make it possible.

  10. andrea Dec 02 at 3:49 pm Reply Reply

    I personally cannot wait to get a minivan for our family of 5 (the lack of a car payment is not something I’m ready to give up yet thought). However, you should know that fitting 3 seats across in an SUV (and even some cars) is reallly not that hard. One thing I’ve learned is that many stores (Toys R Us and Babies R Us being 2 of them) will allow you to take seats out to your car to try situating them before you decide to make a purchase. Definitely take advantage of this if you are concerned about how a seat will fit. Even if you end up ordering it cheaper online somehwere else!
    I drive an Acura MDX and we have 3 across in the middle row, no problemo. My 6 year old is in a high back booster, My 3 year old sits in the middle in a Sunshine Kids Radian. My 1 year old is on the other side in a Britax Marathon. Before the 1 year old moved to a convertible seat, we fit the booster, Marathon (in the middle) and Chicco Keyfit 30 infant seat in a row. I have many friends that do 3 across with different configurations. It CAN be done (even without a booster being one of the seats). And yes, please take Amy’s advice on the booster. 4 years AND 40 pounds in a minimum requirement for their safety.
    It’s also the law in most states. Do not rush to put your oldest in a booster just for convenience. The studies have been done and the # of children that have been injured and killed because of not being in a proper seat is staggering.

  11. Karen Dec 02 at 3:55 pm Reply Reply

    There’s a mom at my daughter’s daycare that has three kids in the back of a Volvo wagon so it’s perfectly doable. My co-worker drives a Prius – she just had her third and has two Radians on the outside and a Combi Cocorro in the middle for the baby. They are a 1-car family and don’t drive very much so I don’t think she really cares about the logistics right now. And she’s going to get a minivan soon anyways. I test drove a Sienna and was in love. Amy’s right – it’s a rocket ship.

  12. B Dec 02 at 4:02 pm Reply Reply

    I loved my mom’s minivan as a kid (and we didn’t even have the cool stuff they do now!), and I have no problem looking like a dork or soccer mom, but as a dork/klutz/nervous driver, I am worried that it is just too much car for me to handle. I think I would be constantly afraid of bumping into something.

    My tentative plan for when the time comes is the Mazda 5, which has three rows, but is much closer to sedan size. Of course then there’s no cargo space…

  13. Melissa C Dec 02 at 4:05 pm Reply Reply

    I was at the Honda dealer getting an oil change and the service tech asked me how I liked my Odyssey. I told him I didn’t want a mini-van but that now that I had it, it was by far the nicest car I’ve ever owned. He said “yeah, that’s what everyone says. No one wants one but once they have it they love it.” You should at least test drive one before you decide. For me, the best part is that a parent can ride comfortably in the back with the kids on long trips – this is especially helpful with a newborn.

  14. Sonia Dec 02 at 4:06 pm Reply Reply

    We too are thinking of a 3rd kid, and figuring out the car situation.  For me, personally, I don’t want a minivan for 2 reasons: gas mileage, and transmission.  I just really like driving a manual transmission, and would rather not give that up.  I am considering the Mazda 5, which has the features of a minivan, with better mileage and a standard transmission.  But buying 3 new seats would be much cheaper!

    • Engie Jan 18 at 1:20 pm Reply Reply

      I just read your post (after submitting my own). yes, I totally agree with you!! In fact I’m considering using a RideSafer west (!!) for my oldest (6 yrs old), to save some space, and then I’m sure we can fit all three kids in the back (for short trips.)

  15. Tracey Dec 02 at 4:21 pm Reply Reply

    We are dealing with this same issue, with our third due in March. We currently have a Sunshine Kids Montery Booster and a Britax Marathon in the back of our Ford Focus wagon, but there is no way we are going to be able to fit a third car seat back there. We’ve researched various sedans with wide back seats, and were thinking of test driving a NIssan Versa, they now make a sedan, also the Chevy Cruze, but then my husband did some more research, and realised that while these might work for three narrow carseats, like the Radian, it was going to be impossible with boosters to do up the seat belt. Now we are considering a Mazda 5, or a Dodge Journey, both with third row seating. We won’t have great cargo space though. Ford was supposed to be coming out with C-Max this year, basically a small mini van, but now they’re not. Sigh. I drove a Kia minivan a few years ago, we rented it when my family came to stay from overseas, it was great for space, but I just about died when I had to fill it up. There just aren’t great options out there for extra seating if you also want fuel economy. I was kind of hoping for some more ideas here…

    • Engie Jan 18 at 1:23 pm Reply Reply

      Hi, yes, I hear you. Same problem. I suggested in my previous post (just above) to try using a DriveSafe west for an older child. No need for carseat!  I think that might be a solution.  And if you want to go on a bigger trip, just rent a van…..(or an RV :)

    • Leah Jan 26 at 9:36 am Reply Reply

      Hi Tracey, I just wanted to encourage you to keep an eye out for the 2015s. We have 3 kids and an old Ford minivan with one million miles and nothing much functioning on it. I have *loved* the sliding doors – esp during the baby/toddler phase – so keep that in mind since you will be in that phase for awhile. Anyway, we started by looking at the Sienna as a replacement. I was in awe! Go ride in one before you dismiss the idea. On the other hand, like you, I wanted better fuel economy this time around. My kids are 7,5,3 and can buckle themselves in (all 5-points and hope to keep it that way) and help each other out, so I am in a different position from yours. Our budget maxes out at about 40k, so unfortunately the Tesla S was never destined for me. Our shortlist is Subaru Outback, VW Jetta TDI (iffy about reliability due to HPFP issues), Volvo V60 (2015 has fantastically efficient gas engine but we might have to wait for a used price as dealers start just over 40k), and Prius V. Google “3 across…” any of these cars and you will find links to forums discussing how people are doing it – and they seem happy). Currently the Subaru has the worst MPG of the lot at 28 average (fuelly.com) but there is a rumor that the 2015 might get a diesel hybrid engine – woot woot! – and bizarre scissor doors that my husband likes – ??? – so check that out. Unfortunately none of these options gives you a spare seat for bringing a friend or two on vacation (whatever happened to trunk seats?), but if you are mostly driving kids to piano lessons, school, etc, and fuel economy is a big concern, then  these might be worth looking into.  Hope it helps!

  16. Olivia Dec 02 at 4:31 pm Reply Reply

    I’m only on my second kid, but still had to tackle this question. We skip the infant seat and use a convertible, and I really wanted the baby to sit in the middle. Not only is it easier to buckle him/her in, but that’s really best place while the seat is rear facing. But, damn if the booster seats aren’t bulky! This is what I ended up buying. It takes up a lot less space (the back is actually soft fabric) and because the seat itself is lower my toddler can climb in easily. And, oh mylanta is it easy to install! FWIW my toddler is currently 34 inches and 26 pounds and the harness fits fine.

    http://www.safety1st.com/usa/eng/Products/Travel/Car-Seats/Booster-Car-Seats/Details/2384-22256AHE-Go-Hybrid-Booster-Car-Seat

    • Leah Jan 26 at 9:38 am Reply Reply

      Oops I forgot to say that pretty much everyone doing 3 across in these wagons is using Radian carseats. 

  17. LMo Dec 02 at 4:54 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t have any children yet, but I drive a 2010 Subaru Outback and was told that it can comfortably fit 3 car seats across the back. We also love our Subarus, so the car comes highly recommended regardless of the car-seat issue.

    • Sarah May 02 at 6:47 pm Reply Reply

      As a Subaru owner for 12+ years, and the daughter and daughter-in-law of multi-decade Subaru owners, I had to chuckle at this comment.  Sorry, but Subarus are god-awful-to-impossible for three across, and I have driven many models.  Even two can be an issue.  Hope the redesigns will improve the situation.

  18. AH Dec 02 at 5:23 pm Reply Reply

    As a fellow mini-van convert, I whole heartedly agree that someone shouldn’t totally rule them out just for the lack of “coolness”. I have driven a Tahoe back when we only had one kid, and there was absolutely no way to cart around a stroller without folding down third row seats. It was also hard to park and lift toddler in and out of seat (vehicle too high for her to get in on own). Then switched to Ford Edge thinking that the third row was stupid since we could rarely use the seats without totally giving up trunk space. But shortly after we were surprised with TWINS, and the three carseats did not fit well. One week later we bought an Odessey…love it. Best value for the money by far! We make other decisions based on what is best for our kids and I totally think mini-vans are the best when you have more than two little kids.

  19. Julie Dec 02 at 5:28 pm Reply Reply

    I second the recommendation to take your car to a baby super store and haul carseats out to the car to try them. Not every carseat works in every car – I had to return a few before finding ones I liked for my Volvo V90 wagon and my husband’s Jetta. Add in the three across issue and it could be tricky, but can be done with the right combos.

    (I also ended up trading in my V90 for a minivan when we started thinking about the second kid though – I was tired of boucing my son’s head off of the ceiling of the V90 when I tried to load him in. It was just too cramped in there. I went a bit lower end and got a Kia van though.)

  20. JenVegas Dec 02 at 5:47 pm Reply Reply

    Minivans rock. That is all. I would give a limb to upgrade our crappy, used Dodge Caravan for a super-awesome-spaceship minivan with automatic anything. And I only have 1 kid!

  21. Jenn Dec 02 at 6:47 pm Reply Reply

    Between Amy’s wholehearted recommendations and a VERY convincing article in one of my husband’s car magazines, if we have a third kid I would be whistling all the way to the minivan store. And that’s saying a lot… like Amy, I drive a Subaru WRX and was an official member of the Minivan Haters Club.

    When comparing minivans to SUVs, minivans are generally bigger (more cargo and leg room), safer (lower center of gravity), have far better family features (auto-opening doors, more carseat-friendly), and are just generally SO MUCH EASIER to load and unload. I now look at SUVs and wonder what the point is.

  22. Robin Dec 02 at 10:10 pm Reply Reply

    Just wanted to be a contrary voice here. I begged my husband to look at a Sienna because I really wanted a minivan after kid #2 (because of the ability to fit my parents and/or the kids’ friends). I HATED IT! We saw the top of the line model and I felt like I was in a living room on wheels. It was so excessive that it was embarrassing. Who needs a car with a gigantic TV, two barca loungers in the middle of it, and that goes so far back that you’re, well, driving a freakin’ van? We bought a Prius V. I’m saving $85/month in gas – I’ll live with not being able to transport an army.

  23. Marnie Dec 02 at 10:49 pm Reply Reply

    One more minivan fan. I drove my parents’ van while I was in high school because it was the only car they’d let me drive,  and while it sounds crazy, I was a hit – I could fit 8 of us in there! Party on wheels! Who knew! 

    Fast forward nearly 20 yrs, and I was no-no-no-no minivan. Until I saw the automatic doors. And easy reach seats. And DVD player. And did I mention the automatic doors? No fumbling and readjusting to try to grab the door – just push the button and we’re in.  I have one kid (who’s now 10) and a big dog, and my van is 10 yrs old with 100K miles. I keep looking for something that will compare, but while there are some cool options, nothing competes. Relatives in town? don’t need two cars. Soccer game? I can take half the team. Movie-sleepover birthday party? I don’t need another driver for 6 kids. AND I can fit 6 kids plus 2 dogs in my extended cab version. Amen. 

    • lori Mar 08 at 9:58 am Reply Reply

      Hi Marnie. What minivan do you drive? We’re a family of 4 with 2 BIG dogs and need space (but have little money). I’m looking for recommendations for good value and long-lasting. Thanks!!

  24. Christy Dec 03 at 8:33 am Reply Reply

    This is a data point only….but I drive a Toyota Rav 4 and have put three carseats across my back seat fine – I did two Radian’s (Sunshine Kids) on the sides and a Graco infant bucket in the middle – the base fit between the two seats without a problem.

    Now, to be perfectly clear our “normal” was to have my daughter in the radian on one side and my son in his baby bucket in the middle seat – we don’t have a 3rd right now – but I have put an extra in a few times to shuttle friends’ kids around.

    I totally want a rocket ship.

    • Engie Jan 18 at 1:36 pm Reply Reply

      Christy, can I ask what year of a Rav 4 do you have? Thanks.

  25. April Dec 03 at 10:14 am Reply Reply

    Try google searching for your car model and what car-seats fit 3 across in your particular car. We are purchasing car seats with that in mind for our Prius. We LOVE hatchbacks, and we hope to be able to keep at least one with 3 carseats across. There are Prius forums where people have pictures and details of which carseats fit across. You could search for something similar for your car.

  26. Meghan Dec 03 at 12:54 pm Reply Reply

    My BFF and her husband are a one-car family, and that one car is a Honda Civic. They have three of the Sunshine Kids seats across the back, two front facing and one rear facing.

  27. Jay Dec 03 at 4:54 pm Reply Reply

    Yeah…..we also were dragged to the minivan route, kicking and screaming all the way.  We wanted a Prius V wagon, but it just wasn’t going to be big enough.  And the hulking SUVs?  I don’t think they look so fantastic or awesome–to me they look like giant gas-eating “You Hate Your Children’s Future Environment” monsters.  So that left the minivan.  I have to say, minivans have come a LONG way since the last time I spent any amount of time in one.  Amalah’s right–they’re a rocket on wheels.  So suck it up and get the minivan….about 5 minutes after you drive off the lot you’ll be so glad you did.

  28. IrishCream Dec 03 at 6:36 pm Reply Reply

    One advantage minivans have over SUVs is that because most are built on a car chassis, their bumpers are lower. If you’re in a multi-vehicle accident in an SUV, that high bumper is level with the head of the occupant of the other car, so you’re more likely to cause them serious injury or worse, even at a slower speed.

  29. Joanna Dec 03 at 9:34 pm Reply Reply

    The Radian has been on sale for awhile now online (and still is!) for $239.99 plus free shipping at The Right Start. 

    This is the set up we use in our 2008 Toyota Highlander SUV (and my husband’s Ford Explorer) with my three boys: two side-by-side Radians, with the tall skinny 6yo in the middle (forward facing) to run interference between the 2yo (rear facing) bothering the 3-month-old who is in a Chicco Keyfit infant seat. It works PERFECTLY. Yes, we don’t have room to haul anyone else around in the back seat, or an extra row to separate everyone, but there’s plenty of space for gear in the back cargo area. Not sure what your budget is, but spending $700 to get into some new car seats sounds A LOT more cost effective to me than buying a BRAND NEW CAR (remember: they depreciate the minute you drive off the lot and become a liability and not an asset). 

    This is just my humble opinion, but I am also not the gadgety type. My kids aren’t going to have access to headphones and DVDs and video games while driving to grandma’s house. They’re going to stick it out and learn some patience like I had to in the 70s. ;) Read a book or color or better yet — SING a song, child. 

    I recently drove a rental mini-van when my SUV was in the shop and although it was family friendly, it was so low to the ground, didn’t maneuver hills at all, had no pick-up and just didn’t have the overall sportiness of my SUV. 

    IMHO $700 on car seats beats a new car payment and a loan any day!

    Also, since you’re not pregnant yet, you have at least 9 months to save up! Good luck!

  30. Stephanie Dec 04 at 12:00 am Reply Reply

    I have to say, I own an Isuzu Rodeo that’s ancient (1994, y’all) with two toddlers aged 2 and 3 and a part-time kid who’s 10. The Rodeo is in the shop (surprise, surprise antique car) and we got a brand spankin’ new Town and Country for our rental. Holy crap. I don’t want to go pick up my car when it’s ready. I am/was as anti-minivan as it gets. Like I had pink hair when I delivered my first son and green for the second, ex-touring musician, 23 piercings and 4 tattoos type anti-minivan. BUT I LOVE THIS MINIVAN. If I had the cash I’d go down today and buy my own. I’m looking at usedmommy-wagons, drooling, and wondering if my income tax return will cover it.

    • Engie Jan 18 at 1:47 pm Reply Reply

      Stephanie, do consider that even if you manage to save up for a mini-van, will you be able to afford to pay more gas every month? Check out the gas-consumption of vans before you decide.

  31. KelleyD Dec 04 at 4:32 pm Reply Reply

    We are currently expecting our third. Kid1 is 5.5, kid2 is 1.5, kid3 is due May 2012. I drive a Chrysler300C. We were hard pressed to fit the convertible 5pt seat and infant seat in the back when that was what the kiddos were in. Once kid2 got bumped up to the rear-facing convertible it was even more of a hassle because if we wanted to take our truck anywhere with them we had to move BOTH of the seats. Installing the forward facing was no big deal, but the rear facing was always a pain to get it in correctly. So I finally went to the highback booster for kid1. Then we could leave a rear-facing installed in each vehicle and only have to swap the booster, SO much easier. And I can put the rear-racing and booster next to each other in each vehicle and have room for one more passenger! Now with #3 we are in the “how the heck are we going to manage carseats” place again. We could probably make it work in the 300. I have been against a minivan, mostly because I really like my car, my “racecar” as kid1 calls it. But with a kid4 still on the table as of the moment, we will need the larger vehicle. Plus the thought of trying to squeeze three in makes my head hurt.

  32. Jen & The Amazing Trips Dec 04 at 9:10 pm Reply Reply

    On my 32nd birthday, I splurged and bought a bright red convertible sports car. On my 33rd birthday, I had an ultrasound and discovered that I was expecting triplets. Had my ultrasound shown twins, I would have undoubtedly kept the sports car. Alas, with three babies, I needed more space. It was a bittersweet moment when I traded my beloved bright red convertible for my champagne Toyota Sienna minivan.
     
    I’m going to echo the sentiments of many others when I say: If you’ve got a family with small children … The Minivan IS The Bomb Diggity. Those automatic sliding doors, especially once your children are school-aged and you need to drive through the carpool lane and can push a button and the doors slide open – and then push a button and the doors slide close – the safety, convenience and awesomeness is unsurpassable. The stares of fellow parents, green with envy, from behind the wheels of their SUVs with those “manual doors” is hard to ignore. :)

    With my familial situation (that includes four children born in under three years … surprise baby 4 arrived when the triplets were two), I’d take that minivan any day of the week over any other car on the market.  We’ve driven our minivan cross-country three times (a total of 10,000 miles) and because of the comfort of that car (including the fabulous DVD system), the kids loved every minute of it. As a result, so did we.

  33. Amy J Dec 05 at 8:48 am Reply Reply

    For those looking, I think the “Sunshine Kids” is now Diono.

  34. Jen Dec 05 at 10:48 am Reply Reply

    I’m not here to convince you to get a mini-van (although I love my Odyssey) but offer a warning about 3-across. I have 2 in boosters and one rear-facing and needed to be able to transport them to school just 3 days a week (the rest of the time they are in the family mini-van). I had read many accounts of people fitting 3 car seats across in smaller sedans than our Accord. Here’s the problem: car seats can work with a Radian (or 2 or 3) because once they are installed you can easily buckle the child in from the front. But it is nearly impossible to make a booster work since we just could not find a way to get to the seatbelt buckle when it was next to a bucket seat, rear-facing Marathon or Radian.
    As a result, my 8 year old rides in the front seat, which drives me crazy as a bit of a car-seat safety freak.

    If you’re dead-seat against a mini-van, I’d suggest some sort of vehicle with a 3rd row. It’s nice for when the kids are older and want to bring along a friend, or you have other random extra passengers.

  35. Susan Dec 05 at 11:11 am Reply Reply

    I have had a minivan for what seems a gazillion years (it’s actually been *thinks* 13 years), so my cool points are so far in the negative, that it doesn’t really matter. I know people that are dead-set against minivans, but in all honesty, when you’re talking three or more car seats, it is the way to go. It is just way, way easier to get kids in and out of a minivan when you’ve got that many wee ones to get buckled in (for the record, my first two are 17 mos. apart in age, 2 and 3 are 3 years apart in age and 3 and 4 are 2 1/2 years apart in age). The older kids were in the third row seat buckling themselves in, I buckled those in the captain’s seats in the midrow, and away we’d go. And once we got a van with auto doors – heaven! If you are really that deadset against getting a minivan, a large vehicle with a 3rd row seat is a must. Safety is the first and foremost important thing her, and it doesn’t matter if you have cool points or not if your kid’s not safely strapped into your vehicle. Just my 2 cents. :)
    (My kids are currently 17, 16, 13 and 10 and we still have the mini-van. The legroom when we are all travelling together? Priceless!)

  36. Katie Dec 05 at 12:55 pm Reply Reply

    My husband and have 3 kids (with number 4 due in March) and just bought an XC 70 (used, because yeah, soon to be 4 kids) and got one with a rearfacing seat for the back. I know that when I was looking at Volvos, I researched getting a 3rd row seat installed if the car we bought didn’t have it. Availablity was limited for the XCs, but the dealer said there was a lot more availablity for the V70s. Dealer quote to install the seat was a couple thousand dollars (a body shop quoted me $700…but I dunno…seatbelts, kids lives, I’d probably go with the dealer). Not sure if that’s an option for you…but sadly, it’s not that much more expensive than buying 3 Sunshine Radians. I’d also double check use of a carseat in the rearfacing third row…but it seems like that would actually make it safer.

    And as full disclosure: our other car is a Honda Odyssey. Love, it, can comfortably fit a family of 6 and our luggage in it, get kind of bitter when I’m driving the Volvo and actually have to close the trunk and doors myself :)

  37. Tracy Dec 05 at 2:52 pm Reply Reply

    Amy, thank you so much for pointing out that moving the older child to a booster would be unwise at this point, and for sharing your own experience. So often people think (a) legal = safe, and (b) I can’t admit I might not have made the most informed parenting choice in the past so I must defend it to the death.

    Anyway, if I had more than 2 kids, I’d have a minivan. Hands down. I don’t care how uncool it is – it’s only for a few years.

  38. Jill Dec 05 at 8:33 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t know about the Sunshine Kids carseat, but my older son (I have 2) was in a huge Britax until he figured out how to unbuckle himself.  I checked consumer reports, and their top recommended car seat for cars with more than one convertible in them is (currently) the Cosco Scenera.  And it’s less than $50 at most stores.  Sure, it’s doesn’t seem as nice as the Britax (the straps, in particular, are kind of annoying because they move independently instead of pulling out evenly) but it is highly rated safety-wise and certainly saves a lot of space in our 8-seater Traverse.  
    Count me in the minority, but I prefer the way a crossover drives and we have multiple adults plus two car seats in our car frequently with plenty of space, plus I have the advantage of not driving a minivan. 
    I have also had 4 car seats (2 in middle and 2 in back) in my car on more than one occasion, and it really is not that difficult to manage. 

  39. Christine Dec 05 at 9:29 pm Reply Reply

    So, I’m anti-minivan as well, though since I’m currently only a mommy to one (with no plans to add any more kiddos), I’ll likely stay that way.  I have an Audi Q7, which is a great way to avoid the minivan, though I wouldn’t do it with more than 2 kiddos.  We have a fold down 3rd row that is basically not useable, and right now with my daughter’s rear facing car seat and a stroller I still don’t have much room.  If I changed my mind about more kids I’d be looking at a minivan too.

  40. Kim Dec 05 at 11:23 pm Reply Reply

    The nice thing about being an older mom is that I have absolutely no more need to be cool. I have total minivan envy, and I don’t care who knows it. However, for completely unrelated reasons, a good friend of mine went with a Volvo station wagon in anticipation of her third. So it can be done.

    I only have two kids, and my Scion XB has been fine if a bit packed to the gills on occasion. But there’s no way I can pick up the g’parents at the airport.

  41. Jennifer Dec 07 at 7:22 am Reply Reply

    We’re looking at the 3 across scenario for ourselves soon. Just wanted to say that we totally love our Recaro seats. They have a smaller footprint than Britax and have some features that make them a bit more user-friendly and easier to install. My son is in a booster that can be used with a harness or the seatbelt. He’s 4 1/2 and we just recently switched to the seatbelt because the straps were rubbing his neck. He was definitely not mature enough to sit with just the seatbelt initially. My daughter is in a FF Recaro seat next to him and we don’t have any problem buckling the belt for the booster. Like other posters said, if buying a minivan isn’t an option research online the car seat compatibility then go to your local baby store and try things out to see what works. Most importantly, buy what you can install and use safely for all the kids.

  42. PJ Dec 07 at 8:03 am Reply Reply

    I had to sell my V70R awesome rocketship wagon this summer because my husband is so tall that no one could sit behind him in it. For me, that car was a 3 seater once the baby seat was installed behind the passenger seat. I now own a Town and Country (yay end of year rebates!) and love that stupid van. I couldn’t agree with Amy more on this one. Vans are made for familes. After taking a 1000 mile round trip in it a few weeks ago, with all of the attendant crap that traveling with an infant entails, I was completely in love. Yes, I used to drive the coolest non-German wagon on the market. Now I drive a flippin’ van. Of course it isn’t as much fun to drive, but like many other things since baby’s arrival, I got over it.
    Also, all vans run on regular, and mine gets better mileage than the Volvo did on premium, so it costs me less to fill up, even though the van has a larger tank. YAY MINIVANS!

  43. Whit Dec 07 at 1:16 pm Reply Reply

    At the end of the day, it is just a car whose purpose is to get you places and make life easier. If a mini-van is the best option to do that functionally and economically, I wouldn’t rule it out just for the principle of it.

  44. Suzanne Dec 07 at 7:09 pm Reply Reply

    I scanned through the comments and didn’t see any recommendations for the website car-seat.org. They have a forum where you can post questions, including asking about three across installs. they will need the seats you currently have, whether they are installed forward facing (FF) or rear facing (rf), the stats of your kids – weight and torso height (sit them on the floor against a wall and mark where the top of their shoulder is. measure this distance), what car you drive, and your budget. A large number of the people who frequent the board are CPSTs (Child Passenger Safety Technicians). They also have a thread that lists CPSTs in your area who are willing to give you a hand if you need one.

    Also, not to be too nitpicky but the “Britax Frontier booster with the five-point harness” is more properly referred to as a combination seat. Which is helpful to know when shopping for this type of seat. :)

  45. Kate Dec 09 at 3:45 pm Reply Reply

    wow…I’m loving all the feedback and tips. My husband is already super excited about the prospect of a minivan for all the reasons Amy mentioned, so I have a feeling that may be in our future, no matter how stubborn I may try to be on this one. But while we’re exploring our options we will ABSOLUTELY “test drive” the 3 carseats in those non-minivan vehicles. Such a great idea. And if it’s a minivan in the end, at least I’ll know I’m in really good company :-)

  46. Kathleen Dec 10 at 11:03 pm Reply Reply

    For B, Sonia, and Tracy-
    We have the Mazda 5 and LOOOVE it. The awesome handling sold my husband, the ability to park in tighter spots and the decent gas mileage sold me (often above 30 mpg in Colorado (where we get better gas mileage due to less oxygen)). We only have one kid now (#2 on the way), but there is decent cargo space with four of the six seats occupied.
    FYI: No way to get a large stroller in the back with all six full (maybe the center aisle), but you could probably do it with five seats full. A small load of groceries will fit in the actual cargo space. A Costco trip definitely requires laying down some seats or filling the center aisle. So: If you’re looking at hauling four kids and want ample cargo space, probably look elsewhere. If you have two kids and want the occasional ability to haul two more humans (child or adult) go for it. 

  47. Engie Jan 18 at 1:17 pm Reply Reply

    I read most of these comments, and I am surprised, nobody mentions the major, #1 reason for being against mini-vans:  gas guzzlers!!!  I just cannot bring myself to buy one for this simple reason.  I am expecting child #3, and we have a VW Golf.  It is funny. But now, i think, living in a city, how many times are we going to be in the car all 5 of us?  Not often. So if I had a mini van, I would feel dam guilty driving that around half-empty. i think we’ll just keep the Golf, and when we want to go on a family trip, all 5 of us, then we’ll rent a van.

  48. Joe Jun 14 at 1:26 am Reply Reply

    We have an old caravan on its last leg. Its nice with the 4, 5 and 6 year old but @17mpg Im looking at the sedans with 25MPG or better. All kids are in booster seats and the hardest part is for them to buckle the seat belts. I found on the internet “seat belt extender” that are made for pregnant women or large people and this would bring the buckle up above the booster so they can buckle them themselves. Now we will be able to look at Accord or Camry and some other fuel efficient vehicles.

  49. daniel Jun 28 at 2:28 pm Reply Reply

    I am currently on a road trip right now from Texas to the Grand Canyon and then over to Georgia. I have a 2001 Honda Civic 2 door. I average between 38-42 mpg. My wife is the co-pilot. Our 1 year old sits behind me in a rear facing car seat. 3 month baby in one of those rear facing ones you take out and attaches to the base. And our 6 year old behind passenger seat in a backless booster with a Honda seat belt extension I got online. From my wife’s side, the 1 year old crawls into his car seat first, then I put babies seat into base, then my 6 year old hops in and pulls moms seat back, buckles in baby, and then herself. Without her help I know it would be more difficult. I have plenty of leg room to reach peddles and shift and wife is comfortable as well. Currently in the trunk we have a stroller, two suitcases, three gym bags, my tool box, and a full size spare, among other things. And a small cooler down where the middle rear passengers feet would normally go. In dash DVD up front, head rest DVDs for the kids in back. 38-42 mpg. EX model, not a hybrid. We all sit comfortable, and I will never give up my Civic for a minivan.

  50. James Reynolds Sep 04 at 10:54 pm Reply Reply

    You guys are all crazy :) Thank god my wife agreed with me that we’d rather be dead than have to drive a minivan – ugh. We’ve seen the minivans and all the “great” features for a family of 5 that have been mentioned and I say, big deal! We have a 3 year old and 1 yr twin boys. When we had the twins we were driving a GMC Acadia Denail (highly recommend the Chevy Traverse/GMC Acadia line – you don’t need a minivan) with second row bucket seats. We tried for a bit to put the toddler in the back and the twins in the second row, but it was too much of a pain in the a$$ to get her back there. So we traded in for a Chevy Tahoe and we have never been happier. We made sure to get one with a full bench in the second row. We could have went with a new Acadia with a bench second row, but we wanted to go big. So we started with the toddler in her HUGE, but safe, Britax marathon something or other and the twins rear facing in Chicco Keyfit 30’s, all in the same second row. We’ve now changed the twins to two Diono Radian RXT seats, still all in the same row. We’ve removed the third row seats for now, good lord the space we have – and we need it with the City Select Tandem stroller and everything else. We’ve talked about when the boys switch to forward facing, just moving our daughter to the third row. Our Tahoe has automatic second row seat that fold up with the touch of a button. Honestly, the space and room we have in the Tahoe, along with a powerful V8 (that switches to 4 cylinders) has been everything we’ve wanted. We laugh at the thought of anyone suggesting you “must” get a minivan. Hahaha :) Trust me, we know our stuff with twins and a toddler. My wife and I research everything like crazy.

    • MD Oct 31 at 3:32 pm Reply Reply

      Reynolds – “You guys are all crazy :) Thank god my wife agreed with me that we’d rather be dead than have to drive a minivan – ugh.” With a statement like that I’m pretty sure it’s you who is crazy. Rather be dead? – nice, good example to set for the future generation.
      Minivans are a practical, affordable & fairly economic vehicle for families – that’s the intent behind the design! Most parents are commenting that appearance is the only drawback and that’s “crazy.” Why do you care? Other than immediate family other people’s opinions should be last on your list of priorities. If people judge you because a logical, practical & safe design somehow got a bad social rep than frankly their opinions hold little value anyway.
      Test drive vehicles, research options that meet YOUR needs and make a decision based on how you felt about each of those findings. What others might think shouldn’t even be on the list of deciding factors what-so-ever!

      • James Nov 08 at 12:02 pm Reply Reply

        MD – bad example for the future generation, seriously? Lighten up, chief. I put a smiley face on there, what else do you need me to do to show this was tongue-in-cheek? You obviously lack this understanding. This was our honest opinion on practicality for my family, and we did research. Give me a break. What a goof.

  51. Mameelynn Oct 15 at 1:45 am Reply Reply

    We are about to move up to a van only because baby #4 is on his way!!  Up until then we have been able to fit 3 carseats in the back of our two door Echo…Yep you read that right!!  We have 3 carseats in our TWO DOOR ECHO!!!  I was able to fit three seats in the Echo better than I was in our Subaru Forester!!  We had a Graco full back foster, a Craco rear/forward facing(can’t remember what one it was) facing forward and a Graco infant snug ride… Once our third was old enough and big enough to go forward facing we were able to put our oldest two into high back boosters and our third in a Safety first seat that is the same width as the Diono Radian for 1/3 of the price!  It took a lot of looking and measuring but I can tell you that you can fit 3 in a car’s back seat and stretch out your ability to drive something that is more gas friendly for as long as you can!!

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