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The Three Car Seat Dilemma

By Amalah


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.


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 — update as of Oct 2017: Radian has put out a safety update/ voluntary recall on their convertible car seats. Please click through to this link to see if it affects you.) 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.


Photo: from Swagger Wagon video via Weekly Drop


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About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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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