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Fitting 3 Car Seats Across the Back Seat

Marianne Merawi
by Marianne Merawi
August 25, 2014

You just found out baby number three is on the way. As you buckle your older two into their car seats, you look at how much space is available between them and realize, “Uh oh…we'll never fit another seat back here in a million years!” In the video above, our expert, John Stubbs from Safety Belt Safe, USA, demonstrates the safest configuration for using 3 car seats across the second row of the 2014 Honday Odyssey. This is one of many cars that fit 3 car seats beautifully.

Perhaps you've been looking to buy a large SUV or minivan but finances are tight. Well, it’s probably going to be far cheaper to buy two or three new car seats than to spring for a new vehicle.

So before going car seat shopping, there are some basics to consider:

At the risk of stating the obvious, you cannot put three car seats across if there are only two seating positions with seat belts in the back.

Three across is very unlikely to work in a two-door car. It CAN work in a compact four-door car; people have safely installed three seats in the back of the Honda Civic, for example.

Children under age 2 MUST remain rear-facing. Three across works best if you have two rear-facing and one forward-facing, or two forward and one rear.  If you need all three forward-facing seats, or especially with all three rear-facing, three seats across in a small car probably won’t work.

To allow for maximum space, you’ll need to install all 3 seats with seat belts, not the LATCH lower anchors. This is equally safe, but if you’re very uncomfortable with seat belt installs, this may not be your thing.

When you’re done, all three seats must be independently secure, which is to say, if you take out the middle seat, the two outboard seats must remain tightly installed, and the same for the middle car seat when you remove the two outboard car seats.  They can’t rely on each other to be securely installed.

Certain vehicles specifically state not to put a child restraint in a particular seating position (usually the middle of the backseat).  If your manual makes any such statement, it’s time to start car shopping instead.

Some child seats are significantly wider than others, so your choice of seat is going to be very important here.  It could be that the ones you’ll need to make this work in your vehicle will be pretty pricey—but just remember, it’s still going to be a lot cheaper than a new car. If possible, try before you buy; large baby stores such as Babies R Us and Buy Buy Baby allow you to try out the floor models in your car. If that isn’t possible, keep your receipts and leave any new seats in as close to brand new condition as you can so that you can return them if they don’t fit.

Once your seats have been purchased and installed with careful consideration for the seat manual, visit the SafeKids website to locate a certified car seat technician. They can check your seat and make sure that you know how to install and use it correctly. It’s estimated that 90% of car seats are installed or used incorrectly. Don’t let yours be one of them!


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