Calling all moms of 3 or more: Car seat input needed!

Today, I confirmed something that I had been wondering about. We seriously need a new car seat strategy for when baby #3 comes along this summer!

I am watching another 1 year old boy for the next three weeks, and today I had a car at my disposal so I decided to take all three munchkins out to our meat store in the country and to pick up our raw milk. By the time I had all of the car seats arranged in the car and all of the kids safely buckled and strapped in, I was ready to turn around and just stay home. 🙂 All three car seats are on the larger side, and I could barely get my daughter's booster in the middle strapped in, as I squished both my growing belly and the baby on whichever side I was using to try to get it done up.

The issue is that we own this car, a Mazda Protege5:

Mazda protege5

We really like our car and it has quite a few years of life left in it. We don't want to upgrade to a van yet (nor do we want to be a two-car family), and though we were considering selling it and purchasing an SUV, we've decided that with the current economic situation, we'd be better off holding on to what we already own and keeping our savings.

So, here's the issue: We need to fit an infant seat, a toddler seat and a booster seat in the backseat of an only so-so roomy car. It is a sport wagon, similar to the new Mazda 3 wagons, but it's really not a big car. We're planning to put a roof rack and storage pod on top of the car to solve our storage issues, which is fine. However, it doesn't solve the fact that we currently own two very large car seats, and the infant seat we got when Caden was born is quite a large one as well. From my experience this afternoon, I now realize just how tight of a fit (or even potentially a non-fit) this is going to be!

My question to all you moms of 3 or more (especially those of you who did it without going mini-van style), is what types of car seats did you use and how did you arrange them to make it the most comfortable/convenient for getting them in and out?

Thanks in advance, ladies! I can always count on you for great answers to questions like this! 🙂

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  1. I was hoping you’d have some comments…. we are in the same situation and don’t know what to do?!?!?!?

  2. Well, I can’t say much since we upgraded to a minivan right before baby #2 LOL but I can recommend a car seat that might fit in your situation. A good friend of mine told me about Sunshine Kids: Not sure if all the seats are slim, but pretty sure the Radian is meant to only take up one third of the back seat leaving room for 2 more. I also know they come highly recommended for safety. I hope you can find a good solution!

  3. If your daughter is small enough to stay in a 5-point harness, I suggest putting her back in a regular carseat (instead of a booster). This way you can eliminate buckling her everytime, and just squeeze and scrape your hand one time when you install the carseat.

  4. I am interested to hear what you decide on doing. I don’t have #3 on the way yet, but it was sad when I came to the realization that in order to have another baby we too would have to upgrade to a larger car. I don’t like putting that type of a price tag on having a baby! We don’t have a lot of money at all, so I would rather make our car work with smaller car seats. please post your conclusions. i have been following your blog for about a month now.

  5. Do you have enough room in the back section for an aftermarket seat to be installed? I’ve seen them for vehicles like the Toyota Forerunner and the Subaru Outback and Forrester – might be worth looking into. I believe you have to have them installed by a mechanic, which of course isn’t going to be “cheap”…but it’s still less than buying a second vehicle or a larger one.

    That said, I have owned both an Explorer and an Expedition with third row seats and LOVE LOVE LOVED them.

    Good luck – I know from experience this isn’t an easy fit!

  6. Hmmm,
    We shoved (literally) three kids in the back of a Tercel for at least 3 years, so it’s doable! Here are the things I can remember doing…

    1) While the new baby was rear facing, we had him in the front passenger seat (no air bags on the old car). My body was more squishy than a carseat 🙂 Newer cars have sensors that turn the airbags off if the weight on the seat is less than some set amount, so it might work for you.

    2) When J needed to be forward facing, we went shopping, armed with a measuring tape, for the slimmest booster around for our oldest. Thankfully it was also the cheapest model around, so we weren’t put out too much.

    3) With the baby in the middle, and a five point on one side, we would pull the booster out slightly, strap in S and then shove the whole seat slightly tilted and tucked slightly under the middle carseat while slamming the door.

    Yes, we did this for years. The funny thing is that we actually had a 4Runner that fit the three carseats with ease, but we preferred to drive the economical Tercel. With the advent of a new baby, we bought the minivan (I feel like I’m piloting an airplane with the room I now have), although we were toying with the idea of installing a third row in our 4Runner.

  7. I have one year old triplets and we could NOT afford to upgrade so I researched and found the Sunshine Radian seats fit three across in a midsize! When they were tiny, we fit three graco snug rides but now that they are bigger/heavier we LOVE the radians. We have the Sunshune radian 65 seats (up to 65 lbs) and we LOVE them. We also love that we get to keep our vehicle (although I’d LOVE a minivan) and don’t have a new carpayment.

  8. I have no advice to give but I wish you luck! We are blessed with a third row seat in our Explorer, but when baby #2 (Child #3 though, with an older stepchild) came and we weren’t ready to use it yet, I put the baby on the side instead of the middle, with my stepdaughter in the middle. Baby #1 was only 14 months old and I was worried about the potential tormenting. So as it stands now we’ve got the two Evenflo’s (which are pretty wide) and a Graco booster in the middle. I’d say we could squish another few inches too. Not sure if you can understand that rambling or not 🙂

    I’m interested to see what you come up with!

  9. We have a Tahoe and 3 kids: 2 boosters, 1 forward facing. The baby is in the middle (was also during the rear-facing stage as I seem to remember that is the safest place – so “they” say.{grin})

    I know you are more interested in hearing from those in cars, but I just wanted to let you know that we are squeezed in the Tahoe as well. I have to slide the two side booster seats out (with kid in it) to be able to click in the seat belt. My 6 year old can’t even buckle himself we’re so squeezed.

    The baby’s seat is quite large, but I’ve heard there are slim design rear/forward facing 5-point harnesses. We just decided to live with the inconvenience instead of buying yet another car seat.

    If you do decide to purchase a different vehicle, be sure to install all the carseats while your checking it out! 🙂 Good luck! Looking forward to what you decide… wish I could have been more help. 🙂

  10. We had the same problem. I had 3 children twins and one 17 months older. The way it was finally solved is… We bought a used Volvo wagon. Then we purchased one of the volvo car seats (very narrow) for the middle. The older child sat in the middle and the twins on each side. The standard car seats fit the side seats . Hope this helps

  11. I normally drive a minivan, but I just had to do this recently for a couple of weeks while away visiting my family and driving my mom’s car. We have a booster, toddler seat and infant seat. Here’s how it worked for us: Baby on the passenger side because this allowed us the most flexibility in moving the passenger seat forward to accomodate the rear facing seat, toddler in middle and booster on driver side. The booster could be slightly moved out to allow me to buckle him and then I could just shove him back over. They were pretty snug, but it was definitely doable. Also, the booster being on the outside causes less reaching over to get the child buckled.

  12. We collected multiple used car seats and after some back and forth switching around and adjusting seat locations we fit our three in the back of our Mitsubishi Gallant. I was, however, thrilled as each moved to a booster seat (booster seats are easier to fit) and then OUT of car seats all together. We had one nice seat type booster and one swing arm booster which together worked very well, two swing arm boosters didn’t work. The cheaper car seats fit MUCH better than the big fancy expensive ones which are obviously designed for family with one very spoiled kid. 🙂

  13. Oh and having the oldest help buckle the others is key to making it work. I also left the baby seat buckled in instead of using it as a carrier. It is MUCH easier if you have the sorts of car seats that STAY buckled in and then the kids buckle in with a different set of belts than the ones that they have to buckle.

  14. I am of no help-we didn’t get a minivan, but did get a Chevy with a third row. (If you can upgrade-I recommend it-)
    We have three kids, all in boosters and car seats. However, check out my blog after July 29th-that’s when we are getting a new vehicle, and if my husband gets his way-we are downsizing-I will either be singing his praises, or very irritated with this car plan… LOL

  15. We had an Escort, and even when we bought slim carseats (which we returned) one of them would hover! So, we bought a van. It was a financial stretch, but I love it so much, and I won’t go back to a smaller vehicle!!

  16. I own a ’93 Honda Accord and have 3 kids 3 and under.. So I have the infant carseat with a base to just set her in in the middle, a booster seat minus an arm rest (the one that gets in the way of the infant seat) and then a regular 5pt seat for my 2yo. It is hard to buckle the 3yo in and I have to ask her to scoot over before I can but I do NOT want a van lol. The booster seat has less room than the other two but but DD1 is skinny so it doesn’t bother her. I put the infant seat in from her side since it’s closer (and can even do so with the 3yo already in her seat). I hope you can work it out!

  17. We don’t have 3 car seats but my brother in law has 2 boosters and a car seat in a Honda CRV. We have the same car – with one very leggy 14 year old and a car seat. Lots of room back there compared to our old Toyota Corolla!

    A long time ago I found a website that measured the interior of various cars. It helped us pick the CRV over the RAV4. I’ll see if I can find it and post it. The CRV might be a good van compromise for your family. Good luck!

  18. I’m only expecting #1, but I used to be a live-in nanny to three. I drove an old Volvo sedan, and we squished three in the back. I would think your care would be bigger than my old Volvo, but I’m not sure. The parents had them all in the backseat of a Honda Pilot, but that’s a much bigger car.

    We had a high back booster, a regular car seat, and a snap-in infant seat. We arranged it so the two that were permanently buckled in (two smaller kids) were the two with buckles right next to each other, as the car seats kind of covered up the buckles. Then the only one that needed buckling was the booster. I think we decided it was easiest to keep the middle on in the middle. That’s all I remember! It was kind of annoying, but doable. I definitely recommend the snap-in infant seat if you don’t already have one! My best trick was to put the oldest in the driver’s seat to “drive” (no keys, of course) while I buckled in the two littles. It was the only way to get everyone buckles without the risk of one wandering into the parking lot!

  19. i think alot of people are missing the point…its not economical to change vehicles due to a car seat issue… had a thread on this topic…and i believe the consensus was the radian seats….even if you ahve to buy 3 new seats, you still don’t have to change a perectly adequate and fuel efficient vehicle…

    i did notice with our boosters…the $$ ones then to have an odd flair shape but the cheap one i bought is straighter…so keep that in mind too…good luck

  20. I can’t remember how old your children are, but if you can get the oldest into a buckle himself type booster and the next child into a 5 pt harness type booster, that will help a lot. Also, have the oldest buckle himself after helping the middle to buckle himself. That way, you have the time and energy for the middle baby seat yourself. Don’t try to use the baby seat as a carrier either, or at least as little as possible. Trying to maneuver it in and out while two other little people are getting in and out is a pain.

    We have six children in our mini-van, including an infant in an infant seat, the two oldest are in regular seatbelts, no boosters, the next is in a buckle up booster, the fourth is in a 5 pt harness booster, the fifth is in a front facing infant seat and the baby is in the infant seat. We have it set up with the middle row being for the eldest, youngest and second youngest, the back row with the fourth child, second child and third child. This way there is a non-special seated child in each row, and the younger children who can do the most to help themselves sit further from me. Each older child in the row helps the child who needs it in his row, I put the baby in and the other children take care of themselves.

    I don’t think I’ve ever written this much about their seating in the car.

  21. Hi Again,

    I finally found the exact site I had in mind. I don’t know what year your car is so I just took a stab at it.

    The phrase you’re looking for is “Rear Hiproom.”

    Mazda Protege5: 49.1 ”
    CRV (as an example!): 53.5 ”

    The results are here:,USB40HOS022A0

    Main Compare Page:

    And yes, it is not economical to buy a different vehicle but in the long run, it may save a bunch of headaches. We bought a Corolla and my daughter had a growth spurt (she’s 5 foot 11) and we HAD to get a whole new car after a year. I couldn’t sit back there either, it was a nightmare!

    There are some car seat forums out there too, might be worth a check.


  22. Radian 65 all the way!!! I had three boys in the back, The radian 65 sits from 5lbs to 65lbs. I had one of each of those on the outside and a convertible in the middle turned backwards.

  23. I have a GMC Yukon, 2006, I love it and it fits all of us. 3 carseats, and 4 adults.

  24. I second the sunshine radian seats. Super slim, safe, and comfy. A whole bunch cheaper than a new car. 🙂

    We bought a larger car, an Avalon, (used and well maintained) with more width that actually gave us money to pay down debt.

  25. Radian 65!!! They are great and fit well in our Accord. We don’t have 3 but this seat is comfortable for kids and narrow on the outside. Hip room for kids is similar to larger carseats. It’s also lower so it’s easier for them to climb into. You can find the best prices online (often with free shipping) if you search around. Much cheaper than a new car. We love our 1998 Accord, it’s paid off, low insurance and many miles left in it.

  26. We have a Mazda mini-van and needed 3 seats in the third row. The Radian is the only seat out there that will fit three. The added bonus is that it would keep your daughter in a 5-pt harness for quite a while still, which is MUCH safer than a booster. My almost 8yo (very average size) still uses one of our Radians and will be moving into belt-positioning booster in April when baby #5 comes. My 4 and 6 yo’s still have plenty of growing room in their Radians.
    I would bet that two Radians would fit on either side of a rear-facing infant seat with no need to move into a bigger vehicle for now. : )

  27. When I was pregnant with my 2nd child, we had just one small car. And a month before she was born, the Lord blessed us with a mini van totally debt free. It was an awesome gift. Then a year and a half later we had baby number 3 and needed a new engine for our van(what a bummer that was). So, our van sat there for a few months because of how expensive that type of repair is. The only way we were able to fit all of them in the car was to keep the oldest child in the middle with no booster. I know i know, breaking the law, but we were stuck. This probably doesn’t help much, but my point is to just trust God for provision and ideas.

  28. We have the radian carseats. My kids prefer them to the Britax seats we have in the other car and they are easy to install. Plus: if you have just two in a backseat a parent can ride along with the kiddos.

  29. Hi Stephanie – I haven’t read all the comments (there’s too many!) but I’ll put in my two bits. We have a mini-van and are expecting #5 in less than two months. Make sure you read the laws for BC. They are very strict with car seats and booster seats. Did you know it is illegal to put a booster in a middle seat belt? We didn’t know either until recently our son pointed out to us that it says so right on the seat itself. On the ICBC website it confirmed that booster seats are only to be used with shoulder belts, not lap belts. So you will have to put either your newborn or your 2 year old in the middle seat. Do you have a base for your infant car seat? That would make things easier for the first bit anyway.

    And just a comment about using booster seats until the children are 9… not fun when you have many children. Not fun for birthday parties or carpooling either.

  30. We have a minivan, but it is a small wheel-base model and the rear seat is no bigger than the backseat of a car, so we have also had trouble fitting 3 carseats all in the back row. We have a 3 yr. old and 2yr. old twins with #4 due in April. I didn’t know about the radian carseats, so we just made due with what we had as far as the 5pt. seats go. We did buy a high back booster for our 3 yr. old, but that still didn’t work because of the flaired shape of the other two seats. But, we discovered that the base of the 5pt seats was removable, so we took one of them off so that the height of the armrests was offset. This allowed one seat to sort of snuggle under the other one without pushing it up off the van seat. You might try looking to see if your seats have a removeable base, and that might work for you.

  31. I did this for a brief spell before my husband insisted on buying a minivan. It worked for us, with a little bit of squishing and not everyone being exactly level :). We had two forward facing 5 pts. at the time, and the britax one was MUCH slimmer than the other cheaper brand. Also, it seemed to me (though I never measured) that the graco snugride was one of the narrowest infant carriers. I’m loving all these comments about the radian 65 though. Good info!

  32. Thank you so much for all of these great suggestions! I knew I could count on you ladies!

    You’ve all got me really interested in these Radian car seats. We will definitely have to look into them! I”ll let you know what we end up doing. 🙂

  33. Moms with Radian car seats:

    Do/did you use the Radian for a newborn, or a regular infant car seat? Does the Radian recline well? What is your preference, the Radian 65 or Radian 80? I will be a first time grandmother in July, and my husband and I plan to help purchase some of the “bigger” baby items since son & daughter-in-law are both in college and working. They were not planning for this little one quite yet, but our Heavenly Father was! 🙂 Bless our d-i-l Lydia, she could care less about material things, but loves to cook, can, sew, and such, and her biggest desire is to be home with the little one. My apologies for bragging a bit, but our son has a real sweetie for a wife, and since we have sons only, I finally get to enjoy a daughter. 🙂

    I enjoy your blog Stephanie, and share articles with my d-i-l. Keep up the good work; encouraging women & moms to glorify Christ in our day to day living. Boy do I miss those baby days, ladies. Enjoy them! I have been blessed to be a say at home mom for most of my marriage, working part time the last 5 years to help pay for teenage car insurance, college, etc. And now grandbabies!

    Thanks for any info. you might share. God bless.

  34. We had a Toyota Matrix, (similar to yours) and we have another due in May. I was patient and waited to get the perfect deal. Because people are looking for more economical cars we managed to trade evenly for a Toyota van with less km and more options. It only cost me $11 to change registration. The owners kids were growing up and they did not need the space, she just wanted to get back and forth to work in a smaller car. She would only trade for a Toyota or Honda so it all worked out and everyone is happy. I LOVE my van.

  35. Another vote for the Radian here. When baby #3 came along we were able to fit a Graco Snugride(facing backward) in the middle with 2 Radians on either side (for 2-year old & 4-year old) of the backseat of our Honda CRV. We now have a Britax Roundabout in the middle with the Radians on either side.

    Our oldest is 7, and accdg to our state law must be in a carseat until he’s 8 and/or 80lbs – I believe the Radian goes up to 80lbs (or at least 60lbs).

    The Radians weren’t cheap – but much cheaper than replacing our paid for CRV with a newer vehicle 🙂

  36. SunShine car seats! Not cheap, but very safe. We have daughters with growth issues, so safety is a concern (our 14-month-old is still rear facing, and our 35-month-old is 21 pounds and has skeletal delays). These fold up to travel and can fit 3 across! We do have a minivan now (given to us), but we can fit all 3 across the back if need be. The Radian is great (the more expensive option goes to 80 lbs., but the Radian goes to 60lbs.). They do work rear facing but do not recline. If you put an older child in one, you could fit anything next to it!

  37. I’ll have to come back and read all these comments before deciding what kind of car seat to get with our baby coming about the same time as yours. I just wanted to throw out as a place where you can get more feedback about what works well in different types of cars. I found it as we were thinking about replacing a car and wondering if we could fit enough car seats in a small car.

  38. I’m a little late to the game here, but thought I’d comment anyway. 🙂

    We have a ’98 Mercury Sable car, and have been doing the 3-car-seats-in-the-backseat thing for… 14 months now!

    Oddly enough, one of the biggest blessings in fitting 3 seats in the back was that we had purchased WalMart’s cheapest convertible seat — the Cosco Scenera which was $39 at the time. It is not as wide as the ones with huge built-in arm rests!

    With the Scenera as one of the 3 car seats, we have been able to fit everyone just fine. Sure, it’s a little annoying to reach across to the middle every time, but we can’t afford a minivan yet. 🙂

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