Three car seats in the back: what you need to know

Posted in All, Preparing for Baby, Safe Car Travel.

Fitting three car seats in the back

Ahh the holy grail of car safety for growing families: how will I fit three car seats in my car?

Followed quickly by one of the more regular questions we get asked, “Is there a perfect brand of car or seat for this scenario?”

Just like most things child-related, the answer is not simple. There’s a crazy number of variables. That, coupled with the fact that car manufacturers change their models each year, means that what suits right now, might be completely different in 12 months’ time.

Similarly, no two families are the same, so the makeup of ages of your children will play a huge factor in the decision-making process. For example, one car may fit two booster seats and a car seat, but won’t fit a capsule, a car seat and a booster. Alternatively, your car may fit all car seats quite comfortably, but leave no legroom in the front seat for taller adults.

You get the idea… The good news is, whilst we might not be able to provide you with one simple and perfect answer, we can still help you find a solution.

You might be surprised to know you don’t automatically need to start looking at big four-wheel-drives or vans either. In fact, with a little bit of thought, many small to medium-size cars actually can fit three car seats, it’s just a matter of how you do it.

Without further ado, here are our top tips …

1. Get to know your car

Back seat of car

When establishing if your current car can fit three car seats in the back, Cars Guide recommends at least 127cm of flat backseat area. This is the minimum space you’re going to need for three car seats.

Other things that they recommend you consider include:

  • How many anchor points does the car have and how accessible are they?
  • What’s the spacing between the seat belt clips? Will you be able to access them easily?
  • Are there side, rear and frontal airbags?
  • What is the car’s safety rating?
  • Is there enough room for prams, nappy bags and shopping in the boot once your back seat is taken up with kids?

Break out the tape measure and figure out exactly how much room you have to work with in the back. You don’t necessarily have to buy a people mover – many of our Mum’s Grapevine community report being able to squeeze three seats across the back of small SUVs, sedans and even the odd compact car. All of it will hinge on your seating configuration. So let’s get to work!

2.  Research car seats

Three Car Seats

Not all car seats and capsules are the same. Manufacturers have recognised the need for compact seats and there are a number of options on the market. It might not seem like much on paper but you’d be surprised by how much difference an extra 1cm can make.

There are some smaller baby capsules available on the market. But they’re probably still not going to be overly practical for a three-in-the-back set-up. You’re much better focussing on a convertible car seat, and/or boosters depending on your children’s ages and size.

The Safe-n-Sound Graphene and the Infasecure Kompressor 4 Treo are great options for narrower convertible car seats. They also have the added bonus of being suitable from birth to four years.

When looking at boosters the Safe n Sound Express Booster seat has a slim and lightweight design. There’s also the Infasecure Vario II which features a narrower external width to aid three seat installs. The Safety 1st Solo Convertible Booster is also a great option. This one is a little wider at the top though, so make sure you’ve done those roof width measurements!

3. Understand the law

Car Seats Rules: What you need to know

Although it may be tempting to move your child up to the next type of car seat just to make them fit – please don’t! Not only will it potentially compromise your child’s safety, it also may be against the law.

For a comprehensive guide to car seat laws in Australia, make sure you check out our article.

It’s a refreshingly simple summary that will also allow you to look to the future. If your child is on the cusp of moving into a new age group, make sure your configuration will work when they level up.

4. Learn about restraints and extenders

Seatbelt

There are a number of different methods you can use to fit and secure car seats to your car, but it’s important to do your research.

ISOFIX brackets have now become the norm for most car seats and vehicle manufacturers. The ISOFIX system was approved for use in 2013. It provides a safe and easy way to install a child car seat, without the need for vehicle seat belts.

Just because you have ISOFIX brackets doesn’t mean however that you have to use ISOFIX car seats. Sure they are simple to install, but if they’re too big for your desired configuration, you can still consider the traditional seat belt anchored seats. The main thing is that your chosen seats all meet the Australian standard.

Another option to help your car seats fit is to use a seat belt extender. These offer more length to access difficult-to-reach buckles. These really should be a last resource though, as their use, whilst not illegal, isn’t recommended. If you do have to use one, make sure that the buckle is never located over your child.

If you’re still not sure, Kidsafe provide an excellent resource document regarding on safe restraint of children which is definitely worth a read.

5.  Get the order right!

Infasecure three seats

The order of installation also might make a difference as to whether all three restraints can fit. InfaSecure provides some great tips about how you can get all three seats in. They suggest you always start with the middle restraint – it’s way easier to install the side seats last!

It’s good to know that it’s ok if your tether straps aren’t quite straight – a little bit diagonal is fine. It’s also ok if your car seat touches the door a little bit when it’s closed. The most important thing is that you’re always using the right anchor points and your seat is correctly installed.

6. Find some help

Choosing a car seat

Ultimately fitting three seats in the back row is very much a matter of trial and error. But don’t give up! Different car seats, and different combinations of car seats can make the difference.

If in doubt, visit a professional installer who can install and adjust child restraints correctly. Many of our readers recommend Baby Bunting, as they offer car seat fitting days onsite.

Many retailers and car motoring bodies have a wealth of insider knowledge about which combos work and which ones don’t. Visit your local baby shop and they can point you to slim-fit car seats and capsules.

And don’t worry if shopping online is your only option. You can usually find all the dimensions of each car seat in the product description.

7. Ask the Mum’s Grapevine community

We recently asked over 100,000 mums if they could fit three car seats in their car and the results are in! Click the date stamp below to visit the Facebook page, read tips and advice from other mums about what works for them, and share your own experience.

If you’re not already a member of one of our great community groups – jump on here and find one that’s right for you! Once you’ve joined, you can ask other mum’s what has worked for them. That’s the best thing about mum’s groups: there’s always someone in the same situation who can give you a helping hand.

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