Updated for 2015: Now my kids are 9, 7, and almost 5, but we dealt with one row for the kids for almost 2 years. I now have a Toyota Minvan, but if I can survive 3 kids with car seats in one row, you can do it.
For the last 18 months (since the baby was born) we’ve crammed 3 kids in car seats in the back of our ancient (but beloved) Toyota Camry. We are going to make the move to minivan in the next several months, because the Camry is almost 17 years old and I know we’re going to have to get a new vehicle. But the big question has been — do we go for the minivan or cram 3 kids in the backseat again? We decided to go for the minivan, because we want to head off 3 fighting kids next to each other. But you can fit 3 car seats next to each other — if you get narrower car seats!
I should add that we have to install everything with a lap belt — the car is a 1995, which is pre-latch and pre-tether. And we always have one rear facing (the baby at 18 months is rear facing and I have no plans to turn him around until he’s two).
My oldest, who was a month away from 5 when my youngest was born and still in a 5 point harness used Graco Nautilus Elite 3-in-1 Car Seat, Tangerine ($179) for a long time and recently went into a high back booster, Britax Parkway SGL ($93) – one he hit 40 pounds (click here to read my review of the Britax Parkway SG (the version before the SGL). We gave the Graco Car Seat to friends –we could have still used it as a seat belt booster (but it was really tight already with the infant seat next to it, once we changed the into a convertible seat, it didn’t fit anymore).
My middle child (who was 2 years and 8 months old when the baby came) was switched into the Radian 65 by Diono (the company was called Sunshine Kids previously). Since the Radian 65 is being phased out, try the Diono Radian RXT Convertible Car Seat ($287) as a similar choice. The good thing about the Diono car seats is that you can fit three in a row in most vehicles. They may be tricky to install, so if you are nervous about it, check and see if your local police or fire station can be a help.
For my baby (now 18 months old) we used the Maxi Cosi Mico Car Seat ($119) when he was an infant, and then switched to the Maxi Cosi Pria 70. It’s 19.5 inches wide, which may make it tight for fitting 3 car seats in a backseat, but if you have car seats that are 17 inches wide, you may be able to fit it. We could only make it fit once we switched my oldest to his Britax Booster seat. We’re using it rear facing for now. While it’s not that wide, the seat is thick and has good side impact protection.
Looking for other narrow options? Check out the Combi Coccoro ($199). The Coccoro only goes up to 40 lbs (can only be used up to 33 lbs rear facing). It’s designed fit in tight spaces — you can fit three of them next to each other in a backseat.
All these car seats are between 17 inch to 19.5 inches, with the exception of the BubbleBum Portable Inflatable Booster Seat ($39.99), which is 13 X 13 X 4.5 . Click here to read my recent review of the BubbleBum on Baby Center.
Graco Nautilus Elite 3-in-1 Car Seat $159 Dimensions – 29″ L x 20″ W x 36.1 ” H
Britax Parkway SG $93 Dimensions – 15″L x 17″ W x 35 ” H
Diono RadianRXT $ 288) Dimensions – 16″ L x 17″ W x 28.5″ H
Maxi Cosi Mico Infant Car Seat – $119 Dimensions – 30″ L x 15″ W x 17 ” H
Maxi Cosi Pria 70 – Dimensions – 19.5″ w, 25.5” tall (and the headrest extends to 30” tall).
Combi Coccoro $189 Dimensions – 17 ” L x 14.65 ” W x 28.25″ H
BubbleBum Inflatable Backless Booster Seat $39.99 Dimensions -13″ L X 13″ W X 4.5 ” H