I love my three kids! As a parent of three, however, I'm faced with new dilemmas like the question of how to transport them comfortably and safely. I could drop up to $40,000 on a new minivan, $5,000 for a used one, but frankly I'd like to save my money and the MPGs by making due with my 2007 Prius. After all, having kids is expensive already, and most family sedans say they hold up to five passengers, right?
Well, if you're like me, you came across a lot of confusing information elsewhere on the internet. There aren't a lot of definitive answers, and those who managed to fit three car seats in the back of their car make their solutions sound a bit sketchy (e.g. awkwardly "puzzle fitting" different car seat combinations or eschewing the latch anchors altogether in favor of seat belts because the fit is too tight).
Well, my fellow fertile parent, I have some good news! It's actually quite easy to fit three car seats in the back seat of your car, and I have a how-to guide!
The first thing you need to know is you may have to buy some new car seats. That may come as a bummer for some, but at least it beats dropping $1000s on a different vehicle, right?
Anyway, the key to making things work is getting a couple Sunshine Kids Radian Car Seats. There are three models to choose from, all of which are specifically designed to fit three across in most vehicles' back seats. The Radian65 holds kids up to 65 lbs., the Radian80 holds kids up to 80 lbs. while being just as narrow as the 65, and the Radian XT, which is basically a Radian 80 with memory foam cushioning and head support.
All will work for a three-car seat setup, and conveniently lack bulky armrests, but I personally recommend the Radian XT both because you can use it longer than the Radian65 (up to 80 lbs. vs. 65) and it gives your kids a headrest that provides better side-impact protection and head support for when they fall asleep.
Next, while Sunshine Kids, the Radian's manufacturer, claims that you can use the Radian car seats as rear-facing car seats for babies, I recommend using a car seat specifically designed as a rear-facing car seat. The Radians are especially awkward as rear-facers as they keep their shape, but simply have a plastic shim that tilts them. Beyond looking a little sketchy, this configuration also takes up so much space that you may not be able to slide the front seats far enough forward to accommodate the size.
Naturally, you'll want the narrowest rear-facing car seat possible also, and for that I recommend the Chicco KeyFit travel system seat, which beyond having higher-quality latch mechanisms, release systems and sunshades than competing Graco travel system seats, is also about 2 inches narrower.
When put together, it looks a little something like this:
As you can see, the kids are comfortable, with plenty of space. What you can't see is that I'm using the latch system for the two outer seats no problem.
Note that I put the rear-facing Chicco in the middle and secured it with a seat belt since, like many cars, the Prius lacks LATCH anchors for the middle seat, and sharing anchors with the outer seats isn't recommended. A rear-facing Chicco in the middle lets both front seats slide all the way back, and the travel system seat, though slightly tight, releases and locks without much fuss (you just need to make extra sure you click both sides into place and double check it by wiggling it around).
Voila! What could have been a $40,000 investment in a low MPG mini van purchase turned into just a few hundred dollars worth of car seats that fit into my car!
Now if I could just get the big girls to stop reaching into the middle car seat and stealing the baby's binkie!