Let’s be honest, all day at a dealership trying car seats in all the vehicles would be a dream come true. Ain’t nobody got time and well, the dealership wants to sell those cars without us in them. So, we are just going to make do with a 2007 Chrysler Town and Country and a 2012 Dodge Journey. My CSFTL colleague, Jess, and I both have three kids, in seats, in one row. This is our reality and we know it’s many other’s reality as well for many reasons. At our disposal we had two rear facing only seats, six convertible seats, four combination seats, five high back boosters, three no back boosters, and a Ride Safer Travel Vest. Obviously there are going to be other seats that work, but again, we’re making do with what we have.
A few things about three across. No one three across is going to work for all families in all vehicles. Children come in all different sizes, as do vehicles. My goal is to give you a starting point though and hopefully from there you can find three seats that work well for your family. Here are some three across tips.
1. Be sure you are putting forward facing harnessed seats in positions where there are tether anchors. While not required in the US, tethers provide a significant safety benefit for a forward facing child and seats should always be arranged so that all forward facing harnessed children are in a spot with a vehicle tether anchor.
2. Three across is often easier with three harnessed seats. While small hands can buckle easier than bigger, adult hands; not having to reach between seats to buckle a booster is easiest of all. Do you want to buckle this?
3. Using seat belts in all three seating positions often gives more room over using lower anchors to install, especially if using lower anchors for the outboard seats. If your vehicle allows for center lower anchor use, this may work as well with seat belt installs outboard.
4. Don’t look at just the width of the seat, sometimes the height matters as well. In some instances, car seats can sit next to each other in configurations we wouldn’t have expected. While seats of varying heights sitting next to each other can sometimes offer additional options for three across situations, some manufacturers don’t allow the edge of one car seat to sit over the edge of another car seat.
5. Three across is sometimes easier if you alternate seats. So do rear facing, forward facing, rear facing, or you can try forward facing, rear facing, forward facing. This can often give more room to your older booster users as well-being next to a rear facing seat. Keep in mind ease of use and loading though. While a rear facing seat may work best in the middle and give more room, if it’s impossible to get the child buckled in to the seat, it doesn’t matter if the seats fit. In the set up below, I was loading the child in and out through the rear hatch of the van. This can be an option too, depending on the vehicle.
6. Other things to be aware of; overhang on the sides of the seat, room front to back, as well as making sure each seat is independently tight. This means that if one seat is removed from the puzzle, the other seats are still tight enough to be used. You cannot rely on the surrounding seats to keep the other seats appropriately tight. This means harnessed seats need to move less than one inch back to front and side to side at the belt path when installed.
Here’s what we came up with.
Worked Some of the Time
Wasn’t the Easiest to Use
Didn’t Really Work
In the past year we have had the chance to gain experience with other newer seats that would work well in some three across situation.
2012 Dodge Journey
This vehicle gave us lots of options in the second row. There are three tether anchors and it’s approximately 53.5″ across; so three across wasn’t much of a problem at all if we used seat belts to install all the seats. One thing we found was the Evenflo Sureride did not work forward facing or rear facing in the middle because of the wells where the seat belt buckles are. I have been told this doesn’t happen with earlIer models of this vehicle so try with this in mind. The design of the vehicle seat belt buckle housing made it impossible to get a secure install. The Radian and Foonf worked in all positions and made other wider seats possible. We were surprised that the RECARO Performance Sport worked as a harnessed seat but it would not work in booster mode due to lack of room to buckle the seat belt. You can see looking at the pictures above, the Clek Foonf, Diono Radian, and the Graco My Size tend to fit very well with other seats.
2007 Chrysler Town and Country
This vehicle isn’t nearly as versatile as the Journey, but it’s very popular and people need ideas for combating its quirks. First, it only has one tether anchor and has approximately 51″ hip room. This means any forward facing harnessed seat will need to go in the middle where the tether anchor is located. This being a 2007 means the middle seat belt is a lap only belt. Lap belts are good for installing harnessed seats, you can not use it for much of anything else. The 2008 and newer models will have all shoulder belts across the back meaning you can have a booster in the middle if needed, but then you can’t have any forward facing harnessed seats with it. My kids aren’t particularly fond of any of these set ups, but with five kids, all in seats, they know they have to deal with it. Currently we have a Safety 1st Store ‘n Go, Harmony Defender, and Harmony Folding Booster as our set up. It takes a bit for the boosters to get buckled so it’s not the ideal set up when making a quick get away during a zombie attack, but for everyday use, it’s good. UPDATE: Since I originally wrote this we have moved to Harmony Folding Booster, Evenflo Sureride, and Evenflo Big Kid DLX. The Sureride makes all the difference in the world and makes buckling the boosters so much easier. It has a narrower base and sits up higher so the kids are more easily able to buckle their boosters compared to the Defender in the middle.
The ones that worked well in the Journey, also tended to work well here as well. I don’t have pictures but the Clek Foonf works well in the middle as does the Evenflo Sureride forward facing. Rear facing it works, but it leans into the split in the bench and drives me a little crazy to see it lean so I choose not to use it back there. There is nothing unsafe about the lean and if you’re not as particular as I am, it could be a great choice. Read Liz’s blog post about her third row. My third row is the same way. With the weird seat belt geometry (the seat belt is several inches forward of where a person’s shoulder would naturally be when seated on the bench), a backless booster isn’t a great choice back there either. Also, a backless booster on the 60 portion of the bench will not have adequate head support in a three across. High back boosters don’t even work well sometimes. It’s doable though with the right seat. You can see here how the shoulder belt doesn’t contact the shoulder in the third row and then with a backless booster only half of her head is supported by the head restraint as well as positions the shoulder belt too far towards the edge of her shoulder.
I already covered why you can only use a forward facing harnessed seat in the middle position. Let’s talk about why there’s not really any rear facing seats outboard. This happens and it’s not good.
This is a rear facing Clek Foonf, Britax Marathon, and Diono Radian. This is overhang on the outboard third row bench. Clek has verified that if the ARB is in full contact with the back seat, slight overhang like this is not a concern. In this picture the ARB was not in full contact. Britax has also said this is not an acceptable install and the base of the seat needs to be in full contact with the vehicle. The rear facing feet on the Radian need to be fully on the seat as well. However, if you can achieve three across with a convertible outboard while meeting these requirements, you’re golden. We used the Combi Coccoro outboard for several months without issue. We did not have any problems with the Chicco Keyfit and the Graco Click Connect 40 because the cut out base by baby’s feet means the entire base is in contact with the vehicle seat. Keep in mind loading and unloading again. The only way to remove the infant seat from the vehicle would be if the child in front of it is in a booster, old enough to go without a booster, or the seat is not in use. Having a harnessed seat there would not allow for the infant seat to be removed from the vehicle.
Overall, there are quite a few things that come into play when trying to get three car seats in one row. Hopefully this gave you a good place to start. I was not compensated in any way for this post and as always, all thoughts are my own.