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What are three across car seats?
Having a third child doesn't mean you have to buy a new car. But once you have three children or more, trying to fit them all safely into a car or SUV starts to make a new minivan look pretty appealing.
But you're not out of options, parents of multi-kid families. There are car seats actually slim enough to fit three-across in many vehicles.
Will they fit into yours? It depends! But trying out one or some of the following slimmer infant, convertible, or booster seats makes three-across a lot more likely.
By the way, when we say "three across," we don't necessarily mean that three of the same car-seat model will fit. But since you probably have kids of all different ages, you may be looking for an infant seat, a convertible car seat, and a booster that all work together, for example. Trying out different combinations will turn up what works best for your vehicle and family. Some seats can "puzzle" together – for example, an infant seat that's narrow at the base but wider above can snuggle next to a booster seat without armrests.
This is an advanced maneuver, however, and if you try it, have your installation checked by a licensed Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) to make sure each seat is securely installed and not pressing against the other seats in the row. CPSTs will know what seat snuggles effectively next to another and will be willing to try out different configurations with you to help you make it work. Maybe the infant seat is better installed in the middle with the seat belt, with the convertible rear-facing on one side and the booster on the other. Maybe the best option is two convertible seats with a booster in the middle. A CPST will help you figure it out and teach you how to install them all – typically for $50 to $150, depending on how complicated the install is. Here's a look-up tool to find a CPST near you. There may also be CPSTs who do free evaluations in your area; ask around to find out who and where.
You can do this on your own, of course, with thorough reading of manuals and safety guides. But note, complicating matters is the fact that different cars have different-size back seats. Maybe you have a compact car with a back seat that's just 48 inches wide. Or a mid-sized sedan, with back seats that run say, 52 to 56 inches wide, or a huge SUV with a back seat that's 63.5 inches wide. You could theoretically get car seats three-across in any of these vehicles, provided the car seats are narrow enough and installed in the optimal place and position in the car.
So, how will you know for sure if multiple seats fit in your car (not to mention the best fit for just one)? Some baby stores have sample car seats they'll let you try in your own back seat to make sure everything fits properly. But it's more likely that you'll have to buy before you try, so purchase your car seat from a retailer that makes returns as easy and hassle-free as possible – especially if you're ordering online.