fitting three car seats in a Honda Civic: an exercise in decision-making under uncertainty

I recently blogged about how much gas money I saved from buying a Honda Civic rather than an SUV. I received a lot of nice feedback on that post (thank you readers!). The most common response I received was, “How did you fit three car seats in a Civic?!? I’m going to answer that question today.

The short answer: it wasn’t easy.

Both my husband and I drive Honda Civics. We could easily fit two car seats in our Civics. The problem was when we were expecting child #3, we didn’t think it could happen. Here are the challenges:

(1) We clearly could not add our baby car seat to the existing two car seats (actually, one convertible car seat and a booster). We could visually see that this wouldn’t work. Clearly, we would have to invest in new car seats. Thus, we had to find the right mix of three car seats.

(2) It’s not a stationary problem. When the baby arrived, we would have one baby seat, one forward facing seat, and one booster. After a few months, we would need one rear-facing seat, one rear-facing seat, and one booster.

(3) Some seats have dual functionality. For example, convertible seats can work as front- or rear-facing. The seat would need to fit in both modes. And that depends on the other two seats. The combinatorics made my head spin.

(4) Most of the information is bogus. The width of the back seat on car web sites is a rough estimate. The contours on the seats can affect the fit. Car seat widths reported on baby sites are often the size of the box that the car seat comes in (see this seat on Babies R Us that lists dimensions of 28.0 x 22.2 x 20.7).

(5) Just because you can fit three across doesn’t mean you can expect to use seat belts. Amazingly, “family friendly” cars such as the Toyota RAV4 have weird seat belt configurations that don’t really let you put three in the back seat at the same time.

(6) I wish I had a nickel for every time we heard someone say, “We couldn’t fit two car seats in our [insanely huge sedan] so we had to upgrade to a [insanely huge SUV].” (here here are people who “cannot fit” three in a giant Honda Pilot or GMC Envoy!) I have no idea why the common wisdom is so off here.

These are the two things we had going for us:

(1) Car seats are enormous. They are made for people who drive mini-vans. But with high gas prices, there is a growing market for slim-fit car seats that fit in small, fuel-efficient cars (yeah!!) While it might have been impossible to fit three across a few years ago, we had a fighting chance in 2011.

(2) This thread on fitting three car seats in small cars was literally the only reason why we even tried to keep both Civics. With all the misinformation out there, we didn’t think it was possible.

When we put all of this together, we learned that it was possible to get three across, but the information to do so was “expensive.” The slim-fit car seats were available by online purchase only — they were not available in box stores.  Therefore, we couldn’t pull up to the local Babies R Us and pop a few floor model car seats into our cars until we found something that worked. We were going to have to do the best research we could and take a chance. Still, buying a few car seats was cheaper than buying a new car. I have have even built a decision tree to guide the process.

We ended up putting two Radian65 car seats in my husband’s Civic and a Combi Coccoro in mine along with older seats and boosters.  We ended up spending ~$600 on new car seats, and we are happy with our decision.

We have since learned that a colleague of my husband fits three across in an even smaller Honda Fit. Every article I have seen suggests that only two car seats are possible. A little persistence goes a long way when it comes to fitting car seats in cars.

What surprised me is that this process was in stark contrast to just about every other decision we make. Online information was plentiful and accurate when we were researching a new washing machine. Decisions regarding kids are entirely another matter.

We usually have a wealth of information/data in operations research. But not always. For example, problems in homeland security and natural disasters are hard to come by, and the data is often perishable. The car seat saga was a reminder on how good we have it (in terms of data) most of the time.


51 responses to “fitting three car seats in a Honda Civic: an exercise in decision-making under uncertainty

  • Larry S

    Once you get all 3 seats in the car, will you be able to get all 3 kids in the seats? (esp. the middle one)

  • Laura McLay

    Larry, Getting my 1YO in the middle seat is bad for my back, but I’m flexible enough to make it work. The real challenge is using the seat belts with the boosters. I purchased seat belt extenders, and my 4YO and 7YO can belt themselves in. Life is good!

  • Rebecca

    We just bought a Radian for our Honda Civic also! We only have one child, but it now allows two adults to sit in the back on either side of the car seat.

  • floriluz

    This is so on point!! We have three car seats in our Corolla. Everyone asks how we got them in there, but having three kids you know you are on a budget and you make things work! The kids are perfectly comfortable and so are we.

  • Jburke

    We are struggling with the same thing. Question: We bought a “narrow” car seat (Diono) that was specifically marketed to create more room in the back seat. But our daughter still faces backwards and this means that the passenger seat is pulled all the way forward and basically unusable. Am I missing something? I really don’t want to have to buy a van if this can be worked out.

    Thanks!

  • Laura McLay

    @Jburke: that is certainly one of the challenges. Our rear-facing Cocorro works well in the middle, but it is admittedly small compared to the Radian 65. The Radian65 is in the middle of my husband’s Civic and it allows him to move his seat back comfortably. So I’m not sure if moving the car seat to the middle would help (the longest part of the car fits in between the front two seats in our civic).

    My husband and I are both really tall, but have accepted the fact that the passenger may have less leg room than he or she wants. It is better now with three car seats than with our older rear-facing car seat.

  • mchan

    I would love to know what car seats and the configuration (rear vs forward) your husband’s colleague has in his Honda Fit! I have the same car and will need to fit in 3 seats. We need definitely need one facing rear for the new little one, but the other two can go either way (both still under the max weight/height limit for rear facing on some car seats).

  • Laura McLay

    @Mchan: I have not been able to find out what fits across in the Honda Fit. The Radian65 is supposed to be the narrowest car seat on the market and seemed to be in virtually all of the 3-across solutions. The $14 Harmony booster is also quite narrow (purchased at Walmart and easy to return if they don’t work). We had to purchase seat belt extenders so that my kids can work the seat belts.

  • Katrina

    Great info, thanks so much! I am dreading trying to find a convertable for my son, my hubbs is pretty tall and trying to find seats that fit 3 across for the backseat in our Ford F150 has been difficult at best. But as I am searching the Radian65, there are none available anywhere! The closest I can find is the Radian RXT (i think..) and it costs almost $300! yikes. Good investment, I know, but I need something I can actually afford as basically a SAHM with 3 kids… Any idea what is out there that is comperable and affordable?

  • Tonya

    Thanks for the info! I’d love it if you could find out about the Honda Fit. We have a little one coming in October, a five year old in a booster and a two and a half year old forward facing. We have a Cocorro to try out for the new baby, but I think we might have to replace our 2.5 year old’s forward facing seat with something narrower. (Maybe a Radian – though it looks like the 65 is discontinued.) Thanks again!

  • Jessica

    I am so thankful for this information. My husband and I just purchased a Jetta TDI wagon. We LOVE the car and how much we save on gas money. We want to have a third child but are both sad at the though of having to get back into an SUV. I will check out the Radian and see what we can go to make three fit in a sedan. Maybe we will have to upgrade to the bigger Passat TDI. (anything to stay away from and SUV or worse, a minivan!)

  • Regina

    Thank you so much for this thread!!!! I need to seat 3 across in a saturn vue come december (newborn, 3 and 5). I was wondering if you could share the width of the Radian you were using. There are so many different car seats I’m afraid I’m going to mess up!

  • Regina

    Radian 65 IS discontinued!!!!! AGH

  • Regina

    The company Sunshine is now Diono. I contacted them to inquire about the current models available and the representative shared all of the radians have the same measurements. She said three across will work with almost all cars unless it is a compact sports car. The measurement she gave me was 41-42 inches across the back seat with back being 50in from front to make it work. All of their seats convert to boosters when needed so something to remember when considering price. Thanks so much for the thread and all the tips!

  • virginia

    I loves this thread! It is very helpful. I have a 4 1/2 year old who is short and skinny, so he’s still in the big front facing car seat. Now we have twins on the way, and will have to fit 2 rear-facing and 1 front-facing car seat in a Mazda3, 4 door. I still have 4 more months to find the right ones, but just the thought of doing all the research Is giving me a headache. Anyone else on here who has the same (2 rear & 1 front facing ) problem? I could really use some help. Thanks!

  • Laura McLay

    I think that three Radians (Dionos now) will work with the front facing seat in the middle. Your twins may be very small when they are born, so perhaps using Combi Cocorros for them would be better.

  • Carla

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I would much rather spend the money on new car seats than have to finance a new, larger, vehicle which will just cost us more in gas money. We are expecting #3 in December and have boosters, converter car seats and a bucket infant carrier all by Graco…not slim, not slim at all:(

  • Tonya

    Update! We got 3 across in a Honda Fit – an Evenflo Titan for a 2.5 year old, Combi Coccoro for the new baby, and a Harmony booster seat for a 5 year old. Whew!

  • Susan

    I have an acquaintance we met recently at preschool who has her twin 2 year olds in two carseats in the back of her car (Suburu Outback maybe?) and her 4.5 year old sits in the front seat. Are there any state laws that prohibit this? Seems unsafe to me.

  • Laura McLay

    Susan, the front seat is OK as long as the passenger side airbag is disabled. I cannot do so in my old Civic, so the three kids sit in the back. Newer cars should allow for that.

  • michaellautman

    Thanks for the info! Can you let me know where you bought the seat belt extenders? I’m trying to get a booster in the back of my civic for my 6.5 yr old, and I need an extender, but I don’t know where to get it.

  • Laura McLay

    I bought mine on ebay for ~$17 each (with shipping). If you search for “seat belt extender,” you should find a bunch. Mine are 8″ long, and I would not go any shorter. There are basically two sizes: 1″ or 7/8″. Some sellers have detailed pictures for how to measure your seat belts. It is important to measure seat belts in the back seat, because some cars have different sized seat belts in the front seat.

  • MS

    2003 Montero Sport…you would think that would have had ample width hip room but it didnt it (it has about 51′ once the doors were closed). at the time of the 3rd child- we had a Britax egg car seat, Graco infant seat, and a Graco convertible car seat. with a little playing with which seat went where in the backseat- it worked really well. Down the line (due to a wreck-not my fault :-)) we got 2 heavy Sunshine Radians80’s and a Recaro Vivo Lite- perfect in my Montero Sport. We also got to experience moving them to other family members cars and rental cars such as Prius, Mazda3, Infiniti35 (was a little harder bc of the contoured leather back seats), Camery and Sonata.
    For a couple years we had 1 sunshine radian80, Maxi Cosi Rodi and the Recaro Vivo Lite, fit well in a lot of cars.
    Since the Montero had too many issues at over 221k miles we now have an Outlander Sport- the Sunshine Radian80, Maxi Cosi Rodi and the Recaro Vivo Lite worked well but now we have 1 Graco backless booster, 1 Maxi Cosi Rodi and 1 Recaro Vivio Lite, they all fit well-kids are used to moving the seats a bit to buckle and I have to just double check there work :-)

  • Lori

    Thanks for the info I’m gonna be the Grandma of twins and an older boy that I will need to transport ocassionally. I’ve been trying to figure out what car seats would fit in what cars as I am car shopping. You have expanded the range for me.

  • Sharee'

    I have a 3 year old son and twins on the way. I have a Toyota Corolla and a 2003 Ford Explorer. Do you think two Diono’s will fit with a Britax Marathon? If not, pllease let me know what 3 combinations I should get. Thank you!

  • Laura McLay

    Sharee, that might be a tight fit. You have to get the two Dionos anyway, so I would go ahead and purchase those and see if they fit. They might in the rear facing position. You can get a slimmer car seat for your third if that doesn’t work. If your oldest can fit in a booster before your arrivals, that might help things.

  • Erica

    Is the Combi Coccoro good for front facing? I’m thinking of using it as part of a three seat combo but my daughter is already 18 months, though small, she would be in it for a while. thanks.

  • Laura McLay

    @Erica: The Combi Coccoro is good for front-facing as well as rear-facing. It fits nicely in the middle seat. The seat belt is a bit harder to latch than most, so it will be a big help if your back is quite limber.

  • nessasindanarie

    We fit three car seats in our ot cruiser! Two sunshine kids radian xtsl and the last spot can either fit most any infant bucket seat or another radian or right now we fit a cosco scenera. All seats are rf and I fit one 3yrold and two 1.5 yr olds rf without trouble! Only issue is the seats have to be pushed all the way up, so if my husband drives we can’t do the third rf convertible behind him, but we can do the infant seat behind him. I sit in the passenger seat just fine with It pushed up. It is possible! I hate hearing moms claim they couldn’t rf past a year because they had too small a car. We have a small one and it does work!

  • nessasindanarie

    Diono seats are the best for compact cars. Also the cosco sceneras are decent, but they’re not good for too long and have very small weight height limits. The best seat available, hands down, is the diono rxt.

  • mindyl

    I am SO confused–someone please help! I need to fit three kids in boosters across back seat. I saw combo’s of boosters and car seats–but does anyone know what three backless boosters would fit??

  • Laura McLay

    @mindyl, if backless boosters only fit three across by wedging them together, the back of the boosters may not sit flush against the seat. This could be very uncomfortable or even unsafe. You will want to check. I would guess that three backless Harmony car seats *would* fit in my old civic. Again, you would need seat belt extenders to be able to use the seat belts.

  • Pookie

    We r thrilled to have found this site :) We r expecting #3 in June 2013 and we have a Honda fit. My husband and me r working on building a house and living debt free! So far it’s working until the car seat issue came up and we just didn’t see how we could could keep our paid off fit and not have to sacrifice our good gas mileage :( Then we started doing research and found this site!!!! YES! Our only question is u talk about a booster but what about the combo of 2 radian r100 w 1 combi coccoro? Those should fit, right? Since radian 65 is discontinued :(

  • mindyl

    I was excited to see this site as well,I was starting to think it was hopeless. My kids are 6, 7, and 8 years old so backless boosters are the way to go to my knowledge. I am going to buy three harmony’s today and see if that works. I have heard of the bubble bums, but they make me nervous.

  • Le Ann

    Right now I have one f-facing graco nautilus fora 4 yr old and 2 graco snugride 30’s for 9 month old twins r-facing. The twins are quickly outgrowing the snugrides and we are looking for convertibles for them. We have a 2010 Dodge Journey and so far the Diono R100, RXT seem to be the only choices we have. Are there any newer slim models out there that we can consider?

  • Jeanette Fotis

    My baby (about 25 lbs and not such a baby! she is almost 2) is rear facing in a snug ride (ges up to 35 pounds!) and her brothers are in convertible car seats

    In my Ford Fusion (aka magic Weasley mobile) since 2011):
    Eddie bauer Deluxe convertible (2)

    http://www.albeebaby.com/eddie-bauer-deluxe-convertible-afl.html?utm_source=Shopzilla&utm_medium=cse&utm_content=22741AFL&utm_campaign=Shopzilla&gdftrk=gdfV21377_a_7c623_a_7c8044_a_7c22741AFL

    It goes rear or forward and then to a belt positioner
    Birkshire Gracogmail snug ride in the base

    There are more options now since then and I look for 17.5 or smaller in width dimension but some are 18. I’d like to keep them in harness as long as possible and affordable but carseats are cheaper than a new car!

    But…this one looks interesting:

    http://www.albeebaby.com/clek-foonf-convertible-car-seat-dragonfly.html

    Improved Rear-Facing Installation in Smaller Vehicles
    Unique design improves rear-facing installation in smaller vehicles by taking up less fore-aft space

    Here’s a highback booster w 5 point and belt positioner:

    http://www.walmart.com/ip/Cosco-High-Back-Booster-Car-Seat-Canteen/16932755?findingMethod=rr

  • Wayland Williams

    Laura McLay what size extender did you get. I know you said 8″ but is it the 1″ or the 7/8″?? Buying a 2013 civic tomorrow!

  • Laura McLay

    7/8″ extenders fit in my 2000 and 2007 Civics. Not sure if they work in the new one.

  • Wayland Williams

    ok thank you!

  • Jeanne

    Does anyone have experience with 2 boosters and 1 rear-facing carseat in a Ford Edge due to the small space in the center of the seat?

  • Jenn

    Thanks! You just save me tons of research time in finding the perfect car seat for my toddler! We’re able to fit 3 kids (ages 8, 3 and 5 months) in our little Scion xD and save on gas money.

  • Emma

    Hello! Good post! I don’t know if I am just totally unable to read. But I do not see any information on how you actually did it, what car seat models you bought and from where?
    I’m having this issue in a few months and was really happy to find your post but then there was no answer. Only that you did it. Just a mystery how.

  • .megan.

    any advice on two infant seats and a radian? we have a civic, a 4 year old, and are expecting twins in the spring. tell me there is hope.

  • Michelle

    Just putting it out there in case someone stumbles upon this – My husband and I fit 3 Diono car seats in our 2007 Honda Fit, 2 rear-facing and one forward facing, for our 5 years, 2 years and 8 month old kids. The 2 year old is behind the passenger and 8 month old in the middle. We used a Diono angle adjuster to prop up the 2 year old’s seat to a angle of roughly 30 degrees, creating more room behind the passenger. We’ll do the same soon for the 8 month old as well.

  • Laura

    Hi, I just found this thread and am hoping someone can help me. My husband and I have a 3 yr old and a 2 yr old and I just found out I’m having baby #3. I currently have a Lexus IS 300 (bought before our girls came along and is paid off) and I wondering if tree is any combos that will allow me to fit 3 car seats in the back seat. The problem is we can not afford the luxury of buying a bigger car. I have to make this work some how. I’m praying someone can help me as I’m so stressed about this situation. Any help would greatly appreciated.

    Thank you in advance!
    Laura

  • Jacob Nelson

    I’m glad you did not downgrade to an SUV. A van would be the next logical choice.

  • Fiona Cunningham

    Desperately researching 3 across for a Honda Civic as my LO has outgrown her bucket. I can confirm that a Diono Radian does NOT fit rear facing in a Honda Civic. I have the RXT but all three models (120 and 100 also) are all the same height. I see someone mentioning the angle adjuster and maybe this is the answer. It would make sense as the Foonf fits and it is higher. I am in the same situation as the OP in that I hadn’t planned on this when I only had one child and may have to replace her seat with a narrower model also.

  • Giancarlo

    Thanks for this post…we r in the same boat…about to finish payments on our 2009 honda civic and have baby#3 at the same time…definition want to avoid van/SUV…
    I also found this great site that lists car seats with dimensions….I’ll be trying some out and will let u know:
    https://sites.google.com/site/carseatmeasurements/ (at the bottom of the site)

  • Emma

    Facing this problem soon, too. We have a Radian, which we have been able to RF in our tiny 2008 Honda Fit (passenger just doesn’t get much leg room). I’ve turned to the Evenflo seats because I ADORE their ratcheting LATCH system, easiest install I’ve ever had, but mine are too wide for 3-across. Thinking of trying 2 Radians (one RF and one FF) next to one another and trying to fit in a pumpkin seat beside them. Any tips on infant seats with narrow bases? Or do I have to give up and get another Radian or Cocorro (which we had as our go-to air travel seat until a vomiting accident left it unusable)?

  • Jamie

    Just a warning to all civic owners. A few different years of civics (including my 2007) have issues regarding the middle seat belt. The seat belt stalk has been bolted on backwards. Therefore you cannot install a child seat in the middle position. You also cannot install a child seat in the middle using latch because you would have to borrow from the side. Quick fix, bring it to your local honda dealer and have them fix it (they shouldn’t charge you but have been known to try) I’m a car seat technician and didn’t realize this until I went to use my middle seat belt to install my new diono.. Prior to that I had my seats installed on the outboard positions. And yes 3 Dionos will fit in the back seat of a civic, but they all have to be seatbelt installs.

  • Bertha

    Hi Jamie, which Diono model? We have a 2003 civic and three kiddos.

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