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Car Seats: Fitting 3 Across

fitting 3 across back seat

Fitting 3 across can be difficult in many cars and in some actually impossible to do it safely.

Sometimes it takes just the right combination of seats and putting that combination in the right positions like puzzle pieces.

When we upgraded from two to three children, our car made fitting 3 across extremely difficult. We had bucket seats in the back with a humped center position. The only solution that worked for us was to take both our booster kids out of boosters and put them into RideSafer travel vests on the outboard positions and put the infant carrier in the center.

fitting 3 car seats across

Some of the common problems fitting 3 across:

  • seats don’t fit side by side
  • seats seem to fit but get twisted
  • can’t get to the buckle to tighten seats
  • can’t get to the buckle to buckle a child in a booster seat

Some conditions to ensure when fitting three across:

  • each seat must be properly installed on its own (meaning being jammed between two other seats isn’t what is keeping it from moving)
  • the car seat’s position remains unchanged (other seats aren’t pushing a seat and the seat doesn’t move if you close the door)
  • if you are using LATCH, each seat uses its own LATCH set, there is no doubling up on Lower Anchors or tether anchors
  • Lower Anchors or seat belts do not rub or cross over where they may interfere with each other
  • contact with other seats does not deform or bend a seat

Narrow car seat options

fitting 3 across back seat

There are some generally more narrow seats on the market that make fitting 3 car seats across easier:

With the RideSafer, you can easily, comfortably and SAFELY fit up to three children in one row in your vehicle — even if one or two are in traditional car seats! BONUS: for a small investment in the RideSafer, you could save THOUSANDS by not needing to buy a new, bigger car.

What to do?

If you already have seats, is there a way to replace one to make them all fit? For instance if you have a high-back booster and a rear facing convertible and you need to fit a new baby infant seat, can you use the RideSafer instead of the high-back booster in between the other two seats?

If you are ready to buy all new seats, can you go to the store, checkout the narrowest seats of the types you need and start playing with them all to see if they fit. Try different seats. Try different positions.

Other hints:

  • It is usually easiest to start with installing the car seat in the center seating position first.
  • Alternate forward facing and rear facing to fit better. For instance, FF-RF-FF or RF-FF-RF. Keep in mind having a rear facing in the middle between two forward facing seats may make getting a child in that rear facing seat a challenge.
  • Be sure to put forward facing car seats in positions that have a tether anchor point.
  • Use seat belts for all the installs, sometimes using LATCH requires the seats to be further from the doors than a seat belt will allow.
  • Look at the width of the seat and the back and side panels and various heights.
  • If you take out one seat and the others are suddenly loose, then they were not installed correctly and it was the squeeze of fitting 3 across that made them seem tight.
  • If the any of the car seat’s plastic shells bend or the car seats shift position when you shut both car doors, then it’s not a good fit.
We want to know, did you figure out 3 across in your car? Share your solution for others below.

By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004

Copyright 2017 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.

© Diono


  1. The picture above has the older model safe rider with regular buckle that makes it easier to buckle for kids plus a true vest and not just straps which seems lots more comfortable. We are considering buying three of these vest to use with our 4, 6, & 8 year olds but would prefer the older version (after reading reviews). Is there soon going to be a newer vest soon that address the problems people have with this vest verses the older vest? Another problem I’ve read about is the expiration date on these vest are less than the older ones and I am wanting to eventually use them with my 1 year old twins once they are 4… I do not want to receive a vest that already is 3 years old like one reviewer wrote. How to I make to sure receive a new vest made in 2017 to use the full seven years.

    1. Hi Ashley,

      While it’s true, we have had several vocal people who dislike the new buckle it does seem like the majority of them are users if the old model and have that as a comparison. The reality is of the 5-10 complaints we get a month there are several hundred more who either like it or don’t say anything so must find it acceptable. Many parents have mentioned it took a bit of training and practice but their child is able to do the buckle on their own. Our 5 year old can almost do it and both Greg and I have figured out how to unbuckle it one handed.

      Really it’s just a simple trick and once you understand it, it doesn’t take any more time to use than a typical buckle. If you watch the video many find that more helpful than the written instructions.

      At this point in time there are no planned changes to the vest from the manufacturer.

      The RideSafer Delight has a 10-year expiration date (the generation 3, the most recent previous model, had either a 7 or 10 year expiration depending on date of manufacturer; the first two renditions of the vest did not have an expiration date). The current vests we are selling were manufactured in late 2016. We’ll have vests manufactured in 2017, I believe, later this summer.

  2. I have three car seats across in a Toyota corola (max 54″ across the back seat between the door handles):
    Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat that are 16″ wide (max 40lbs), walmart Canada 99$ x2
    SAFETY 1ST ENSPIRA 65 (or anything else 17″ wide)
    Works best forward-rear-forward or rear-forward-rear

    Now replaced one of the Evenflows with a Baby trends flex loc (16.5″) 230$, but still working on configuration

  3. Hi all, my problem is not that 3 won’t fit next to each other – they do! My problem is that the middle seat has only a lap strap seat belt to hold the car seat in place. The 2 outer ones have the full proper seat belt that goes over the shoulder so the 2 seats are very securely fastened into the car. How do I fit the middle one securely? I need someone to fit a strap – probably from the floor to the boot? Any ideas! It’s cheaper to buy a new car seat than a new car!!!

    1. All car seats except for booster seats are crash tested with a lap-only belt install. So you should be able to get a safe install using the lap-only belt. If you are having trouble getting a proper install, we recommend taking your car and car seat to visit a child passenger safety technician. If you are trying to fit in 3 booster seats, the RideSafer vest can be used in a lap-only position if there is also a tether anchor point in the car (there should be in cars 2001 and later).

  4. Great post. I also “upgraded” to 3 kids in 2018 and drive a Toyota Highlander. I have two FF kids both in Diono Radian R100 and the baby in her Britax infant seat. Things are tight back there but it works, which I was much happier about than having to buy a bigger car/ minivan! We are very excited to purchase our first SafeRide seat belt soon for our oldest, even though he’s only in the small size (a petite 6 year old!) and hopefully that’ll gain a lot of space AND allow him to ride in our other car (a small sedan) without a car seat, as we didn’t want to buy another car seat for that car. Thank you!

  5. I am desperate! I need to fit 3 across in a 2018 Honda CR V.
    Infant rear facing ( then front)
    Booster seat.

    I’m very discouraged by what I read. Any successes? Thoughts? Thank you so much.

    1. Hi Mary, There is a way to fit 3 across in a CRV, especially if your child in a booster could use a RideSafer instead. I encourage you to take your car and seats to a local CPS technician and have them help you puzzle it in together.

  6. We have 4 children ages 6, 5, 3, and 2. . . We are traveling in a Truck with 3 seats in the back and 3 in front. . . Suggestions for the safest arrangment of children??

    1. Hi Sarah, We would need more information to properly place your children. For instance, is there a head rest in the middle front seat? Does that position have a lap-shoulder belt or just a lap-only belt? Is there an airbag that covers that position? What seats are the children using? Etc. I encourage you to take your car and seats to a local CPS technician so they can see what you are working with and find the best arrangement.

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