Properly securing little ones in their car seats is always a priority when you have kids along for the ride. It’s not just about getting the kids buckled into the car or minivan. It’s a matter of ensuring the proper installation of car seats in your vehicle. Several decades ago, car seats used the same seat belts used for adults but threaded through the car seats in various ways, which could get complicated. Today, there’s the LATCH system, which makes the process far more straightforward.
What is LATCH?
The LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) restraint system makes properly securing car seats easier and eliminates the need for seat belts to keep them in place. Nearly every car seat and vehicle manufactured after September 1, 2002, must have a LATCH system.
The lower anchors are U-shaped metal bars tucked into the spot where the seat backs meet the seat cushions in your car. Usually, they’re easy to find, but in some vehicles, they’re barely visible unless you dig for them. The tether anchors are generally on the backs of your vehicle’s seats, but not always. Their exact location can vary and may require a little sleuthing behind the seats to spot. Consult the owner’s manual for help locating the anchors.
A car seat equipped with LATCH has two lower anchor connectors, one on each side of the car seat, that clip onto the anchors in your vehicle. Forward-facing car seats also have a tether strap and hook that connects to the tether anchor.
The Challenge of Securing Three Car Seats Across
Securing a single car seat of any style or even two car seats with the LATCH system isn’t usually a problem. Where things get tricky is when you have three car seats. There are a variety of car seats that your child will need as they grow, and each has a different shape. Trying to fit three across in a single row in any combination can be a challenge.
For large families or anyone planning outings with multiple families in one vehicle, the ability to quickly and easily secure three car seats in one row is crucial. No matter what type of car seats you have at a point in your child’s life, the family car needs room to secure those seats easily.
Our guide for picking a vehicle that comfortably fits three car seats across includes this advice and tips:
Typical Car Seat Combinations to Try
If you already own your car seats, take them with you when you go car shopping. Remember that the car seat combination you have today may change as your family grows. Imagine if larger seats will fit as well as smaller ones if your kids are still little. Consider these possibilities:
- Three forward-facing car seats
- Three booster seats
- One booster, one infant rear-facing, one halter front-facing
- Two rear-facing infant seats, one booster
- Three rear-facing convertible seats
Some vehicle types do better than others when fitting three car seats across. However, it can be done in almost any car, depending on the car seats. The best options are SUVs and minivans, with most models accommodating three car seats across a seat bench. Sedans and hatchbacks can also manage three car seats across, but the smaller the vehicle, the tighter the fit. Lastly, there are trucks. While many trucks are big and roomy, not all fit car seats well, so make sure the one you’re considering fits the car seats you own.
No matter what vehicle type interests you, take your car seats to dealerships on shopping trips. Confirm the fit in different vehicles and check the ease of installation.
SUVs and Crossovers
Three-Seat Across Car Shopping Checklist
The biggest consideration when looking for a vehicle that will comfortably fit three car seats across is the size of the second row. Even in a 3-row vehicle, the second row of seats is the easiest option for three car seats since adults can just lean in to buckle the kids. The wider the vehicle, the better the chances of fitting three car seats across, but there are other things to consider when you have a large crew of kids along for the ride.
Overall Cargo Room
Traveling with kids means traveling with gear. Strollers, bassinets, playpens, toys, swings, wagons, and even extra clothes and snacks all need room. Cargo needs are even greater when you head out for vacation because luggage gets added to the mix. Ensure the vehicle you pick has enough space for what you typically bring along. Consider something with a roof rack or trailer hitch if your cargo needs are greater.
Flat Surfaces in the Back Seat
Heavily cushioned seats with strong bolsters are something many adults prefer. However, they can present a challenge when securing car seats, especially if you’re going for three across. Look for a vehicle with flat seats in the second row, which will more easily accommodate a variety of car seats.
Accessible LATCH Anchors
Since September 2002, the United States federal mandate has required lower anchors in at least two positions and tether anchors in three positions. That’s the minimum, and the exact number and configuration of anchors in your vehicle can vary.
Confirm what’s available in the car you’re considering, and then physically inspect those anchors. Do the seat cushions make it hard to find the lower anchors? Is the tether anchor easy to access, or must you be a contortionist to attach the hook? Ensure you know the vehicle’s anchor configuration and that they are easily accessible.
Consider the Ride Height
A vehicle’s ride height is how high it is from the ground. Cars and minivans typically have a lower ride height, while SUVs and trucks have a higher ride height. For shorter adults, higher ride heights can make it tough to reach in and buckle the kids, especially in the middle seat. Be sure that the ride height provides the easy access you need to secure the children safely.
Vehicles with Unique Car-Seat Friendly Features
In addition to LATCH systems, some cars offer unique features that make them a good choice for families with kids in car seats.
90-Degree Rear Door Opening
The 2022 Honda CR-V is a small SUV with rear doors that open to nearly 90 degrees. This feature is found in many used Honda models, but the 2022 CR-V has the only wide-opening rear door in the current lineup. The Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride also have 90-degree rear door access with three rows of seating and plenty of room for cargo.
Built-in Booster Seats
Volvo is the only car company currently offering built-in booster seats. The XC90 has a single booster seat in the center of the second row. Volvo’s XC60 and V90 models provide a pair of booster seats on the outboard seating positions of the second row. Even the plug-in hybrid and hybrid versions of these vehicles can have an integrated booster seat. This video demonstrates this unique option. Volvo also sells a complete line of Volvo-branded car seats to augment your kids’ life stages.
Sliding or Reclining Rear Seats
Seats that slide forward and back, recline, or even do both have several advantages.
- Access to the Kids: A second row that slides forward brings it closer to adults up front, so it’s easier to hand something back to the kids.
- Increased Cargo Room or Passenger Room: A sliding second row lets you choose between more legroom and cargo space. Slide backward to give legroom for adults riding in the rear, or move it forward to provide more space for gear in the cargo area.
- Third-Row Access: A second row that slides forward provides more room for squeezing back into the third row.
- Easier Car Seat Installation: Reclining a seat slightly gives better access to the LATCH system when securing car seats.
- Kids Can Snooze: Reclining seats also make it easier for kids sitting on boosters to relax and take a nap.
The Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride are just two of the 3-row vehicles that include these features. Many luxury SUVs also have reclining rear seats, and almost every minivan features a reclining and sliding second row. As for 2-row vehicles, check out the Volkswagen Tiguan, Nissan Rogue, or Mazda CX-5.
Safety Warnings for Used and New Car Shoppers
Our article focuses on new cars, but used cars are a great option for saving money or getting a model with more features than you could afford if you bought one new. This is especially true when looking for larger vehicles to accommodate three car seats. However, there are a few things to be aware of regarding safety and used cars.
- Inflatable Seat Belts: Ford introduced inflatable seat belts in the 2011 Ford Explorer, while Mercedes-Benz adopted them in 2014. Automakers used them only in the second row to improve passenger safety. As good as the idea sounds, many car seat manufacturers did not approve inflatable seat belts for use with their car seats. Ford and Mercedes-Benz stopped using these seat belts after 2021. Still, if you’re buying a used model, this is something to check in the specific vehicle you’re considering.
- Safety Recalls: Despite the best efforts of automakers, recalls are commonplace and can impact any car regardless of the style or price. Use our recall checker to see what recalls have been issued for the year, make, and model of any vehicle before you make your purchase.
Experts and Resources for Car Seat Safety
There are no perfect solutions for doing 3-across seating. The most important thing is to become educated about finding the right car seat for your child’s height and weight. Use these resources for information to help you make that decision:
Laws and Certified Technician Checks
Every state has laws regarding car seat use, so read your state laws carefully. Failing to secure your child in a car seat properly is a safety risk that may result in a citation from the police. If you’re unsure that you’ve installed your child’s car seat correctly, certified technicians can help.
Second-row space is a priority when trying to fit three car seats across. Still, family life requires a safe and comfortable vehicle with the latest technology and plenty of cargo room. We selected the best family vehicles that work well for three car seats and day-to-day family life.
Our choices factor in data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which has detailed information on crash tests and the configuration and ease of using each vehicle’s LATCH system. We also indicated the most affordable trim level with room for three in the second row for each automobile on our list. These rankings are based on KBB Expert Ratings for each vehicle, but every model on this list is a good choice for fitting three car seats across.
1. 2022 Toyota Sienna
3-Across Car Seat Value: $35,285 (LE) | Expert Rating: 4.7
There’s seating for eight in the Toyota Sienna with front- or all-wheel drive and a standard hybrid engine that gets up to an EPA-estimated 36 mpg combined. It has a wide range of standard safety features included. Available Driver Easy Speak is a family-friendly feature that sends the driver’s voice through the rear speakers so everyone can hear. See Toyota Sienna models for sale near you
2. 2022 Honda Odyssey
3-Across Car Seat Value: $33,040 (EX) | Expert Rating: 4.6
The Honda Odyssey has a responsive gas engine with a roomy interior that seats up to eight. This minivan is front-wheel drive only. It has great features for the family, including 15 cup holders and a convex mirror that helps adults up front keep an eye on the kids in the back. See Honda Odyssey models for sale near you
3. 2022 Chrysler Pacifica
3-Across Car Seat Value: $37,095 (Touring) | Expert Rating: 4.5
The Chrysler Pacifica has seating for up to eight and is the only minivan that offers a choice of either a gas engine or a fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid. There’s also the option for front- or all-wheel drive. Its Stow ‘n Go seats fold into the floor when your priority is cargo rather than people. See Chrysler Pacifica models for sale near you
4. 2022 Kia Carnival
3-Across Car Seat Value: $32,300 (LX) | Expert Rating: 4.4
An all-new model that replaces the Sedona, the Kia Carnival is a spacious 8-seater with a beautifully appointed interior, especially in top trims. Standard safety is extensive with automatic emergency braking and rear cross-traffic alert. It has a comprehensive infotainment system with either an 8.0- or 12.3-inch touchscreen. See Kia Carnival models for sale near you
Best Midsize and Full-Size SUVs
1. 2022 Kia Telluride
3-Across Car Seat Value: $33,390 (LX) | Expert Rating: 4.8
The Kia Telluride is roomy and well-equipped with trims that range from modest to near-luxury levels. Standard safety includes automatic emergency braking and even partial self-driving functions. There’s also a standard 10.25-infotainment screen with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. See Kia Telluride models for sale near you
2. 2022 Subaru Outback
3-Across Car Seat Value: $27,145 (Outback) | Expert Rating: 4.6
While it started out as a wagon, the Subaru Outback is now, for all intents and purposes, a 2-row midsize SUV. Standard all-wheel drive makes it a great choice for those who live in wintry climates or who enjoy off-road adventures. It has 8.7 inches of ground clearance to make it even more versatile on rugged terrain, with 9.5 inches of clearance in the new Wilderness trim. It also has room to carry everything an active family needs, with 32.5 cubic feet for cargo. The IIHS gave the Outback its highest rating for the Subaru’s LATCH system: G+. See Acura Integra models for sale near you
3. 2022 Hyundai Palisade
3-Across Car Seat Value: $33,600 (SE) | Expert Rating: 4.6
This roomy 8-seater has a quality interior, lots of standard features, and plenty of room for everyone. The Hyundai Palisade has a one-touch sliding second row for easier third-row access with standard automatic emergency braking, Safe Exit Assist, and rear-cross traffic alert. See Hyundai Palisade models for sale near you
4. 2022 Acura MDX
3-Across Car Seat Value: $48,000 (MDX) | Expert Rating: 4.5
This upscale SUV has three rows with seating for up to seven people. The Acura MDX is available with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive and standard safety features, including automatic emergency braking and lane-keep assist. Also standard is wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a 9-speaker audio system. See Acura MDX models for sale near you
5. 2022 Toyota Highlander
3-Across Car Seat Value: $35,855 (L) | Expert Rating: 4.5
The Toyota Highlander has seating for up to eight people in a comfortable interior with good cargo room. Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ is standard. Features in this safety suite include full-speed adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. There’s also a standard 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. See Toyota Highlander models for sale near you
6. 2022 Honda Pilot
3-Across Car Seat Value: $38,080 (EX) | Expert Rating: 4.4
The Honda Pilot has seating for up to eight people in a roomy interior and has ample cargo room. It’s available with all-wheel drive that includes a terrain management system that’s helpful with light off-roading. See Honda Pilot models for sale near you
7. 2022 Chevrolet Traverse
3-Across Car Seat Value: $33,700 (LS) | Expert Rating: 4.2
The midsize Chevrolet Traverse has seating for up to eight people with a responsive 310-horsepower V6 engine. The roomy interior has tri-zone climate control to keep everyone comfortable and USB charging ports in all three rows to keep everyone’s devices charged. See Chevrolet Traverse models for sale near you
8. 2022 Nissan Pathfinder
3-Across Car Seat Value: $34,640 (S) | Expert Rating: 4.1
The Nissan Pathfinder comes in four trim levels, with all but the top Platinum offering seating for eight. It has a responsive V6 engine with a choice of either front- or 4-wheel drive, making it a good choice for those who plan on light off-roading. Hill descent control and a Terrain Mode Selector add to its off-road capability. See Nissan Pathfinder models for sale near you
9. 2022 Honda Passport
3-Across Car Seat Value: $38,370 (EX-L) | Expert Rating: 4.1
The Honda Passport is a midsize SUV with seating for five people. It’s available with front- or all-wheel drive, rugged styling, and good standard features. These include an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, power liftgate, and underfloor cargo storage for stowing smaller items. See Honda Passport models for sale near you
10. 2022 Ford Explorer
3-Across Car Seat Value: $35,510 (Explorer) | Expert Rating: 3.8
With seating for up to seven people, the Ford Explorer is a midsize SUV with multiple engine options, including a hybrid. The cabin is quiet and comfortable, and there’s good room for cargo with 18.2 cubic feet behind the third row. See Ford Explorer models for sale near you
Best Crossovers and Compact SUVs
1. 2022 Toyota RAV4
3-Across Car Seat Value: $26,975 (LE) | Expert Rating: 4.8
There’s seating for five people in the Toyota RAV4, and all-wheel drive is available. It has good standard features with a 7-inch infotainment touchscreen, automatic emergency braking, and automatic high beams. It’s available with a gas engine, but there’s also the RAV4 Hybrid and RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid. See Toyota RAV4 models for sale near you
2. 2022 Honda CR-V
3-Across Car Seat Value: $26,800 (LX) | Expert Rating: 4.7
A roomy interior and good cargo room make the Honda CR-V a great choice for families. Available with front- or all-wheel drive, this compact SUV includes the Honda Sensing suite of safety features with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and road departure mitigation. See Honda CR-V models for sale near you
3. 2022 Mazda CX-5
3-Across Car Seat Value: $26,250 (2.5 S) | Expert Rating: 4.5
The Mazda CX-5 is a sleek and elegantly styled crossover that has great driving dynamics. It has standard all-wheel drive with a choice of two responsive engines. Additional standard features include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. See Mazda CX-5 models for sale near you
4. 2022 Nissan Rogue
3-Across Car Seat Value: $27,150 (S) | Expert Rating: 4.4
A 5-person crossover with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, the Nissan Rogue gets great fuel economy for the class with up to an EPA-estimated 33 mpg combined. It has exceptionally comfortable Zero Gravity front seats and good cargo room with 36.5 cubic feet behind the second row. See Nissan Rogue models for sale near you
5. 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5
3-Across Car Seat Value: $39,950 (SE) | Expert Rating: 4.4
The Hyundai Ioniq 5 is an all-new, all-electric vehicle. This compact SUV is roomy and sleek with an attractive interior and good standard features. Its range of trims includes both rear- and all-wheel-drive options. There are also several batteries with driving ranges of up to 303 miles per charge. See Hyundai Ioniq 5 models for sale near you
6. 2022 Subaru Forester
3-Across Car Seat Value: $25,895 (Base) | Expert Rating: 4.3
The Subaru Forester is a compact crossover with standard all-wheel drive and up to 9.2 inches of ground clearance for traversing more rugged terrain. It has a spacious cabin and good standard features. There’s also lots of room for cargo, with 28.9 cubic feet behind the second row. See Subaru Forester models for sale near you
7. 2022 Volkswagen Tiguan
3-Across Car Seat Value: $26,490 (S) | Expert Rating: 4.0
The Volkswagen Tiguan crossover is one of the few available with two or three rows to expand seating from five to seven. All-wheel drive is optional, and a sliding second row, heated front seats, and a 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen all standard. See Volkswagen Tiguan models for sale near you
8. 2022 Volvo XC60
3-Across Car Seat Value: $42,650 (Momentum) | Expert Rating: 3.8
The Volvo XC60 is a compact SUV with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive and seating for up to five people. There’s a choice of two mild-hybrid engines or a plug-in hybrid for the best fuel efficiency. A 9-inch infotainment touchscreen, 10-speaker audio system, dual-zone automatic climate control, and blind-spot monitoring with steering assist are standard. See Volvo XC60 models for sale near you
9. 2022 Ford Escape
3-Across Car Seat Value: $27,185 (S) | Expert Rating: 3.7
The Ford Escape provides either front-wheel or all-wheel drive with a choice of two turbocharged engines. The ride is smooth and quiet even over rough road surfaces, and the seating is comfortable and supportive. It has 37.5 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats or 65.4 cubic feet if you fold those seats down when cargo is the priority. See Ford Escape models for sale near you
10. 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander
3-Across Car Seat Value: $26,495 (ES) | Expert Rating: 3.6
All-new for this model year, the Mitsubishi Outlander has seating for up to seven people with front- or all-wheel drive. Four drive modes are standard with the addition of a Mud mode on all-wheel-drive trims. Standard features include rear automatic emergency braking and forward-collision mitigation. See Mitsubishi Outlander models for sale near you
1. 2022 Ford F-150
3-Across Car Seat Value: $39,570 (XL SuperCrew) | Expert Rating: 4.7
The best-selling vehicle in the United States, the Ford F-150 comes in multiple trims and configurations. Base models are more modestly equipped, while top trims push into luxury car territory. There’s also the new Ford F-150 Lightning for those looking for an all-electric truck. See Ford F-150 models for sale near you
2. 2022 Ram 1500
3-Across Car Seat Value: $50,040 (Laramie Crew Cab) | Expert Rating: 4.5
The Ram 1500 boasts one of the most attractive truck interiors available, even in its base trims. It also has an exceptionally smooth, quiet ride that makes it easy to sit back and enjoy the trip with minimal harshness over even the roughest road surfaces. See Ram 1500 models for sale near you
3. 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
3-Across Car Seat Value: $24,440 (SE) | Expert Rating: 4.2
The Hyundai Santa Cruz is an all-new compact pickup truck with a comfortable interior and a smooth ride uncommon in the segment. All-wheel drive is available, and the Santa Cruz can manage a payload of up to 1,753 pounds. It can also tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped. See Hyundai Santa Cruz models for sale near you
1. 2022 Honda Accord
3-Across Car Seat Value: $26,520 (LX) | Expert Rating: 4.7
Available with a choice of two turbocharged engines, the Honda Accord is a midsize sedan with a comfortable interior and good standard safety features. These include automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane-keeping assist. Dual-zone automatic climate control and an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen are also standard. The Accord earned a G+ rating for its LATCH ease of use from the IIHS. See Honda Accord models for sale near you
2. 2022 Honda Civic
3-Across Car Seat Value: $22,550 (LX) | Expert Rating: 4.7
There are both sedan and hatchback versions of the Honda Civic. The sedan has a lower starting price, and the IIHS rated the sedan the highest score, G+, for the Civic sedan’s LATCH system. The hatchback gives you more cargo space behind the second row but the IIHS has not yet rated its LATCH system. No matter what body style you choose, the Civic is a compact option that accommodates three car seats and has good acceleration, sporty handling, and an attractive interior with premium materials. See Honda Civic models for sale near you
3. 2022 Toyota Avalon
3-Across Car Seat Value: $36,825 (XLE) | Expert Rating: 4.7
The Toyota Avalon is a full-size sedan with a responsive 301-horsepower V6 engine. That makes this smooth-riding 4-door fun to drive. Standard features include a 9-inch infotainment touchscreen, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and synthetic leather seating surfaces. Like the Accord and Civic, the Avalon also earned a G+. If you want an Avalon, however, you may need to act fast, as this is its last year on the market. See Toyota Avalon models for sale near you
4. 2022 Nissan Maxima
3-Across Car Seat Value: $26,800 (SV) | Expert Rating: 3.9
The Nissan Maxima is a sporty full-size sedan with comfortable seating. It has an aggressive 300-horsepower V6 engine combined with crisp handling. Standard features are plentiful, with automatic emergency braking, an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, heated front seats, and leather seating surfaces. See Nissan Maxima models for sale near you
5. 2022 Subaru Impreza
3-Across Car Seat Value: $19,295 (Base) | Expert Rating: 3.8
The Subaru Impreza is available as a sedan or a wagon (hatchback), which is our pick of the two. Its hatchback design increases its cargo versatility and makes it easier to load bulky items. All-wheel drive is standard, and manual or automatic transmissions are available. See Subaru Impreza models for sale near you
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Joni Finkle contributed to this report