The 5 Best Car Seats For Small Cars, According To Experts
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Choosing a car seat that fits well in a small car (especially alongside other car seats) can feel like assembling a puzzle with pieces from another puzzle mixed in. To find the best car seats for small cars, Scary Mommy contacted Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians Britney Schroeder and Joshua Dilts to learn more about what to look for when shopping for a compact car seat model.
Britney Schroeder is a nationally certified child passenger safety technician (CPST). She owns and operates Buckle and Latch, LLC, a car seat safety education business in Seattle, Washington, that also does virtual consultations. The mother of a toddler herself, she aims to make parents feel empowered, informed, and confident in their ability to both install their child’s car seat correctly and put their kiddo in it safely every single ride.
Joshua Dilts is a passionate advocate for child passenger safety, serving as a certified child safety technician and a lead car seat product manager at Chicco. A father of three, Josh’s real-life experience provides continued inspiration and motivation for creating solutions that make it easier for families to travel safely with car seats.
What To Consider When Choosing The Best Car Seats For A Small Car
While shopping for a car seat for a compact car, Schroeder says, “Some infant car seats are more compact than others (the Chicco KeyFit 30 comes to mind) and may fit better in smaller vehicles.” There are even models specifically designed to (hopefully) fit three in a row. For your convenience, the dimensions of each car seat are noted below so you can quickly measure to see what will fit your vehicle’s back seat.
But it’s not just a matter of picking the most compact car seat either — the dimensions and shape of the car seat must fit well with your car and any existing seats. “Vehicle fit is one of the most crucial parameters that contribute to good crash performance for a car seat,” explains Dilts.
As a dad of three, Dilts knows the struggle is real when it comes to selecting and installing a car seat. “It can be challenging to install a car seat in close quarters,” he says. When it comes to ensuring correct installation in a small car, both Dilts and Schroeder warned of the same issue. Schroeder explained that in smaller vehicles it’s critical to “pay attention to whether rear-facing car seats [are touching] the vehicle seat behind [...] the back of the driver or passenger seat.”
Dilts underscores, “This practice is dangerous and can affect the way the child car seat will behave in the event of a crash.” He says you should be able to slide a piece of paper through the space between the front vehicle seat and car seat.
He points out that a driver that needs more legroom “may limit the installation options to either the center or passenger side of the back seat.” In this scenario, he recommends “choosing a car seat that offers numerous recline options [which] will improve your chances of finding a great fit.”
While there’s no magic infant or toddler car seat that fits every vehicle perfectly (or stays miraculously clean), “The safest car seat is the one that fits your child, fits your vehicle, fits your budget, and that you can use correctly every time,” says Schroeder.
All of our picks below are compact seats that reviewers say fit their small cars perfectly. Don’t be afraid to get help installing your new seat either! Find a Safe Kids inspection station or certified tech with the National Child Passenger Safety Certification program in your area.
1. The Overall Best Infant Car Seat for Small Cars
The Chicco Keyfit 30 is one of the slimmest infant car seats on the market and it has a 4.9-star rating on Amazon after more than 5,400 reviews. Designed to be easy to install, it has two bubble-level indicators and a spring-loaded leveling foot, as well as Chicco’s proprietary latch tightening system for the most secure fit. Multiple reviewers report the dimensions and shape of this seat were key to fitting three car seats in a row. At 27.5 inches deep, one reviewer said, “It fit much better in my compact SUV behind the driver seat while sitting beside my other convertible car seat.” Another reviewer said it fit her 2011 Mini Cooper perfectly.
This Juvenile Product Manufacturers’ Association (JPMA)-certified seat has a machine-washable seat pad and a removable newborn head and body support insert. It’s also compatible with Chicco strollers.
Helpful Review: “I have this installed in my 2012 Honda Civic and 2002 Ford Explorer, the car seat is narrow enough to allow 3 car seats to fit in the back of my 2012 Honda Civic. The base is easy to install, the car seat is easy to adjust to the size of the kid, and the car seat is easy to carry.”
Maximum Weight: 30 pounds | Dimensions: 27.5 x 16.75 x 24 inches (L x W x H)
2. The Best Infant Car Seat For Shallow Seats
While a little wider than the Chicco Keyfit 30 (half an inch), the Cybex Aton 2 is 2.5 inches shallower in depth. The seat also allows for use up to 35 pounds. It features technology in the chest clip that alerts you to issues, including uncomfortable temperatures, if the baby is unbuckled, if they’ve been seated too long, or accidentally left behind. A linear side-impact protection system that extends towards the door of your car promises to reduces] near side impact forces by up to 25% and a height-adjustable load leg that extends to the floor of your car can reduce crash forces by up to 50%, according to the brand. The seat can be installed with or without a base via the European belt routing system, making it a solid choice for those who frequently travel via taxi or ride-shares. It comes with a newborn insert and is compatible with Cybex strollers.
Helpful Review: “Bought this because of its low profile design. My daughter is now 15 months old and has pretty much outgrown it. It has lasted well and I loved that it had a base to click into. Most bases will not fit in a MINI [Cooper S.] It's also a comfy car seat that has lasted well. Would 10/10 recommend for anyone with a compact or 2 door car. [...] It fit along side my older daughters car seat.”
Maximum Weight: 35 pounds | Dimensions: 25 x 17.25 x 12.25 inches (L x W x H)
3. The Overall Best Convertible Car Seat For Small Cars
One of the best toddler car seats for small cars, this convertible car seat holds kids from 4 to 65 pounds. Parents love this seat, which has a 4.9-star rating with over 65,000 reviews. The Graco Extend2Fit allows for rear-facing up to 50 pounds thanks to a four-position extension panel that provides up to 5 inches of extra rear-facing legroom. Reviewers with small cars rave about how well this seat fits rear-facing, even in small cars like the Nissan Leaf, Honda Fit, and Toyota Yaris. With a height of 23.5 inches and a depth of 21.5 inches, this seat can solve the car seat puzzle for many vehicles. The push-button latch system allows for a quick and audible installation into the base and you can adjust the height of the headrest and harness in one motion without re-threading. It also has easy-read level indicators and a machine-washable seat pad.
Helpful Review: “5 stars all the way! [...]I hate how my passenger seat is so far forward, leaving very little room for a front passenger's legs, so I spoke to a CPST about a more narrow seat. She recommended the Graco E2F as one of the more narrow seats on the market. [...] For reference, I drive a 2010 Jeep Liberty. Before installing the E2F I set it on the other side of my back seat [and] could tell it was noticeably narrower than the Evenflo [Symphony,] so I knew it would work better. [...]”
Maximum Weight: 50 pounds rear-facing; 65 pounds forward-facing | Dimensions: 21.5 x 19.5 x 23.5 inches (L x W x H)
4. Another Great Convertible Car Seat That Even Folds For Travel
The Diono Radian 3R was designed specifically to fit three car seats neatly in one row. At only 17 inches wide and a mere 16 inches deep, these slim car seats for small cars can be a great solution! One reviewer raved, “We can [...] fit two of these car seats and an infant carrier seat in a Prius- not a big car. Much cheaper than buying a new car for three small children!” This all-in-one seat can be used from birth (with the newborn insert, sold separately) all the up to 120 pounds as a high-backed booster, meaning you can get approximately ten years of use from one seat. It also has a machine-washble cover. Safety features include side impact protection, expandable side wings, SuperLATCH connectors. Shoppers say it’s easy to install. Bonus: It folds for travel.
Helpful Review: “We have three children, two cars, and six Diono Radians because they are awesome for fitting three kids across the back seat if you don't want to upgrade to a larger vehicle and bigger car payment. We drive a Subaru Forester and a Kia Niro and have a 5 year old, a 3 year old, and an 8 month old. [...] Since there are no cup or snack holders the back of the car is so much cleaner with these seats too! All three of the kids can nap just fine in these for family road trips.”
Maximum Weight: 50 pounds rear-facing; 120 pounds forward-facing | Dimensions: 16 x 17 x 28.5 inches (L x W x H)
5. The Best Booster Car Seat For Small Cars
This Italian-made booster seat is ultra slim and fits children from 40 to 120 pounds. Eschewing static cupholders to keep the seat narrow, it features two pop-out cup holders beneath the seat. The seat has a customized fit as the adjustments at the headrest, upper backrest, side wings, and seat bottom all operate independently. The booster has a rigid integrated LATCH system to ensure safety, five reclining positions, and stain-resistant fabric. Multiple reviewers pointed out the lack of armrests as a huge plus for promoting independent seat buckling. The seat can be folded for storage as well.
Helpful Review: “I'm a car seat psycho (for safety) and I've tried multiples of every version of seat (infant, convertible, HBB...) to find the very best of the best. After 3 different HBBs, this Peg Flex is the holy grail. Here's why: It doesn't have arm rests so your kid can actually do the buckle unassisted. [...] The Flex has a more narrow footprint than others because it doesn't have armrests. Need 3 kids to ride? Need 2 to sit next to one another? You're golden. You can park the Flex next to a variety of seats without issue. [...] The Flex adjusts in 4 directions so your picky big kid can decide exactly how the seat is best for them. [...] This seat isn't more expensive than its competitors, but it looks and feels like it should be. [...]”
Maximum Weight: 120 lbs | Dimensions: 17.25 x 22 x 26 inches (L x W x H)
Britney Schroeder, certified child passenger safety technician (CPST) and owner of Buckle and Latch, LLC,
Joshua Dilts, certified child safety technician and a lead car seat product manager at Chicco