Do you drive a vehicle that resembles a tiny clown car? You know how hard it can be to find a good car seat that will work for you. The struggle is real.
Car seats can be large and bulky, especially when rear-facing. We’ve been there. If you’ve been searching for a compact car seat, like we were, you’ll want to check out our top choices.
- Approved for air travel
- Substantial steel alloy frame
- Uses EPS energy-absorbing foam
- LATCH system is easy to use
- Offers multiple recline positions
- Uses built-in harness strap holders
- Side-impact protection
- Easy to care for
Why They Don’t Always Mix
Car seats and small cars aren’t the best combination, and here’s why.
Some car seats are equipped with oversized bases. This can help give great stability and may allow for more customization and recline options. Many car seats also come with plenty of cushioning, which can help your little one ride in comfort.
However, these bases, the extra cushioning, and a greater choice of positioning can all lead to a bigger car seat. Padding takes up space, so to carve out room for your little one, the width of heavily-cushioned car seats is greater. The ability to recline further can result in a car seat that’s too deep for a small car or bench seat.
Don’t forget to consider the shape of the backseat, either. Some car seats may fit properly, but it may be difficult for you to get your little one in and out of it. This can be especially common with rear-facing car seats.
Cars likely to experience difficulty accommodating car seats include those with shallow back seats and little leg room. Compact cars, sporty cars, and cars with little headroom may be difficult to fit as well. And cars with two doors instead of four are instantly out — unless you’re a contortionist who can somehow manage to get that car seat back there.
If you have a car you think will be difficult to fit, make sure you try car seats out ahead of time. Install the car seat exactly as it would be used. Don’t forget to have your driver adjust their seat as they’d need it to be as well.
Car Seat Types for Small Cars
Fortunately, some car seats have been designed with small spaces in mind. Depending on the age of your child, you may be in the market for an infant-only car seat or a booster seat. Convertible car seats consistently offer the largest amount of versatility and the smallest footprint.
Because of this, we’ve focused on them. Convertible seats are usually one piece. This can make them a good choice for smaller vehicles and many can be used both rear and forward facing.
This means you may be able to make a one-time car seat purchase. These kinds of seats offer plenty of options to help you customize the car seat to your child’s needs.
Each car seat will come with a weight recommendation for forward- and rear-facing use. Sometimes, these weight ranges will overlap. Individual states create their own laws regarding rear-facing age and weight — make sure you’re following those laws correctly (1).
Convertible car seats are designed to be used for an extended period. Those listed here are suitable for infants and can be used through elementary school. While they are great for small cars, these are comfortable and versatile enough to be used in larger vehicles as well.
Things to Consider
When it comes to picking out a car seat, you’ll want to keep the following in mind.
- How often will you use it? Are you looking for something you’ll occasionally use as a backup or an everyday car seat? Identifying your expectations will give you a better idea of what won’t work.
- What features do you need? Have a child who’s on the taller side? Can’t compromise on a cup holder? Identify what you must have so you can rule out for sure which car seats to pass on.
- What is your budget? Car seats are available at many price points. Car seats designed for small cars can be considered specialty car seats and have a markup. If the price matters, make sure you decide that before you start shopping.
- Is it easy to maintain? A car seat is likely to be with you for a while. You’re going to want to make sure it can be easily cleaned in the event it gets dirty. Because they will — you’ll be amazed at how filthy it will become.
- How easy is it to install? Smaller cars frequently need to fulfill multiple roles. You may find you are putting in and taking out the car seat frequently. To make this as painless as possible, you’ll want to go with something easy to install.
- Has it been safety tested and approved? Above everything else, you want to make sure your child is safe while on the road. Always choose a reputable brand that’s been fully tested and approved.
Need help installing your car seat? Your local fire department or police station can help you make sure your seat is ready to go. Check in with your local providers for assistance or search National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for an inspection spot near you (2).
The Best Car Seats for Small Cars of 2021
Here are our top three favorite car seats for small cars.
1. Diono Radian 3RXT Convertible Car Seat
Diono is the brand that launched the original “three across” campaign. It’s specifically designed to take up little space in the car so three seats can sit comfortably in the back. It’s suitable for a wide variety of cars and can be used rear-facing or forward-facing.
This car seat is suitable for use by children who weigh at least 5 pounds. It can be used rear-facing until your child is 45 pounds.
Forward-facing, it works as a car seat through 65 pounds. After that, it converts to a booster that’s safe for children who weigh up to 120 pounds.
This unit is approved for air travel and is available in multiple colors. The harness and seat are both adjustable to suit your child. When not being used, it folds flat for convenient storage.
- Extended period of use.
- Approved for air travel.
- Substantial steel alloy frame.
- Uses EPS energy-absorbing foam.
- This unit is heavy.
- Does not have armrests.
Why We Love It
Extended Period of Use
You’ll get years of use out of this. You can put your baby in it for the first time when you’re leaving the hospital. It’ll still be appropriate for them to use seven years later when you’re driving them to school.
Approved for Air Travel
This unit is great for daily use in your car. It’s also approved for use on airplanes by the FAA. This means you won’t need to buy an additional car seat when you travel.
This seat is narrow and fits well in a plane seat and through small aisles. It’s worth noting, however, that this unit is heavier than most. If you do choose to use this while traveling, you’ll want to look into using a cart with it.
Substantial Steel Alloy Frame
To beef up the stability and security, Diono has used a heavy-duty steel alloy frame. Not compromising on comfort to achieve optimal safety, Diono has also made sure this model is heavily padded. An additional newborn insert is included to provide little ones with even more comfort.
Uses EPS Energy-Absorbing Foam
EPS energy-absorbing foam is designed to take the bulk of any impact force. It helps absorb and disrupt the force, which better protects your little one in an accident. While comfortable, this also serves to offer great side-impact protection as well.
Keep In Mind
This Unit Is Heavy
The steel alloy frame helps create a sturdy and substantial car seat that works to keep your child safe. It does add a significant amount of weight to the car seat though, so you’ll want to factor that into your choice. This is especially true if you are moving it frequently or plan to travel with it.
In addition to weighing more, this car seat is unevenly heavy. It won’t free-stand when not installed. To minimize dirt exposure, always prop it against something when moving it.
Does Not Have Armrests
This seat is narrow, which is great for small spaces. One of the compromises you’ll make, though, is that there are no armrests.
This may be a problem for long rides where your little one may need a nap. It may also be an issue if you have multiple children in the back seat. A lack of separation between children may encourage bickering or pestering.
|Dimensions||16.14 inches by 16.93 inches by 28.35 inches|
|Child Minimum Weight||5 pounds|
|Child Maximum Weight||120 pounds|
|Additional Features||SuperLATCH system, expandable leg rests, multiple shoulder and buckle positions, non-slip rubber base|
2. Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 Convertible Car Seat
This unit can be used both rear-facing and forward-facing. It is suitable for children who weigh at least 14 pounds. They can continue to safely rear-face until they weigh 40 pounds.
Older children can use this car seat forward-facing until they weigh 85 pounds. A FlexTech system helps provide great side-impact protection while an easy-to-adjust harness helps give a good fit.
This car seat meets all safety standards and comes with a one-year limited warranty. It’s available in multiple colors and the cover can be removed and washed as needed. Afterward, it can also be placed in the dryer, making clean-up quick and easy.
- LATCH system is easy to use.
- Offers multiple recline positions.
- Comfortable for long trips or naps.
- Uses built-in harness strap holders.
- Not suitable for newborns.
- Not as comfortable for taller children.
Why We Love It
LATCH System Is Easy to Use
The LATCH system helps keep installation fast and simple. The tether clips offer an easy-to-use buckle that’s used in the same way as a seat belt buckle. If your car is equipped with the LATCH points (most new vehicles are), proper installation can take a matter of moments.
Offers Multiple Recline Positions
The right recline position can make installation easier when rear-facing. It can also make it easier to get your little one in and out, as well. At the same time, it can provide a comfortable ride for your child.
This unit offers three preset recline positions to suit your child and space needs.
Comfortable for Long Trips or Naps
This car seat has an adjustable headrest and harness to help give your little one a proper fit. In addition, the padding gives a cozy and comfortable ride. A cushioned headrest encourages relaxation and naps.
The material used on this car seat is also comfortable and not prone to collecting sweat or dampness. Designed to be machine washable, the fabric is easy to care for.
Uses Built-in Harness Strap Holders
Built-in harness strap holders help make fastening your child in just a little easier. There’s one on either side of the car seat. Simply open the harness and latch it onto the holder.
After you’ve placed your baby in the car seat and have gotten them situated, strap them in like usual. With the harness holders, you don’t need to search for the harness trapped under your child’s body. It makes buckling in faster — and more comfortable for your child.
Keep In Mind
Not Suitable for Newborns
This car seat is suitable for babies who weigh at least 14 pounds. Though it’s safe for rear-facing, you’ll probably need a car seat during those first few weeks. You’ll want to use a different car seat if you’re looking for one to go from infancy through childhood.
Not as Comfortable for Taller Children
Though this unit is rated for a significant amount of weight, it’s not ideal for a taller child. This is more prominent when rear-facing, even when fully reclined. If your child is on the taller end of the spectrum, you may need to consider a different model.
|Dimensions||29.7 inches by 20.8 inches by 19 inches|
|Minimum Child Weight||14 pounds|
|Maximum Child Weight||85 pounds|
|Additional Features||Integrated cup holder, one-handed adjustment, Air Protect cushioning system, machine washable|
3. Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DX Convertible Car Seat
This car seat from Cosco has been designed to perform well while taking up little space. Some car seats that work in a smaller car can be pricey, but this one makes a great budget purchase.
This unit features a simple aesthetic and trim look. Cushioning through the seat and headrest helps keep your child comfortable during trips. The headrest is adjustable and an included cup holder can be detached or attached as needed.
This model may be used rear-facing or forward-facing. It’s for use with children who weigh 5 pounds and up. It’s rated for rear-facing through 40 pounds and through 65 pounds when forward-facing.
- Easy to customize a good fit.
- Side-impact protection.
- Easy to care for.
- Doesn’t offer adjustable recline.
Why We Love It
Easy to Customize a Good Fit
The seat has a five-point harness that can be easily adjusted from the front of the unit. In addition, it offers five harness heights and allows for three buckle locations. This can help ensure your car seat is comfortable for your little one, whatever their size or age.
It also features an adjustable headrest. This helps provide support to your little one’s head and neck during trips. The movable headrest helps ensure your child is comfortable and safe as they grow.
This unit is quite lightweight, weighing in at only 14 pounds. If you’ve been searching for a seat option that’s easy to move between cars, this may be worth considering. It’s approved for use on planes as well, so it can be a good option for traveling.
It features additional side-impact protection through the headrest and upper body. This helps provide full protection for your little one if you experience an accident. The headrest provides additional support and keeps your little one’s head centered and protected.
Easy to Care For
It’s soft and comfortable and when needed, the cover can be removed from the car seat and washed. After washing, the cover can even be placed in the dryer, which helps make clean-up a no-fuss process.
Keep In Mind
Doesn’t Offer Adjustable Recline
Though this unit does offer an adjustable harness and headrest, it doesn’t allow you to change the angle of recline. A set position can make fastening your child difficult when rear-facing. Being limited in recline adjustment also may not provide the most comfortable position for your child.
|Dimensions||17 inches by 22 inches by 23.5 inches|
|Child Weight Minimum||5 pounds|
|Child Weight Maximum||65 pounds|
|Additional Features||LATCH system, side-impact protection, adjustable headrest, machine washable|
|Product||Award||Weight||Dimensions||Min. Weight||Max. Weight||Features|
|Diono Radian 3RXT||Best for Newborns||28 lbs||16.14″ x 16.93″ x 28.35″||5 lbs||120 lbs||SuperLATCH system, expandable leg rests, multiple shoulder and buckle positions, non-slip rubber base|
|Maxi-Cosi Pria 85||Most Comfortable||23 lbs||29.7″ x 20.8″ x 19″||14 lbs||85 lbs||Integrated cup holder, one-handed adjustment, Air Protect cushioning system, machine washable|
|Cosco Mighty Fit 65||Best Budget Buy||14 lbs||17″ x 22″ x 23.5″||65 lbs||LATCH system, side-impact protection, adjustable headrest, machine washable|
Safety Tips for Car Seats
1. Turn to the NHTSA With Questions or Concerns
The NHTSA is responsible for creating all safety rules related to being on the road.
They work closely with car seat manufacturers to ensure car seats are held to high safety standards. If you ever have any questions or concerns regarding safety on the road, the NHTSA can be a great resource.
2. Pay Attention to Safety Testing
All car seats on the market have gone through rigorous testing. This is done through crash testing and there are expected standards in place. To become available on the market, all car seats must meet or exceed those standards.
When shopping, remember that this is the case with all car seats. Some may have additional features or equipment you’re interested in, but even the least expensive available are road safe.
3. Check-In After a Car Accident
If you’re in an accident while your car seat is strapped in the vehicle, you may need a new car seat. Check your car seat’s manufacturer for specific information regarding your seat. Some recommend replacing it every time while others say only to replace it if the airbags deploy or a child is in the seat.
If it does need to be replaced, check with your car insurance company. They may cover the cost of a new seat.
Small Cars and Car Seats
You don’t have to drive a large car to bring your kids along successfully. There are great options out there for compact car seats that will suit your smaller vehicle. Convertible car seats that offer plenty of longevity, adjustability, and a small footprint may be the solution you need.
We’d love to hear if you’ve found this information helpful — and which car seat you end up purchasing. Leave us a comment below. And please remember to share this article with the other parents in your life!