Can You Fit Three Car Seats in a Camry? Growing A Family on One Income: Part II

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The answer is yes! Delaying purchasing a minivan is another way we’re trying to make it as a five-person family on one income. And after I mentioned our 3-car-seats-in-a-Camry system on the Carrots page on Facebook, some of you sent me emails asking how we did it. So here it goes!

(Check out Part I of this series on being a one-car family and how we make it work.)

While we were thrilled to find out we were pregnant with Baby #3, the one thing we didn’t have a plan for was how we’d cart a third child around in our Camry. We were convinced that our only option was to purchase a minivan and honestly, I don’t know where the money for a car payment would have come from.

But thankfully, before we started pricing used minivans, some friends encouraged me to look into purchasing different car seats instead because, to my astonishment, sometimes three car seats can fit in the backseat of a car. So, we started researching whether it would work for us! We knew we would need to purchase different car seats, but that’s a whole lot cheaper than buying a new vehicle!

First, I measured the backseat of our car so we would know what we were working with. Then I went on Amazon to find out which car seats were the slimmest models and had good safety ratings. Amazon tells you the dimensions of the car seat, so I made sure that adding up the width of the three models we planned to have in the back seat left us with a couple inches of wiggle room.

We wanted to stick with our Graco SnugRide*** that Lucy had been using to have for Baby Gwen because we discovered that having an infant carrier that fits into a base and can easily be removed from the car without unbuckling and waking baby is necessary to our sanity. For Lucy, our toddler, we went with the Combi Cocorro which is a convertible car seat that can be rear facing or front facing. She’s 21 months and we’ll keep her rear-facing as long as we can (it’s recommended that kids stay in rear-facing seats until age 2 because it’s five times safer…don’t have to tell me twice). For Benjamin, our 4-year-old, we went with the Diono RadianR100, a car seat that can be converted into a booster when the time comes. It can also be rear-facing for infants and toddlers. (Again, I’m delaying that next step as long as I can because it’s so much safer for kids to be in a five point harness.) When they arrived, I said a little prayer that they would all fit while Daniel installed them and thank goodness they did!

So here’s the lineup:

Newborn: Graco SnugRide (***We have the SnugRide 32 model. I didn’t see the “32” model is still available, so I’m linking to the SnugRide 35 which has the same dimensions.)

*Update: When our Graco SnugRide was old enough to be retired, we replaced it with a Chicco KeyFit30 and I like it even better than the Graco.

Toddler: Combi Cocorro

Preschooler: Diono RadianR100

photo-606

There they are! Car seats reinforced with anti-whining technology. (I wish.)

We put the preschooler in the middle because he can climb in and get buckled by himself (praise the Lord!) and so that the toddler wouldn’t poke the newborn in the face when she’s sleeping and it’s been working really well. Because the preschooler is facing front, he can talk to the toddler and keep her entertained or tell us why she’s throwing a fit (reasons being: she dropped her hair bow, she doesn’t want a tiger to live on her farm someday, she wishes she was eating a granola bar, etc).

Although, it gets a tad loud sometimes and I find myself dreaming of a little more space between the driver’s seat and the kiddos, it can be convenient to pass back a granola bar or cups of water and a little family togetherness never hurt anyone, right? (Remind me of that on the days when I tell my husband when he gets home “I just need to go somewhere for a few minutes where no little people are touching me or talking to me!“)

So far, so good! But if we’re blessed with a baby #4….we’re gonna have to bite the bullet and go with the van, folks!

Did you delay the minivan as long as possible? How did you make it work?

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Comments

  1. says

    We didn’t delay the mini-van, but have been driving the same one for almost 7 years. When we bought it we only had 2 kids and I couldn’t imagine ever really needing the EIGHT seater. So I cheaped out and got the 7 seater instead. Welp. Now we’re gonna need that eighth seat. Doh!

    I like the tip of putting the preschooler between the toddler and the newborn. I’m gonna need that tip in a few months for sure…..

    • Haley says

      Too funny! If someone had told me 6 years ago that we would have completely filled our back seat with babies, I would have told them they were insane, haha. Praying for sweet baby Nicholas! We love him!

  2. says

    We’re actually about to switch to a convertible car seat and width is on our mind already! We may only have one, but we want to avoid having to buy a new car as long as possible!

    • Haley says

      We started out our firstborn in a convertible from day one which I now realize was a huge mistake because now that I know the awesomeness of having the carrier car seat so you don’t have to unbuckle and wake them up…of course he never really slept in the car seat or anywhere else so maybe it would have helped that much, haha! Great planning, Kate! Your little one is so cute.

  3. Jeni says

    You’re a better woman than me! As soon as we found out we were pregnant with baby #2 we traded both our civics for an odyssey! Luckily that means we only have one car payment instead of two. I was so certain we wouldn’t be able to fit both kids in the back of my little civic. I see now that my panic was all for nothing!

    • Haley says

      Haha! Hey, whatever works and only having one payment instead of two makes a lot of sense. Also…your van is gorgeous and I drool over it whenever you come over, haha (motherhood must have really gotten to me if “gorgeous” is how I describe vans!).

  4. Neely says

    We were blessed in the baby-transportation department — my parents gifted us their old 1999 Chevy Astro for Christmas last year. It is a giant, purple bread box and I LOVE IT! It is my giant “Mom Van” that can haul babies, adults, animals, massive amounts of groceries, and even furniture.

  5. says

    Helpful hint for too-small seven seats. Depending on the style of the van, you can take out a three seat row, and install a four seat row. Or, if it’s a two seat row, replace it with a three seat.
    There’s eight kids in my family, and we held off on buying one of those horrible 12 passenger vans for so long. We actually never bought one when my dad was alive (and we had ten people). We had an excursion (a massive SUV) with spacious seats and just made do. Although, my dad did consider adding another seat to the back.
    We were finally given one after he passed away, (the payment for the SUV wasn’t feasible without an income provider), and it’s been helpful to always have extra room. Although, now with a couple of us gone, it’s mostly used as a donation car for school/church trips.

  6. says

    This is great! While we went right for the (used) minivan with two we made sure to never have a car payment (or at least to pay it off within a few months). I love that you can get to the backseat in a van without getting out of the car and that there’s room for me to soothe a baby (or nurse on long trips…totally have nursed them while they were buckled in the seat! Thank God for tinted windows!) I miss having a smaller car, though, and this is GREAT info for people! I know Subarus have been bought by some families I know because they can fit 3 carseats in the back as well.

    • Haley says

      Well, when we have to finally move to the minivan, I fully intend to revel in every little luxury it affords! It is tricky not to be able to sit next to the baby on long trips, but with three littles, we don’t do a whole lot of traveling, haha. I’m glad you started a FB page for Better than Eden! That’s the easiest way for me to keep up with my favorite blogs!

  7. Shaina says

    We’re in the same boat, except #3 is due to arrive in August, but we also bought the Combi Cocorro and fit that in the back of our Ford Escape with 2 Britax Frontiers (our boys are 5.5 and 3.5). I couldn’t believe it, but my husband checked and all 3 fit easily. Now if #4 pops up for us, we will also have to join the minivan team…the horror!
    I love your blog…we have similar conversion stories and seem to be on the same path kid-wise too. :)

    • Haley says

      Sounds like a great set up and congrats on baby #3! And thanks for your sweet words about Carrots. I love connected with other converts :)

  8. says

    Oh my goodness! I love this post! We’re not pregnant yet with number 3, but hopefully soon, and I’ve been super dreading any form of car payment. We’re already on board with the one car family idea, and I’d love to put off a bigger car as LONG as possible. So, thanks for sharing how you guys have made 3 carseats in the back work ever so well!

  9. says

    Thank you so much for this post! Right after we bought a (huge) carseat/booster seat for our 14 month old we got pregnant … with twins! I think new carseats are probably in our future.

  10. says

    This is super helpful! We have two Camrys right now but one is totally paid off. We also have that Graco SnugRide. Providing we are blessed with more babies, it’s good to know this works! Thanks!

    • Haley says

      I’m so not a “car person” but I’m a little obsessed with how well our Camry has run in the past 7 years. The ac broke once…that’s about it. I heart Camrys.

  11. says

    We are expecting number seven and trying to decide whether to get the monster van or just throw a kid or two on the roof of our 8 passenger van. It’s not like there aren’t luggage racks they could hold on to.

    Like Susie mentioned there are seatbelt multipliers and I’ve considered that, but probably we’ll make the plunge. I’m 36, so it’s unlikely this one will be the last . . .

    • Haley says

      Haha! Probably a wise decision. And in the meantime, you can cart some friends around, too :) That’s the one downside to having a completely filled up car: nobody can ride with us.

  12. says

    When we were pregnant with number three, I sized and measured and found out that the back of our (beloved!) matrix was simply too small. So we went minivan knowing we wanted four kids and might as well go all the way!

    • Haley says

      And all four of them are precious! I creepily FB stalk their photos all the time. I think Gabe and Benjamin would be two little peas in a pod.

  13. says

    We went to the minivan with baby #2. My husband is tall, so there wasn’t really leg room for him and room for two carseats in the back. We are on the road fairly frequently, and I love how much stuff we can fit in the van! We were at the end of payments on my husband’s car, so we just have the one for the van, so it wasn’t a huge shock to the bank account. I’m glad you were able to find three carseats so you could make that work for your family!

    • Haley says

      We’re both shorties (well, I guess my husband is average but I’m a super shorty) so leg room never even enters my head as an issue, haha. Since we moved back home where our family lives, we only travel once in a blue moon, but I definitely see the draw of the extra space for luggage and the bajillion items you need for traveling with kids! We’ll be going to a family reunion this summer and riding in my parent’s van because I don’t think all our clothes and pack n’ play’s could possibly fit in the Camry, haha.

  14. says

    Hey Mama, I love that you are so safety-conscious, choosing to keep your kids in the safest positions as long as possible! Just a reminder that their chest clips should be at armpit level, so they can’t fly out the top. :) We had two boosters and a carseat in the back of a Highlander for a while. It was so nice to get an Odyssey, but we definitely had to wait till we could afford a payment. Now we have a fourth, so I’m glad The Lord provided (as He always does!)!

    • Haley says

      Great advice, Kimmie! I always have to remind Benjamin to pull up the chest clips because he buckles himself in and is…ahem…easily distracted from the task at hand ; )

  15. says

    This is so good to know! We are a one-car family right now with a Kia Forte. Our daughter is fifteen months old and when we moved her to a convertible car seat, we went with the Diono Radian R120, just to have as much room in the back seat as possible. We’re expecting our second in October and I know the Forte will be totally doable. But, I’m also looking forward to upgrading to a minivan at some point. I don’t think we’ll hold out until we have four kids! We live far away from our families and are lucky to have a lot of out-of-town guests, so it’d be great to have a minivan for visitors. When baby number two arrives, if more than one person comes to visit, they will have to rent a car, which is a bummer. I have to admit, the extra trunk space in a minivan would be really nice too. You could do a whole follow-up post about how you make a small trunk work for three kids and all their accessories, especially while traveling!

    • Haley says

      Congrats on baby #2! Doing a post about our trunk might involve photos of our trunk which would just be far too scary for anyone to handle….I’m just trying to ignore how disorganized and gross it is and hope the mess will go away :)

  16. says

    We just bought a used van as we are planning on having baby #3 in the near future. Not only did we want it for the ability to bring our dog with us places, but it has proven to be a great asset on long car trips to visit family. That’s just the extra space too, not extra gadgets. I am in love with the stupid thing and so are my boys. It’s so much bigger than our old car they treat it like a huge fort. Also, my oldest is seven and the van allows us the possibility to bring a friend or two or three when we go places.

  17. says

    That picture makes me so happy! I’m a huge proponent of more carseats for older kids, facing the back longer, etc. I’m glad you spent money on the safety seats instead of the car!

  18. Megan says

    Right now we have 3 seats in the back of our Jeep Cherokee. Our other car is an Olds Alero and we can fit 3 if we need to. It is really snug! One of our seats is a booster seat so that helps. Our kids are 6,3 and 2. We are delaying the bigger car purchase. I have been looking at the SUVs where the inside looks like a minivan but he outside doesn’t! I can’t seem to see myself in a minivan even though I hear great things about them!

  19. says

    We’ve always had a “big car”.

    We ended up buying a massive wood-paneled Oldsmobile station wagon (like National Lampoon’s Vacation) shortly after we graduated from college. The wagon sat 8, although two were facing backward and one was in the front and center. Or, you could fold all the seats down and have a flat bed to haul stuff. How useful!

    Then we got my father-in-law’s minivan. Once you get a minivan, there is no going back.

    After that minivan blew a transmission (Found On Road Dead), we got a Toyota Sienna. With foldaway seats! What magic!

    Although we only have two children, we’re always ready to drive carpool.

    Our other car is a Mercury Grand Marquis, which is a stupidly large vehicle. We can fit three in the back, one more in the front, and probably 4 in the trunk.

    • Haley says

      Not being able to have anyone but our family ride with us is definitely a drawback! If we’re blessed with a fourth baby, carpooling will be something I’ll enjoy about having a van. :)

  20. Kay says

    I cannot express how timely and life saving this post was! My husband and I, having just gone to being a moderate one-income, one-car family, were just talking about what we were going to do about the car situation (our next is due in Oct.), and have been dreading the possibility of having to get rid of our much-loved (and completely paid off!) Corolla, but stymied over how we could get another car seat in the back. We’ll have to do some measuring, but you’ve given me hope!

  21. says

    haha we aren’t even pregnant yet (trying though!) and decided to purchase a minivan! My husband’s car was on its last leg anyway and so this will be our first car payment. We ended up with a used Town & Country and it is magic. We love it and wouldn’t trade it for the world. You can’t beat the storage space or how comfortable the ride is! I never thought we could afford a Town & County (we were originally going to get a Grand Caravan) but it’s amazing what you can find when you buy used!

  22. says

    This gives me hope! We just had our second but are terrified of getting pregnant again bc there is no way we could afford a car pmt to replace our accord! With a little (lot) of maneuvering it might work! Thanks!!

  23. says

    This is great, thanks for sharing! I really admire your attitude to make due on less. It certainly has its downsides, but also many benefits!

    • Haley says

      Thank you, Steph! A friend wrote me a note this week that said, “wealth is family and family is wealth.” So true.

  24. says

    We did three carseats across the back all the way until a few weeks ago, when our three were 5, 4, and 2. When we found out we were pregnant with number four (which happened to coincide with our faithful honda accord biting the dust) we sprung for the minivan. Definitely a good call, especially when we found out we were expecting twins a few weeks later! (btw, three radians across will fit in just about any car)

  25. says

    I’ve been really surprised how many cars will accommodate all 3 of our seats as well! Quite a few including Brian’s pick up. Right now we have the baby in the middle and it is a super huge pain to pull the carrier over the other seats. I just tell myself I’m building muscles as well as patience. ;)

  26. Becca says

    We were a 0-car family until the last couple of months of my pregnancy with #2 & #3 (twins). Then we went for a small SUV with an optional 3rd row. It was great with 3 kids, especially because it worked to fit 3 carseats across once the twins were facing forward. Then there was plenty of room in the back for groceries etc., or we could take along a couple of extra passengers. It still worked well once baby #4 came along, but I’m worried about fitting 5 kids in a few more months.

    • Haley says

      That’s good to know. I wonder if it would be worth it to do the small SUV thing for awhile….or if we should just go with the minivan as our next purchase hoping we can fill it up :)

  27. Melanie F in Hamilton says

    We fit three kids (4, 3 and 5 months) into our Pontiac G5. We have three of the same seats, all Dionos (because they’re so narrow). We couldn’t get anything other than those in the car, and they only fit rear facing in the middle seat, so I’m stuck with the baby in the middle, but the older kids are really good.

    The first thing we were told when we announced we were having our third was that we’d have to buy a minivan now. I totally disagreed. We have a very small car, but have made it work, and have even taken the whole family tent camping for 3 days with our little car. If you’re motivated to make it work, it can work. Thanks for providing another example of this.

    When I googled ‘how to fit three kids in a car’, or something like that, all I got were websites and blogs saying it couldn’t be done and then suggesting which minivans/SUV’s to buy. Hopefully your blog will now appear for people like me looking for ideas.

    Happy travels!

    • Haley says

      That’s awesome, Melanie! I hope the post is an encouragement to families trying to make it work with just a car.

  28. Annaleah says

    We had two sedans and three carseats fit in both of them, and we never even had to buy specials seats. It was snug, for sure, but we made it work. When my car finally died several months ago, we decided to get a van, which was a good thing since a few weeks later we found out #4 was on the way! I love our van and am so thankful for it, but I’m also happy that we made do with what we had for as long as we could!

  29. says

    When my husband was deployed for a year we just had three little ones (all in booster or carseats). We needed another vehicle, so he surprised me by shipping a 12 passenger Ford van. It was actually cheaper to get the no frill 12 seater van than a mini van. Other than getting use to driving a huge vehicle (with back-up sensors thank goodness) it has been great. In fact, most trucks around here are just as long and almost as tall.
    However, they can only seat four. We had Baby 4 and now are expecting Baby 5. All four kids are still in boosters or carseats.
    When we moved to AK and had to travel across the country, we just removed the heavy back seat and they shipped it. More room for suitcases.
    Ironically, getting this bigger van makes us more open to children. We have the room and it leads to some great discussions to others in how much we hope we are blessed with a big family. If not, we have room for relatives who visit, friends, etc.

    • Haley says

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Megan! I hopped over to your blog and just have to tell you how adorable your kids are! As a ballet teacher, little ballerinas just give me a cute attack :)

  30. Jessica says

    We went with the mini van after child 2, but it was an unusual set of circumstances. While getting in the back seat of our saturn with 2 car seats the seat belt came apart in my hands, so that was that :) We sold our saturn, which we owned free and clear, on craigslist and then used the money from that and some we had saved to buy a mazda mpv on craigslist, so again no car payment. Another big factor for us was cargo space since we were about to move 5 states away from all our relatives and knew that the trips back to see folks would require lots of packing room. That was almost 3 years ago and we are just now having to do things like get new tires and do some work on the van, so all in all it is turning out to be a good purchase. The only downside is the gas milage :( but I would encourage people to always try and get cars off craigslist b/c you can avoid the car payment and get things just as good as off a car lot.

    • Haley says

      Sounds like it was a great move for you guys to go with the van! Gas would be the downside that I am totally not looking forward to when it comes time to switch to the minivan. And buying used is the way to go! Thanks for sharing, Jessica!

  31. Maria says

    I wish I saw this a year ago!!! We were surprised with the pregnancy of our 3rd child and ended up selling our beloved Altima for a minivan. We have had so many issues with our minivan and really miss our Altima! :( Thanks for the tips…I will keep them in mind if we decide to go back to a sedan.

  32. says

    We will be doing three babies, in less than 3.5 years in the rear of a Toyota Camry…Solara!! A coupe! Nut-so! But we REFUSE to buy bigger if we have just the right amount of space as it is. I’m a stay-at-home momma too and I totally agree that being a one car family is a huge savings. We just parked my vehicle last month, and are already saving $300 over six months, in insurance, and $110 in gas, each month. Incredible!!!! God is good!

    • Haley says

      No reason to upgrade til you need to, right? Other than the preschooler and the toddler antagonizing each other by putting their elbows on each other’s seats (can you imagine?!) haha, it’s been perfect.

  33. Renne says

    Could you please give the width dimension of the Camry backseat that you fit these 3 seats in? I am looking to buy a new(to me) mid-size or small suv that will fit 3 seats in back for two pre-schoolers and a baby on the way, and would like to know the exact capacity that fits this to shop for something similar. Thank you! This blog was very helpful.

  34. Violet says

    We have an SUV (a gift) and fit 3 kids in the seat, although it is wider than a car…we had a Saturn car before and it was tough to get them all in there. We are actually hoping to save money by getting a custom seat to put in the luggage compartment of the SUV to fit up to 3 more kids. No minivan needed! :)

  35. Nancy says

    THANK YOU!!!! We have a Camry and a RAV 4 and it turns out our model RAV 4 simply CANNOT accommodate 3 across because of how the middle seatbelt is configured. I’ve been sweating bullets thinking about a new car! I definitely prefer the higher up crossover but it looks like my husband and I just need to trade cars and we’ll be set. We’re going to buy exactly what you did. Thank you, thank you!!!

  36. Cami says

    We got the minivan when I was pregnant with #2. I had a VW Jetta that I seriously doubt would have held 3 car seats. The middle seat in the back is barely a seat. We were only at 2 car seats but found it already difficult to get my first baby in and out and store our kid stuff in the trunk. But mostly, it was cramped and hubby is long legged. Sadly, hubby could not fit in the car as a driver or passenger with a car seat installed behind him. It was time. We didn’t want to buy something we’d quickly outgrow so we decided a minivan was our best option. We shopped used but ended up getting a great price on a new Kia Sedona. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the more sophisticated competitors… Super basic, But it has space. And that’s what we needed. Initially, I was able to cart around a snap n go AND a jogger so I was prepared for whatever came up. My boys are a year apart so I had a big baby and a little baby at that time. Now that they are both toddlers, we cart around our double jogger, training potty (during potty training, of course), an extra blanket, a couple random toys, extra clothes… Whatever we need. It has made our busy lives more flexible since we have room for extra gear if needed. I commend you for getting everyone in the Camry. Had we owned a car that was a bit roomier, I think we would have waited. But we do enjoy our beloved “Starship Kia”.

  37. Jess says

    We are only expecting baby #1, but we just made the call to go with the Graco ClickConnect carrier system instead of a longer lived convertible car seat. This makes me much happier with my choice. Because in all honesty we may be moving on to baby #2 by the time #1 will need a different seat!

    • Haley says

      That’s right! We had the Combi on the side, the Diono in the middle, and the Graco (which we switched out with a Chicco Keyfit) on the other side.

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