3 Tips For Buying a New Car When You Have Car Seats

Most of us know how daunting buying a new vehicle can be.  It’s even more overwhelming than choosing a car seat!  Something that often gets overlooked is how compatible the vehicle is with car seats, both in general and with your specific car seats.  Every car and every car seat is different…leaving possibly thousands of combinations and potential compatibility issues.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of a parent coming home with their new car being so excited…only to find out that one of their car seats or boosters doesn’t fit in the position they want it to.  So they are left with less than ideal choices of switching seating positions or buying new car seats.  It’s not the end of the world, of course, but you can make your life a lot easier if you try to factor these things in before you drive off the lot.

minivan
Doing the one thing I always said I would never do– Buying a minivan!

1. Know The Location of Lower Anchors and Tethers (LATCH)

This is a really important factor to consider.  Vehicles are only required to have a minimal number of lower anchors and tether anchors and they are not necessarily going to be in every seat.  You may not realize that they are not available in the seat you would normally put your child in.  You can do research ahead of time by accessing the owner’s manual online to find out where the hardware is located.  When you look at the car in person, find out if the lower anchors are easy to find and access.

While you can always install with a locking seatbelt instead of lower anchors, if you child is forward-facing, not having a tether anchor is a big problem.  Tether anchors limit your child’s forward head movement in a crash, sometimes up to six inches.  That can mean the difference of whether your child hits their head on the seat in front of them, which is a big factor in head injuries.

tether anchor
Location of the tether anchor in the third row–I only have ONE back there!

Don’t forget to think about how things may change as your children grow.  What works now may not be feasible when they transition into the next phase.  Make sure there are enough headrests for older children after they graduate to backless boosters or seatbelts only.  While you cannot anticipate every future situation, it can be helpful to be mindful of things like school drop-offs, carpooling, and easy access to a new baby.

Helpful LATCH Resources:

LATCH locations in vehicles with 3 rows

LATCH Ease-of-Use ratings for vehicles

Why a tether is so important:  Tether vs. No Tether

2. Recognize Which Seating Positions are Incompatible With Car Seats

Some vehicle manufacturers have issues with middle seats.  These seats can be too narrow to actually use in real life.  There is no way a car seat or a normal sized person could fit in that tiny middle space.  So when a car salesman tells you that you small SUV seats five people, take a peek in the back seat to see if that’s really true.  Because it may really only be useable for four.  The same principle applies to poorly placed seatbelts.  In some narrow vehicles the seatbelts overlap with each other, making them unsafe to use with a child restraint.

Even if your car really can fit five people (or whatever number you’re looking at), the width of your car seat may render other seats unusable after it’s installed.  I have a car where the lower anchors are off-center, which means that when it is installed in that location, it actually takes up part of the middle seat and part of the back passenger seat.  It is a strange quirk that I had no idea about before I bought it.  Luckily it was still fine since we only had one child at the time, but if we had more it would have been an issue.

Offset lower anchors
The off-center lower anchors in our car. This will shift your car seat between two seats if you use them.

A newer feature making waves is inflatable seatbelts.  This innovative safety feature is in many newer Ford vehicles, but not all car seat manufacturers permit installation with them.  Even if you currently use lower anchors, eventually your child will be too heavy for LATCH and you’ll be forced to use the seat belt.  You need to check with your car seat manufacturer to ensure you can install it with these seatbelts.  This list is a good starting place to find out where to find each manufacturer’s policy (note:  policies are updated very frequently.  Go directly to the manufacturer’s website for current information).

3. Determine if Installing Your Car Seat Will Become Easier or More Difficult

This is where you get into the details.  Ask yourself things like:

  • Do the lower anchors and tether look easy to access?  Can I reach them easily?
  • Are there any awkward seatbelt angles that will make installation difficult?
  • How much space is there between each vehicle row?  Will a rear facing car seat have enough room?
  • How are the seats angled?  Deeper seats can make getting a certain recline angle harder.
  • What do the headrests look like?  Will they interfere with installing my forward facing seat?  Can they be removed?

Even something as small as having leather seats can have a big impact on getting your car seat installed tight enough.  There have been times where I have had to spend well over thirty minutes (with multiple people helping) to place enough pressure on the car seat and get enough leverage with the seatbelt in order to get an adequately tight installation in a car with leather seats.  They can be quite tricky.

On the other hand, if your new car has more spacious seating or hardware that is easier to access, you might be faced with a delightfully easier installation process.  That is the result we want!

Tether anchors in car
Know your Tether anchor locations

Final Thoughts

When you consider how many times throughout your child’s life that you may need to remove and reinstall their car seat (every time they barf, for instance), it’s definitely worth making the process as easy on yourself as possible.  I recommend trying out your car seats on your potential new car to see how you like it.  They may work great.  Or, they may not.  And that could either be a deal-breaker–or not.  You may decide it’s still worth it to get this new car even if your current car seats don’t fit well, and you opt to buy new seats.  Either way, you’ll be dealing with less stress because you know in advance what you’re going to be dealing with.  And hey–maybe that could even be a negotiation tactic to get the price reduced if you know you’ll need to buy new car seats.  Every little bit helps, right? 🙂

What did you wish you knew before you bought your last car?  Share your tips in the comments!

18 Comments

  1. We love our Chrysler Town and Country and one of the reasons is the easy to use latch and anchor system. This is the second one we’ve owned and at one time had 2 car seats and a booster and still fit another child in the middle bucket seat. The back seat says it fits 3 but if using the latch system then it would only fit two, so we had a booster back there with it and the other latched/anchored car seat in one of the middle bucket seat. I don’t know how the new version of the T&C, The Pacifica, does with car seats. Probably similar. I rented a small SUV at an airport once when I was alone with a baby and I was in tears in the airport parking lot trying to put my car seat that fits so well in my T&C into this small SUV. I had to upgrade so that it would even fit. Unless you are only using boosters don’t trust a small SUV to fit your car seats.

    • Thanks for your feedback! Renting a car can be a nightmare with car seats. I’ve had a similar experience where it took me almost 40 minutes to install it. It was hot, kids were crying, and I was crying!

  2. I’m past the car seat stage for my own kids, but now have a granddaughter. We still have our Toyota Sienna Mini van, which is great because the center seats are individual, both have tethers. Plus we have the bonus of remote controlled doors, which is very handy with a kiddo in your arms.

  3. Thank heavens for car restraint systems and the lives they save!

  4. We are VERY past the car seat stage! I think there are a couple of us in the class that are past this stage and that makes it fun for us to look back and only wish that we had all of the advantages that are available today! I think I commented on someone’s site the other day that my children grew up standing behind my shoulder while I was driving so I could put my arm out every time we stopped for a light! Such fascinating products available now for safety!

  5. Safety is so important when it comes to buying cars and it’s so difficult to find cars that will hold multiple car seats side by side. It’s so nice that car manufacturers are doing what they can to make the process easier for everyone. Sure wish we had this when I had littles.

    • It is hard to fit multiple seats. When my twin daughters were born we had to buy a new car because we couldn’t fit their seats and my son’s seat all in our old car.

  6. Thanks for all of the information. There is nothing more important than the health and safety of our babies.

  7. Great tips for people who have kids or are planning to! 🙂

  8. So many options. Is there a comfortable restraint for your dog that you know of?

  9. This is such a great post! So many options and so many things to consider!

  10. This is really helpful info, and will come in super handy for my friends with kids!

  11. I don’t have car seats anymore, but this is great advice for those that do!

  12. Ok never thought about all of this! Our family grew so quickly w just went straight for the Honda Odyssey! Fits us all very comfortably!

  13. These are all things I never thought about until I became a parent. All great things to look for when we purchase our next vehicle which might not be too far from now.

  14. I wish I had known how wistful it was to have a minivan! We had a sedan prior to purchasing the van. With 3 kids, just getting unto the car was high stress. Not to mention the fighting from them basically sitting on top of each other. It was poor joy getting into the minivan workout issue or stress with 2 booster seats and a car seat!

  15. Oops! That is supposed to say wonderful, not wistful. Silly auto correct!

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