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The Best Car Seats for Small Cars: Convertible, Infant, Booster Picks


If you have a small car, you need to be more careful when selecting a car seat. Whether you are looking for an infant seat, a convertible seat, or an all-in-one, you need to pay close attention to the car seat’s dimensions and ease of use to ensure you limit the amount of hassle you will have getting it into and out of your car. Read on to see why I chose these seats and to get some tips on picking out the right seat for you!

Best Compact Infant Car Seat:
Best Convertible Car Seat for Small Cars:
Best Compact Booster Seat:


Best Compact Infant Car Seats

The safety packed, 17″ Chicco KeyFit 30 and the compact, budget friendly Baby Trend EZ Flex Loc are designed for rear facing infants only, good until 30 lbs and 30.”  However, the more costly, 17″ wide Chicco Fit2 Air is a rear facing car seat for both infant and toddler, from 0 – 24 months old.

Chicco KeyFit 30

Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat
Price$$$
Quality
Popularity

Although they are made to be lightweight and compact, bucket-style seats can still end up taking up a lot of backseat space. My top overall pick for a compact car seat for small cars is the Chicco KeyFit 30 because it is compact, but still comes complete with some great safety features.

  • Car seat type: Rear-facing only infant seat
  • Seat Dimensions:  27.5″L x 24″H x 17″W
  • Car seat weight: 9.6 pounds
  • Rear-facing limits:  4-30 pounds, and up to 30 inches in height. Your child’s head must be at least 1 inch below the top of the headrest.
  • Forward-facing limits: Rear-facing ONLY
  • Reviews:
    • Target.com – 4.6 out of 5 stars, 119 reviews
    • Babies R Us – 4.7 out of 5 stars, 230 reviews

The Chicco KeyFit 30 is my top pick for an infant bucket-style car seat for small cars. This car seat is packed with safety features, such as energy-absorbing materials. It also includes features to make it extremely easy to install. It has a bubble level to ensure you install it at the right angle for your newborn (this angle will differ based on how your vehicle’s seat is angled).

The Chicco KeyFit 30 also has SuperCinch, which is a tool that helps you to tighten the LATCH straps when installing the car seat. Without installation technology like SuperCinch, it can take a lot of strength and effort to correctly tighten the car seat straps. I honestly didn’t believe it until I tried for the first time. And if you’re working in a tight area of a small car, it is even more difficult without this helpful feature!

On top of all of these features, the KeyFit 30 comes in at just 17 inches wide and is only 9.6 pounds in weight.

Baby Trend EZ Flex Loc

Baby Trend EZ Flex Loc Infant Car Seat, Carbon
Price$$
Quality
Popularity

On a budget? The Baby Trend EZ Flex Loc is a great alternative to the Chicco KeyFit 30.

  • Car seat type: Rear-facing only infant seat
  • Seat Dimensions: 16.2″L x 26″H x 14.7″W
  • Car seat weight: 17 lbs
  • Rear-facing limits: 5-30 pounds, and up to 30 inches in height.
  • Forward-facing limits: Rear-facing ONLY
  • Reviews:
    • Walmart.com – 4.5 out of 5 stars, 107 reviews
    • Target.com – 4.1 out of 5 stars, 321 reviews

If you’re looking for a cheaper bucket-style infant seat for a small car, I highly recommend the Baby Trend EZ Flex Loc. It is actually more compact than the Chicco KeyFit, and it might be the most narrow rear-facing car seat on the market. I didn’t choose it as my top pick because it doesn’t come equipped with all of the features that the KeyFit does. Because it is only slightly more compact, I believe the additional features on the KeyFit outweigh the compactness of the Flex Loc.

That being said, it is a great option if you are looking for a cheaper low profile car seat. After all, you will only get about one year of use out of your infant bucket seat before you have to move your child into a convertible seat.

The Baby Trend Flex Loc made our list of best infant car seats because it’s safe and it fits perfectly in small cars. Plus, we just can’t get over that handy infant car seat cover, aka the boot! You’ve gotta read the article to see what I’m talking about.

Clek Liing Infant Car Seat

Clek Liing Infant Car Seat, Chrome
Price$$$$
Quality
Popularity

For an infant car seat that is only 16.9 inches wide, the Clek Liing Infant Car Seat is a high-quality and modern seat that comes with a higher price. The base is designed with a Rigid-LATCH and belt-tensioning system for a secure fit. It designed for children weighing 4 to 35 pounds and up to 32″ in height. This narrow car seat also conveniently attaches to most strollers with an attachment. 

  • Car seat type: Infant car seat
  • Seat Dimensions:  27.75″L x 16.9″W x 27″H 
  • Car seat weight: 27 pounds
  • Rear-facing limits: 4-35 pounds and up to 32″ in height
  • Forward-facing limits: N/A

Chicco Fit2 Air Infant & Toddler Car Seat

Chicco Fit2 Air Infant & Toddler Car Seat - Marina, Grey/Blue
Price$$$$
Quality
Popularity

The Chicco Fit2 Air Infant & Toddler Car Seat comes in at just 17 inches wide, making it another one of the best narrow car seats on the market. This narrow car seat gives you the option to easily keep your child rear-facing up to 2 years of age with the 2-stage feature (infant, 0-12m; toddler, 9-24m). It is designed to support children weighing 4 to 35 pounds. It is a higher-priced car seat, but given it lasts up to 2 years of age, you’ll get your money’s worth.

  • Car seat type: Infant & toddler car seat
  • Seat Dimensions:  28″L x 17″W x 16″H
  • Car seat weight: 20.5 pounds
  • Rear-facing limits: 4-35 pounds 
  • Reviews:
    • Kohl’s – 5 out of 5 stars, 18 reviews
    • buybuyBABY – 5 out of 5 stars, 18 reviews

Best Convertible Car Seat for Small Cars

While the Graco SlimFit and the Diono Radian 3R are the same price and 3-in-1 convertible seats, working for rear facing, front facing, and a high back booster; the Diono Radian 3QXT comes with a much higher price tag, but will work for a child’s lifetime as a rear facing, front facing, high back, and no back booster, fitting children from 4 – 120 lbs.

Graco SlimFit 3-in-One Convertible Car Seat

Graco SlimFit 3 in 1 Car Seat -Slim & Comfy Design Saves Space in Your Back Seat, Darcie, One Size
Price$$$
Quality
Popularity

We can’t talk baby products without offering a Graco model. The Graco SlimFit Convertible car seat is Graco’s option for small spaces. The product dimensions say this car seat is 19.9 inches wide, which isn’t very narrow. However, this seat is designed with dual integrated cup holders that rotate away, making the seat 10% slimmer.

  • Car seat type: Convertible car seat
  • Seat Dimensions:  21.5″L x 19.9″W x 25.5″H
  • Car seat weight: 19.47 pounds
  • Rear-facing limits: 5-40 pounds
  • Forward-facing limits: 22-65 pounds
  • Reviews:
    • Walmart.com – 4.8 out of 5 stars, 682 reviews
    • Target.com – 5 out of 5 stars, 377 reviews

Diono Radian 3R Convertible Car Seat

Diono Radian 3R, 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat, Rear Facing & Forward Facing, 10 Years 1 Car Seat, Slim Fit 3 Across, Black Jet
Price$$$
Quality
Popularity

Compared to other infant seats or convertible seats, the Diono Radian 3R seems like such simple car seat. But when you consider it should be the only car seat you need to buy for your child, you will actually end up saving money down the line with the reasonable price of this car seat.

  • Car seat type: All-in-1
  • Seat Dimensions: 16″L x 17″W x 28.25″H
  • Car seat weight: 26.1 pounds
  • Rear-facing limits: 5-50 pounds and until your child’s head exceeds 1.5″ below the top of the headrest.
  • Forward-facing limits: 22-65 pounds, and up to 57″ in height in convertible mode
  • Booster limits: 40-120 pounds, and up to 57″ tall.
  • Reviews:
    • Target.com – 4.7 out of 5 stars, 85 reviews
    • Albee Baby – 4.9 out of 5 stars, 42 reviews

Both the depth and width of the car seat make for a very low-profile car seat and will take up minimal space in your car. This is one of the least expensive recommendations here, which is surprising since it should be the only car seat you ever need! It takes you from the rear-facing infant stage, through the convertible stage, and lastly the booster seat stage. Children should remain in a booster seat until the actual vehicle seat belt fits them properly.

We recommend the new latch version of the 3R car seat. It has SuperLatch installation, which makes connecting the car seat to the latch anchors in your vehicle a breeze. Taking it out is also easier since you simply press a button to release the connector.

This model also has other great features, like an easy remove and machine washable cover, the ability to fold the bottom of the seat up for hassle-free travel, and expandable sides to offer more room as your child enters the booster mode and needs extra space.

The Diono Radian 3R comes loaded with safety features, such as a steel frame and a rear-facing top tether, which helps keep the smaller car seat from moving in the event of an accident.

The Radian 3R is a great compact all-in-one option. Again, you won’t have the option to easily carry a newborn around in it or attach it to a travel system, but it should save you money in the long run. This makes it one of the top options for a twin car seat.

Combi Coccoro Convertible Car Seat

Combi Coccoro Streamlined Lightweight Convertible Car Seat| 3 Across in Most Vehicles| Ideal for Compacts | Quick Install | 50% Lighter Than Other Leading Brands| Tru-Safe Impact Protection| Licorice
Quality
Popularity

The Combi Coccoro Convertible Car Seat comes from a Japanese company that designs products for the smaller cars of that country. That being said, the US version of this safe seat is very compact and will fit nicely in virtually any vehicle.

  • Car seat type: Convertible car seat
  • Seat Dimensions:  22″L x 15.5″W x 23″H
  • Car seat weight: 14.3 pounds
  • Rear-facing limits: 3-33 pounds 
  • Forward-facing limits: 20-40 pounds

This brand is lesser-known, but it gets great reviews. At just 15.5 inches wide, it is ideal for fitting three across in a small car. Whether forward or rear-facing, it doesn’t need a lot of back seat space and it won’t force you to scoot the front seats all the way forward.

The features of this car seat will keep you and baby comfortable and happy. The ample seat padding is removable and washable. The Tru Safe side impact protection provides excellent support and shielding of baby’s head, neck, and spine. The harness is padded and adjustable. The push-button latch anchors and top tether help you to get the car seat installed properly every time. If not using a latch, it has built-in vehicle belt lock-offs to keep the installation safe. 

Unlike some of the all-in-one models mentioned above, this car seat is designed for use in the toddler years. At that point, you’ll no longer be able to use this seat and you’ll have to invest in a booster seat. Also, due to the truly compact size, it’s not a great car seat for babies in the bigger percentiles, since it’s on the smaller side.

This is a fantastic car seat for preemies because it can be used at just 3 tiny pounds! The smaller size and the cozy padding also mean that it will support a smaller baby well. 

RELATED: Best Car Seat for Preemies

Diono Radian 3QXT 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat

Diono Radian 3QXT 4-in-1 Rear and Forward Facing Convertible Car Seat, Safe Plus Engineering, 4 Stage Infant Protection, 10 Years 1 Car Seat, Slim Fit 3 Across, Jet Black
Price$$$$
Quality
Popularity

The Diono Radian 3QXT 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat features a removable infant insert, safe plus engineering (high-density plastic and steel reinforcement), and it converts to a booster seat once your child is ready. At 17-inches wide, it provides much more room than the average convertible car seat. It is designed to seat children weighing 4 to 50 pounds in the rear-facing position and up to 120 pounds in the front-facing or booster position. The 3QXT comes with a hefty price but it does come with some great features.

  • Car seat type: Convertible car seat
  • Seat Dimensions (with base):  16″L x 17″W x 28.5″H
  • Car seat weight: 25.8 pounds
  • Rear-facing limits: 4-50 pounds
  • Forward-facing limits: 22-65 pounds
  • Booster seat: 40-120 pounds
  • Reviews:
    • Kohl’s – 4 out of 5 stars, 12 reviews

Best Compact Booster Seat

Evenflo Big Kid High Back Booster Seat

Big Kid LX High Back Booster, Denver
Price$$
Quality
Popularity

The Evenflo Big Kid Booster Seat is only 16 inches wide making it one of the best narrow booster seats. The seatback is removable to transition to a backless booster seat. This is also a budget-friendly option with great customer ratings.

  • Car seat type: Booster seat
  • Seat Dimensions:  28″L x 15″W x 16″H
  • Car seat weight: 7.1 pounds
  • Booster seat limits: 40-110 pounds 
  • Reviews:
    • Walmart.com – 4.5 out of 5 stars, 1.1K reviews

RELATED: Best Booster Seats: Our Top Harnessed, High Back, and Backless Booster Car Seats Picks

 

Car Seat Comparison Table

The Best Car Seats for Small CarsDimensionsWeight
Diono Radian 3QXT Convertible Car Seat17″ Wide, 16″ Deep, 28.5″ High25.8 lbs
Graco SlimFit 3 in 1 Convertible Car Seat19.9″ Wide, 21.5″ Deep, 25.5″ High19.47 lbs
Baby Trend EX Flex-Loc Convertible Car Seat14.7″ Wide, 16.2″ Deep, 26″ High17 lbs
Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat17″ Wide, 27.5″ Deep, 24″ High17.5 lbs
Diono Radian 3R Convertible Car Seat17″ Wide, 16″ Deep, 28.3″ High26 lbs

Small Car Seats Compared

The table below compares only the recommended products on this page. A low or high Price means it is low or high compared to the other products listed. The Popularity Score reflects how often readers click on and buy the product. The Quality Score is our assessment of the overall performance and satisfaction with the product compared to others in the table.


Infant Bucket Seat vs Convertible Seat vs All-in-One

One of the main decisions to make when looking for a car seat for a newborn is whether you want to get an infant bucket seat, a convertible seat, or an “all-in-one” seat.

How do they differ?

  • Infant bucket seat: Rear-facing only. Typically comes with a base that you install in your car. You can then easily click the infant car seat into and out of the car seat base. Typically will only last until your child’s first birthday or so. See our list of the best infant car seats.
  • Convertible seat: Rear-facing and forward-facing. Generally heavier than infant bucket-style seats. Some are not suitable for newborns, but the best convertible car seats do have lower weight limits so they can be used for newborns all the way through their toddler years.
  • All-in-one: This usually refers to a seat that will cover all of your child’s car seat needs – from infant until the point that they can seat in a vehicle seat without a child car seat. Typically all-in-ones have some sort of infant insert for the first stage, then it turns into a convertible seat for when they are older, then eventually will turn into a booster seat once they reach the point where they no longer need a 5 point harness.

How do I decide?

If you do opt to start with a convertible or all-in-one seat, the only real downside is that you won’t be able to easily transport your newborn in their car seat. Having a car seat that can be easily removed and transported means you won’t have to remove your newborn from their actual car seat for every errand or appointment. Simply being able to carry them in their seat or attach the seat to a stroller makes going out and about those first few months very easy. This is why many parents start out with an infant bucket-style seat.

However, by purchasing a convertible seat or an all-in-one for your newborn, you will end up saving money down the line. Most infant bucket seats will only last you the first year or so, and then you would be buying a convertible or all-in-one seat to replace it. It really depends on how much you value the convenience of the bucket seat, and how much you see yourself using this convenience as well.

Important Narrow Car Seat Features

Car Seat Width

The smaller the width of the car seat, the more space it will give you for other passengers in the back seat. This is especially important if you are going to have more than one car seat in the back seat.

See our exhaustive list of narrow car seats by type here.

Front-to-Back Space

If the car seat takes up a lot of front-to-back space, you may leave the front passenger with little foot room. If you have a car that will let you install in the middle seat, you may not have to worry about this as much, since the middle seat will give you a little extra front-to-back space.

One major thing that can affect the amount of front-to-back space that an infant seat will take up is what position the handle has to be in when installed in the car. Some car seats require you to have the carrying handle in the “travel” position when in the car. This will add an extra inch or so to the amount of space it takes up.

Also keep in mind, because the angle of seats is different in different cars, you can’t strictly look at car seat depth to depend on how much front-to-back space it will take up.

Image of Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat, Orion

Installation

If you’re installing a car seat in a small car, it’s extra important to have a car seat that is easy to install. Car seats can get super frustrating to install correctly, and when you’re working in a tight space, it’s even worse, and you’re more likely to make mistakes. Always be sure to have your car seat installation inspected! It’s quick and easy to do, and it will give you some peace of mind knowing your car seat is installed correctly.

Installation is so important to car seat safety. Read our Car Seat Safety Guidelines article for all the safety facts.

Ease of Removal

This really refers more to bucket-style seats. If you have a small car, you want to be able to easily click the car seat in and out of the car seat base. Some bases are more difficult to work with, but overall you shouldn’t run into too many issues here.

FAQs – Car Seats for Small Cars

What is a 3-in-1 car seat?

A ‘3 in 1′ car seat is a seat that will accommodate your youngster through three different stages of development. This prevents parents from having to buy a new seat every time baby graduates out of another seat.

There are two kinds: one goes from rear-facing infant to forward-facing toddler to high-back booster, the other from forward-facing toddler to high-back booster to backless booster. 

An all-in-one or 4-in-1 car seat has the rear-facing, forward-facing, high back booster, and backless booster all rolled into one car seat! They’re often more expensive but work from birth until your kid’s age hits the double digits.

Which car seats can fit 3 across?

Any of the car seats on this list can fit three across in most back seats. In general, you’ll want a car seat that is about 19 inches wide or narrower. Getting 3 of the same car seat across is hard, but doing a combination of 3 different types of car seats (e.g. infant seat and convertible seat and booster seat) is usually easier because they have their bulk in different spots, so they’ll fit together a bit like puzzle pieces.

A good general rule of thumb is to put the most vulnerable passenger in the middle. That means that the booster seat, which offers the least protection in an accident, should go in the middle. Then fit the other car seats around it.

If that doesn’t work, try other 3 car seat tricks, like turning one of the car seats forward or backward (as long as baby is old enough!) or switching up the order to get them to fit. 

Which car seats are good for small cars?

Experienced Mommy recommends (in order of width):

  • Baby Trend EX Flex-Loc Convertible Car Seat – 14.7”
  • Diono Radian 3RXT Convertible Car Seat – 16”
  • Diono Radian RXT Convertible Car Seat – 16”
  • Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat – 17”
  • Graco Milestone Convertible Car Seat – 17.5”

What convertible car seat is best for small cars?

Experienced Mommy recommends the Diono Radian 3RXT, or if you need something a little less pricey, the Graco Milestone All-in-One.

What is the safest side of the car for a car seat?

No side. The middle of the back seat is the safest place. If you must choose one side, there is some disagreement about whether passenger or driver side is best. Since all cars are different, though, check your owner’s manual for any instructions about where and how to install your child’s car seat(s).

Is a latch safer than a seatbelt?

Latch and seatbelt offer nearly the same level of safety, assuming that the seatbelt is being used correctly. After your child reaches 40 pounds, however, the LATCH lower anchors can often no longer be used and you must switch to the seatbelt. Always be sure to check your owner’s manual for any instructions about where and how to install the car seat(s).

Sources

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/child_passenger_safety/cps-factsheet.html, www.cdc.gov
  2. safercar.gov…, www.safercar.gov
  3. How to Fit Car Seats Three Across, www.consumerreports.org

Pamela Halstead

I am a stay at home mother to one son. With a background in safety and health, I am very safety-conscious, especially when it comes to products for my child!