We own a 2003 Saturn L300 and a hodgepodge of carseats that we are using in the Saturn and in “Old Reliable” our ’97 Chevy Cavalier 2-door coop that James drives to work on the days he doesn’t carpool. When thinking about having a third child I started researching how to fit three carseats across the backseat of our Saturn. At that point I thought Isla would be turning 3 when the baby was born and we would still want her rear-facing. I posted the question on Carseat.org and no one had experience with my car and three carseats. Months later a carseat tech who saw my post there emailed me and said she had the same car and was willing to borrow seats to try to fit three across. At this point I was finally newly pregnant, so I was delighted to have some help with this. She was also newly pregnant so her research was for her as well as me. And if you don’t know a carseat tech, they are a tenacious lot, so putting hours of time into finding a three across carseat situation isn’t something they shy away from.
She found me several combinations right away, but then we both realized that things would be more complicated because Owen no longer fit into the 5 point harnessed seats since he was too tall. And though he is old enough to legally ride with no seat at all, he is not tall enough for that to be a safe option. And to complicate things even more, for some reason Saturn makers neglected to put tall enough headrests in the back seat to make it safe for any passenger to ride in, so as long as a child of any age rides back there they will need a high-back booster to protect their head and neck in case of a crash. The complicated thing is finding a high-back booster narrow enough for Owen to be able to get his hand in there and buckle. This means the other two seats need to be as narrow as possible as well. The carseat tech shared the Harmony series of seats with me only available at Walmart.com, often sold out, but very narrow. She warned that she had no personal experience using the seats, and only knew they were narrow enough to fit, but nothing else. She also recommended Radian seats, also very narrow, but very hard to install and expensive. There are a few Britax convertible seats she recommended we could use along with a Harmony or Radian since they puzzle well (puzzling carseats is when one carseat is forward-facing and one is rear-facing and this leaves enough space to install them side by side when if they were both forward or both rear-facing they would not fit side by side – if that makes any sense). She came up with many combinations, but they were very pricy. We were looking at spending about $550.00 for two to three new seats.
Finally the weather got warm enough where I just decided to go to Baby’s R’ Us (where they let you try carseats out in your car) and try a few combinations. I also had the realization that Isla would need to turn forward-facing because as my pregnancy progresses the twisting action to lift her into her rear-facing seat is more and more difficult on my back. At the end of Isla’s pregnancy I had some SPD going on, and I can tell that I already have a lot of weakness this time and so it is likely inevitable that at a certain point I am not going to be able to get Isla into a rear-facing seat. We will wait for that point to turn her forward-facing since rear-facing is so much safer.
So at Baby’s R’ Us I brought a very impatient Owen since I needed to see if he could buckle his seat. I also brought his Graco Nautilus and his Evenflo AMP high-back boosters along with Isla’s Safety 1st Complete Air. The Evenflo and the Safety 1st are actually pretty narrow compared to a lot of seats on the market, and the Evenflo is nice because the arm rests don’t even bulge out like a lot of other seats, it retains it’s narrow profile from bottom to top. I grabbed the Baby Trend EZ Flex-Loc off the shelf and tried it out. The Graco Nautilus is too gigantic to fit alongside with anything, so I quickly tried the Evenflo AMP instead. I put the Evenflo AMP on one side, the Safety 1st Complete Air on the other side facing forward, and then the Baby Trend in the middle. It fit perfectly with no issues and there was plenty of room for Owen to buckle. I was thrilled and drove on home since Owen was too impatient to try any more seats.
But when I reported my findings to the carseat tech, she pointed out that it would be awfully difficult to lift a baby over one seat and snap it into the base in the middle. I was only thinking about a newborn, so it didn’t occur to me to try it on the side instead of the middle. She also said an EZ Flex-Loc would not work in this car on the side, and I would need to try just a Flex-Loc.
Anyway, I then thought maybe I would try the Evenflo and the Safety 1st side by side, and then a convertible seat on the outside position. I would honestly really like a bucket seat because they are just so much easier in our brutal winters, as well as being convenient for my babies who wake up every time the wind blows to keep them sleeping during errands. But, it just doesn’t make sense to buy a $100 seat for the first 9 – 12 months and then turn around and buy another convertible seat that may cost up to $200. We also had a Cosco Scenera we were using in the Cavalier which we bought once when traveling with Isla when she was a baby. I was hesitant to use this seat because it had been checked in at an airport and I had heard that they can damage seats without you knowing. But then I came across a reassuring article that convinced me that though checking in a seat is not a good idea, it doesn’t need to be treated as if it’s been in an accident afterward either.
So, after months of working with a carseat tech to find the perfect combination, and after believing I would need to spend almost $600 on three new seats at a certain point, I realized I already owned three seats all along that fit into the back seat of my car. In my defense, I had started out this journey trying to keep Isla rear-facing, which is quite a bit more difficult to fit three across when two are rear-facing. So, our final combination is to have Owen’s Evenflo Amp behind the driver’s side (which the carseat tech recommended so he doesn’t accidentally unbuckle one of his siblings). Isla will be forward-facing in her Safety 1st Complete Air in the middle position. And the baby will start out in the Costco Scenera rear-facing behind the passenger seat. I say start out because the Scenera only rear-faces to 35 pounds and petite Isla has almost outgrown the highest harness position. But by the time the baby grows out of the Scenera rear-facing, we may be able to move the baby into Isla’s Safety 1st and move Isla into a booster. The biggest issue with the combination we found is that there is literally no space between each seat, they all touch, including Owen’s booster. Each seat is independently tight, so I am told they are still safely installed, but it is difficult for Owen to buckle. I am actually shocked that he can buckle, but he did it and he said it was kind of tricky but that he would be able to do it. I think if he was any younger he would not be able to buckle, it’s only because he is as old as he is and has been buckling for a while now that he was able to figure it out blindly the way he has to do.
So, we finally found our three seats across combination, and we already owned all three seats! Now our only issue is, how do you travel anywhere with three carseats taking up the entire backseat?!?!? We will need to take two cars, get a rack and a storage bin for the top of our car, or eventually buy a minivan. But for now I am very happy that we won’t have to spend a dime before the baby is born on a carseat, and even happier that we have time to pay off our Saturn before needing to purchase that minivan (though I’m afraid minivan ownership is inevitable at this point )