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.
See our exhaustive list of narrow car seats by type here.
Read on to see why I chose these seats and to get some tips on picking out the right seat for you!
Best Car Seats for Small Cars
Diono Radian RXT Convertible Car Seat
Compared to an infant seat or convertible seat, the Diono Radian RXT seems pricey. But when you consider it should be the only car seat you need to buy for your child, you should actually end up saving money down the line.
- Car seat type: All-in-one
- Seat Dimensions: 17″L x 28.5″H x 16″W
- Car seat weight: 27 pounds
- Rear-facing limits: 5-45 pounds, and up to 44? in height. Your child’s head must be at least 1.5? below the top of the headrest.
- Forward-facing limits: 20-80 pounds, and up to 57? in height in convertible mode. 50-120 pounds, and up to 57? in height in booster mode.
- Target.com – 4.6 out of 5 stars, 621 reviews
- Walmart.com – 4.5 out of 5 stars, 493 reviews
Both the depth and width of the car seat make for a very slim seat, and will take up minimal space in your car. This is the most expensive recommendation here, but again, it should be the only car seat you ever need since 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. You can find our more about small booster seat options in our Best Booster Seat article.
On top of this, you can easily transport the Diono Radian RXT, which is something you don’t come across often when it comes to convertible seats. You have to buy the carry straps separately, but it’s a great option if you’re looking to travel with it. While it is heavy at 27 pounds, the fact that you can carry it on your back instead of hauling it awkwardly through the airport is a major plus.
The Diono Radian RXT comes loaded with safety features, such as a steel frame and a rear-facing top tether, which helps keep the car seat from moving in the event of an accident.
The Radian RXT 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.
Chicco KeyFit 30
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 smallish infant car seat 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
- 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 Flex Loc
On a budget? The Baby Trend Flex Loc is a great alternative to the Chicco KeyFit 30.
- Car seat type: Rear-facing only infant seat
- Seat Dimensions: 26″L x 25″H x 16.5″W
- Car seat weight: 7.7 lbs
- Rear-facing limits: 5-30 pounds, and up to 30 inches in height.
- Forward-facing limits: Rear-facing ONLY
- 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 Flex Loc. It is actually more compact than the Chicco KeyFit. 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 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 click to read the article to see what I’m talking about.
Graco Milestone Convertible Car Seat
The Graco Milestone Convertible Car Seat is an affordable all in one seat that will handle 5 lbs infants all the way up to 100 lb kids in booster seat mode.
- Car seat type: Convertible car seat
- Seat Dimensions: 20″L x 21″H x 17.5″W
- Car seat weight: 20 pounds
- Rear-facing limits: 5-40 pounds
- Forward-facing limits: 20-65 pounds
- Walmart – 4.8 out of 5 stars, 227 reviews
- Target – 4.7 out of 5 stars, 345 reviews
The Milestone is one of the best-reviewed seats overall. Minor complaints include not having enough reclining options in rear-facing mode and the headrest being either loose or rattling in forward-facing mode. Most customers are extremely happy with the quality of the product and the dimensions are great for small cars. You will find some seats that are a bit narrower but few that are this small overall.
Eddie Bauer XRS 65 Convertible Car Seat
Convertible seats in the rear-facing position tend to be the worst offenders in small cars, since they take up a lot of front to back space. To maximize your back seat space and front seat leg room, I recommend the Eddie Bauer XRS 65 Convertible Car Seat.
- Car seat type: Convertible car seat
- Seat Dimensions: 21″L x 23.8″H x 18.6″W
- Car seat weight: 14.3 pounds
- Rear-facing limits: 5-40 pounds, and up to 40 inches in height.
- Forward-facing limits: 22-65 pounds, 34-52 inches in height.
- Target.com – 4.0 out of 5 stars, 347 reviews
The Eddie Bauer XRS 65 car seat is a great option if you are looking for a convertible seat as a first car seat. This is one of the most budget-friendly car seats on our list.
This is a 2-in-1 seat whereas many of the other seats we have discussed have a broader range of uses. It is made to be installed and left in the car, unlike infant car seat systems that have a base and a detachable and portable seat that snaps in and out. The seat may be installed in rear-facing and forward-facing positions.
While this seat has a 5-point harness, side-impact protection and supports the LATCH system, it doesn’t have many other bells and whistles like cup holders or some advanced safety features.
If you have a preemie, this seat is definitely not for you. Check out my review on best car seats for preemies instead.
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.
- 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: 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.
Features to Look For
There are several things to consider when choosing a car seat for a small car:
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.
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.
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.
As you can see, a lot depends on what type of car seat you are looking for (infant, convertible, all-in-one). I’m a big advocate for starting out with a bucket-style seat just because of the ease of use of them, but you will save money if you decide to start out with a convertible or all-in-one from the get-go.
If you decide to start with an infant bucket seat, I highly recommend the Chicco KeyFit 30 because of its safety features and compactness. A more budget-friendly option, again, is the Baby Trend Flex Loc, which is actually smaller than the KeyFit, but doesn’t have as many features.
My overall top pick for best convertible seat for a small car is the Graco Milestone All in One. And lastly, if you do decide to go with the budget-friendly option of starting out with an all-in-one, I highly recommend the Diono Radian RXT for small cars.