Reader Question: Car Seats and Potty Seats

Mattea writes:

Okay, so five kids into it, and having older, larger kids now….what car seats do you have/have had/hated/loved and in WHAT configuration in the car/minivan? We’re about to have number three in April and I’m LOSING MY MIND trying to get them all to fit in out Honda Pilot without having to lay down a grand on new car seats or buy a new car. Because we JUST bought this car last June when I was sure that I wanted another baby and that this car would SURELY fit all of them. Ahem. So.
ALSO! It seems to be too much to ask that these be the safest car seats, and the ones that my children will consent to ride in b/c they are actually comfortable.
Any help! Any help at all would be lovely. Reader input would be great!
Currently I have a very tall (very long torso) 4.5 year old and a not very shrimpy either 2.5 year old and they just seem to want to outgrow things at a ferocious rate. So, when I see people still fitting their 8 (!) or even NINE year olds into the harnassed booster kind of seats on the internet and raving about how LONG your kids will fit in this and how MUCH USE you’ll be sure to get out of this fabulous $300 car seat, but when I look up reviews people with long torsoed children should expect to get to about 4, maybe 5 if you’re lucky—or just like living dangerously. That’s when the ragey-rage and forehead abuse starts.
And, if, in your wanderings you have come across a potty seat that DOESN’T wick wee onto the rim, under the rim, onto the floor I’d be obliged :)

Hm. I HAVE liked our car seats…I think. Right now the three youngest are in those Graco booster seats that have backs on them (like this), and then you remove the backs when the child is tall/large enough. All three kids are tall enough that they’re using the seats without the backs now. Once you get to plain backless booster seats, I don’t think there’s significant safety differences anymore from one to the next; they’re just to get the child to the right height to use the car’s seat belt.

When the kids were littler and needed infant seats and convertible carseats, I remember I used Consumer Reports to choose which ones to buy. Usually the top-rated one or two were triple the price and only a tiny bit safer than the next one down, so I’d get the next one down. The problem is that Consumer Reports didn’t test NON-CRASH usage. That is, they didn’t mention that the covers weren’t removable, or that the strap was intolerably difficult to adjust. They just tested the seat in a crash—which of course is very important, but most of the seats will be through a crash 0 times and will need the covers removed 10 times and the straps adjusted 1000 times, so those issues are important to me TOO.

For all the babies, I think I got Graco infant seats. I liked the ones where you could adjust the looseness of the strap with a bit of belt that came out right under where the buckle was. SO EASY: I could loosen it wayyyy up to put the baby in without annoying him/her, then buckle it, then snug the belt up again.

When they outgrew those, the three youngest used the Evenflo convertible car seats. (I can’t remember anymore what the first two kids used.) They were ENORMOUS but comfy. One of my most enduringly popular posts has been the one where I posted the instructions for removing the goddamn cover (I never did get the cover off, myself). So if I were buying such a seat today, that would probably be my primary concern: that the cover come off (FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY).

And then I think they went from those into the Graco boosters (with backs).

Our 7-seat minivan (a Toyota Sienna) has two individual seats in the middle row, and then a bench-style seat as the back row (which theoretically seats three). When we had four kids, it was easy: the two older boys sat in the back row, and the twins were in the middle row where I could more easily manage their seat belts and straps and so forth.

When Henry was born, we moved one twin car seat to the center of the back row between the two booster seats—or maybe our eldest was by then old enough not to be in a booster anymore. Let’s see, he would have been eight, so yes, he probably wasn’t using a booster anymore. (It’s one of the upsides of having nice tall kids.)

Now that everyone’s so much bigger, it’s a tight fit when we go anywhere all together. Henry’s car seat is in one of the two middle-row seats, and the twins are on either end of the back seat. William is smaller than Rob, so he has to cram himself in the center of the back seat; the seat belt isn’t a shoulder kind, which makes me fretful. And Rob sits in the other of the two middle-row seats.

Rob is old/large enough to sit in the front seat, too, so if it’s just me and the five kids, Rob sits in the front seat, William and Henry sit in the middle row, and Edward and Elizabeth sit in the back row.

But all the car seat stuff has changed since I was choosing. So it’s good we have a comments section, so that other people can weigh in with more current information.

About the toilet seat, this is the one we have:

(photo from

The child seat nests into the upper lid of the toilet, so you don’t have to take anything on and off each time. My brother/sister-in-law, my parents, and I all have the same potty seat system, but I think there’s a different brand name on each one; it seems like it’s the same seat issued under different brands, rather than competing products. All, I think, have “Next Step” on the upper inner top lid, and then a different name on the lower inner top lid. It’s a great seat for many, many reasons—but sadly there is still periodic wicking of wee.

[P.S. In Google Reader it LOOKS as if there was also another post today, called Lucky. But actually I posted that years ago. I went into it looking for something, and when I went out of it again it had somehow turned into an unpublished draft. So I hit publish—and it showed it published today, with all comments lost. I’m so frustrated, and am just leaving the post down. It wasn’t all that awesome anyway.]

26 thoughts on “Reader Question: Car Seats and Potty Seats

  1. Anonymous

    Best thing I ever found was a car seat vest! Mine is the ride safer brand and I got it on amazon for about $100. Get one for the 4 yr old and you’ll have no trouble fitting 3 across :)

  2. Jen

    We put our 4.5 yo in a Britax Parkway SGL booster seat several months back. I liked the Britax because it has the latch system with the booster…not many others did, otherwise it was the super expensive and massive 5 pt harness ones. We technically put him in it early because he wasn’t there by weight but he was too tall for the other seats.

    So in summary we went from a bucket Chicco seat (infant) to Britax marathon (9 months to 4) to Britax SGL booster (4 and up). We are just about to have our second so I don’t have direct experience but I would think most SUV could handle one of each of those??

  3. meowmix

    We drive a Honda pilot with 4 kids. We use the single seat in the 3rd row and leave the rest down for cargo space. Whoever sits there climbs in from the back hatch. It can be tricky to get a high back booster seat that fits there and buckles easily. We use a Britax parkway that they no longer make. A backless booster is easier, there’s a Walmart one that is narrow enough that’s only $15. We also can fit three across the 2nd row, again by using the narrow boosters. We also put the infant seat on the side instead of the middle to gain more room. Good luck!

  4. A'Dell

    I have a newborn, a 20-month-old, and a 4-year-old.

    The oldest two are in Britax Roundabouts and the baby is in a Chicco Keyfit.

    I have an Acura MDX, which I think is the same frame as a Honda Pilot, so perhaps that combo would work for her? They fit surprisingly well, actually.

  5. A'Dell

    (Also, my phone ate like four version of this same comment so I AM SORRY if it appears over and over again.) (Feel free to just go on and delete this, Swistle.)

  6. JCF

    I have three in a Honda Odyssey. Four and five year olds are in Britax Frontier 85s in back row, and the two year old is in a rear-facing Britax Boulevard in one of the middle-row bucket seats. He’ll be turning forward-facing fairly soon, but that seat will still last him a long time (until it expires, because it is already four years old from the first kid, and we’ll buy another Frontier at that point). I like the Britax Frontier because it has a pretty high height limit once the kid is using it as a booster. If you have tall kids, I bet it would last you until 7 or 8, at which point they won’t need a booster anyway, if they’re so tall.

    Like Swistle said, the NON-crash ratings should be ranked right up there with crash ratings. There’s nothing safe about a seat that’s impossible to install or adjust. I’ve used and gotten rid of a few non-Britax toddler seats because they literally made me weep in parking lots on multiple occasions. If you CAN spring for a Britax, they’re a cinch to install, adjust, remove and replace the covers for, etc. Love them.

    For an infant seat, we liked the Chicco Keyfit 30–also super easy to install, and will last a tall kid longer than 4 months, like some of the other seats.

    If you REALLY need something narrow, the Sunshine Radian seats are super narrow and should last quite some time height-wise, but I’m sure you’ve already found this in your research. :-) When baby #3 came along, we kept trying to figure out what to do car-seat wise and finally realized that the minivan was the only way to go. We got an ancient, but well running Odyssey, and I’ve never regretted it once.

  7. Ruthie

    We have a Honda CRV and three kids in carseats. When #3 was a baby, we used two Sunshine Radians and a Graco Snugride. When she outgrew the Snugride, we used two Sunshine Radians and a Britax Roundabout (it fit both rearfacing and later forward-facing).

    In both cases, we had the youngest next to one of the doors, not in the center, but I prefer that for getting them in and out.

    It was annoying to have to buy the two Radians, but so much cheaper than a new car! And I really like those seats in general – very easy to adjust, and they seem to retain their value, at least from the craigslist ads I see around here.

  8. Angelique

    Have you seen the new carseat guidelines? Apparently the Latch system in most cars can’t handle more than 65 lbs of weight. So you need to factor in the weight of the carseat with the weight of the child. If the weight is greater than 65 lbs., then you should use the seatbelt to anchor the carseat, rather than the latch system,

  9. each of the two

    My SIL has three kids (6, 4 and 10 mo) and she has a honda pilot.
    three across they have a booster, graco infant (30lb?) and a britex convertable.
    For thin seats I know you can three across Radians. Im getting a pilot and will have two- a britex and a graco infant (35lb) but thats too large for a third britex if i had a third, we are getting a radian as our next convertable so we could fit three across if needed in a pilot and/or my step daughter can ride in that second seat without using the fold out third (FYI its illegal to have a carseat in a fold out bench seat like in the pilot)

  10. Joanne

    This is a great resource, including a part that lists the diameter of a bunch of car seats: Diameter? Width and height, I mean. Anyways, I have four kids in a Honda Odyssey but we have four separate seats and they are all in their own car seats. I have a Britax Regent which they don’t make anymore but it’s gigantic, for my oldest and he’s almost eight and pretty tall and he’s still fine in it. I like them to be in a five point harness as long as possible, and he has autism and is kind of a messer-arounder with stuff so I would prefer to keep him in there as long as I can. He’s in the back passenger side, the far back. My five year old is in a Britax Boulevard, she’s in the other passenger side in the back. My 3.5 year old is behind the driver in a Britax Marathon, and the 15 month old is rear facing behind the passenger seat in a Marathon. I like the Britax seats, they’re big but comfortable and they’re super easy to work with, which I appreciate because it feels like I snap that baby in and out 100 times a day.

  11. Brigid Keely

    We’ve got that toilet seat. We picked it up at Home Depot and it wasn’t super expensive or anything. They have a round version and an elongated version, depending on what toilet you have. The little seat attaches to the lid with a powerful magnet. It’s super nice.

  12. HereWeGoAJen

    I am going to be in the market for new car seats soon and I am thinking I ought to go with Britax, since everyone seems to love them so much.

    Also, we have that toilet seat- LOVE.

  13. kakaty

    I’m a huge supporter of the Sunshine Kids/Diono Radians. When we had our 2nd kid I was part of a carpool with my older and a neighbor and the fact that we had Radians was the only reason we could fit 3 kids in the back of my VW Passat. They are narrow so broad kids may not find them comfortable. But my 6 year old (49 inches tall) still has plenty of room to grow and will likely skip the booster and go right to seat belt when she’s big enough.

    As it is now, we have 2 in the 2nd row of our Ford Flex and there is room for an adult to sit between them.

    It’s also the only car seat rated for LATCH use with a child upto 80 lbs (most you have to remove the LATCH and use a seatbelt after 65 lbs). I love them.

  14. Southern jezeBelle

    Britax seats are supposed to be made to puzzle in vehicles to easily get three across. I’m only using one for now–the marathon. I have a graco infant seat and plan on a a britax frontier when I move both kids up in a year or so.

  15. Ann Wyse

    INFLATABLE CAR SEATS! All the new rage.

    We’re actually going with 2 Diono Radians + 1 rear facing infant seat for our Jetta/3 kids. But I’m hearing from lots of people who are buying the new inflatable boosters. DEFINITELY cheaper.

    We have the Kohler transition toilet seat and I agree, this basic design is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

  16. Alexicographer

    My only experience with fitting multiple kids in a car is when my nieces are visiting so I am not much help with that, but I do have experience with car seats that may be useful so I will post anyway.

    I have the safe rider travel vest @Anonymous references above and I love it, it is great for travel, for trips involving both public transport and a car, and for those moments when I have to squeeze both my nieces and my son into my car. But I don’t like it for regular use; I find it more annoying to get on and off the kid and into and out of the car (you put the vest on the kid, fasten it, and then have to slide the seatbelt through 3 metal clips on the vest once the kid is seated. It’s fine, but not nearly as easy to do IMHO as a car seat).

    For infant stage I was another Snugride user mostly because I loved being able to let the baby stay asleep if he was sleeping (snap the seat out of the base) or to have somewhere he could lie while we were e.g. eating supper at a restaurant (have I mentioned we had our kitchen completely remodeled, meaning demolished and rebuilt, while DS was about 2-6 months? That was brilliant timing). So I liked the seat, but no help on its fitability.

    We then went to an Evenflo Triumph which I adored because you can adjust the height of the shoulder straps without needing to remove the seat, and it’s just overall a really easy to use seat.

    I’ve heard 40 lbs for Latch, not the 65 someone else mentions above, so when DS was pushing that limit, we went to a version of the booster Swistle mentions, and are happy with that.

    My kid is tallish and scrawny-ish (90% for height, 40% for weight at his last well visit), and we’ve gotten (and expect to get, in the case of the booster, which does go backless but I want to keep the back on as long as reasonably possible; the version we bought has some kind of “safety surround” thing for side impact) years of use out of these seats. Also none cost over $100, which since we typically buy two for us to use plus 1 or 2 extras that we install in other family members’ cars (both granny and big sis are regular drivers for our little one) is useful.

  17. phancymama

    I just read about the 65lb limit on the LATCH system also, and had no idea. My understanding is that it is 65 lbs, child plus car seat weight. So a lot depends on your car seat weight. At first I thought it was the LATCH system in the car that wasn’t designed to hold more weight, but now I can’t tell if I am correct. I guess it doesn’t matter tho. Here is an article I found:

  18. Anonymous

    If I could go back and do it again, I’d get a Chicco infant seat that goes up to like, 40lbs. (I wouldn’t use it as a carrier very long, of course.) Then, once front facing, I’d graduate into the Graco Nautilus.

    We had a different infant seat that we used for about 4mo, then a convertible seat that I liked but only went to 40lbs (Maxi Cosi Priori). Now, at almost 3, my daughter is almost too big for that convertible so we just bought a Nautilus and I wish I’d skipped the convertible seat. The Nautilus works as the first front facing seat, a highback booster and then a regular booster — it’s 3-in-1 — and it goes up to 100lbs. It’s got lots of nice other features, too — LATCH, recline, cup holder, cubbies in the arm rests for toys. I’m really happy with it!

  19. Kimberly

    Here’s my vote against the Graco MyRide 65 for rear facing. Just switched to a Britax Marathon, and I am in LOVE. Installation of the Graco is a bear. There’s only one LATCH belt instead of two (one for each side), so you end up pulling sideways, instead of straight back (this is really hard to describe!).

  20. Jill

    My friend has 3 (4, 2, and 2 months) 3 across in her Honda Pilot. She uses a Graco infant seat, a Cosco convertible and a Cosco booster and it’s still a tight squeeze.
    We have two with twins on the way and will do two Chicco Keyfits in the middle row and then a Britax convertible + a Cosco booster in the back row. I would advise *against* a Britax. My 4 year old figured out how to undo the straps on his when he was 2.5. My 18 month old is still in it, but I won’t leave him in it past 2 and then we will get rid of it and get something else.

  21. claire

    You have a great car for three kids,
    my suggestion is for the four year old, passenger outboard a harmony defender 360 or evenflo securekid 300 a four year old should still be harnessed also in a three across its much easier. believe me. for the two year old, a mysize/ size4me/headwise all same seat different name. or a diobo radian r120 or rxt. I would purchase the angle adjuster for it aswell I would have him rearfacing in the middle. its possible to switch the older two around whatever is easier and puzzles better. for the newb I would get a radian, or if you prefer a bucket seat probably a keyfit or graco snugride 35

    I urge you to post on forum for more options from certified techs who frequent that forum and have great advice. they can also help you find a tech to make your seats work.

    I would skip britax most likely they have short shells and are outgrown quickly especially for tall babies!
    the evenflo triumph is a bear of a seat and I would not use it in a 3 across situation.

  22. Mattea

    Blogger has now eaten two comments, so I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that this one gets through, but not keeping my hopes up :)
    Thank you all for your brilliant suggestions! I have posted on and found such a wealth of information there, I’m sure we’ll be able to get this worked out in the next 7 weeks. Or until I get too big to actually install seats in the car :) I’ll think I will do a Graco Snugride when the baby is brand new and then work on getting a Diono for him when he gets big enough to switch. And thank you Swistle for taking the time to answer this post so thoroughly, to post it where your readers could help, and for general awesomeness. I’m so happy you had the bird towel surprise b/c it is greatly deserved!
    And that potty seat?? How has this been missing from my life? That is a nice piece of brilliance, wee or no wee, at least you don’t have to find a place to put it.
    Thank you all again!

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