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Car seats are a necessity when you bring a little baby into your family. However, not all car seats are suitable for every type of car; some are simply too big. Knowing this is a common problem, I have compiled a list of the best infant car seats for small cars.
Types of Car Seats
You have two main car seat styles to choose from: infant carrier or convertible. The type you choose is up to you.
The infant carrier car seat is the type you see a lot with newborns. There is a carrier that the baby is buckled into that locks into a base that stays in the car. These can be very useful when your baby falls asleep in the car; you definitely don’t want to wake a sleeping baby.
However, the carriers can be very heavy and cumbersome as your baby grows heavier.
Convertible car seats are nice because most models can take your baby from infancy right through toddlerhood. They can be installed facing the rear or front and with removable padding, you can rest easy knowing your newborn is secure and safe.
However, you may regret your purchase when you have to transfer your sleeping baby from the car seat to the stroller.
The Best Car Seat Set-Up
Oftentimes, you will find car seats set up on either side of the vehicle, usually in the rear seat on the passenger’s side so the parent/driver can reach back if needed. However, this is not the safest location for your baby’s car seat for several reasons.
It may not be the most convenient for you, but the rear middle seat is the best place for your baby’s car seat. In the middle seat, your baby is further away from the doors keeping them safer in the event of a side impact crash. In addition, without the back of the car seat against the front seat, there is less risk of the baby being crushed in a front or rear crash.
You also want to make sure you use the LATCH system to install your car seat rather than the seat belt. Seat belts, particularly those that lock, can be safe, but it’s better to anchor the car seat for a more secure installation.
How to Choose the Best Infant Car Seats for Small Cars?
Whichever style of car seat you choose, you want to make sure it has the option to be installed rear-facing. This is the safest orientation for babies up until about the age of 2 (or whenever they outgrow the rear-facing position).
As mentioned previously, your car seat should be installed via LATCH system for the most securely anchored installation. Some car seats have additional features that build on the LATCH system to make it even more fool-proof and secure.
Easy to Clean
You can count on your car seat getting dirty; kids are notorious for spilling mountains of crumbs in their car seats. Thankfully, many car seats come with removable liners, and some are even machine-washable making it easier for you to keep it clean.Compact
Since the topic is “car seats for small cars” (like the Toyota Corolla), you, of course, want to make sure your car seat is compact. This means it should be somewhat small in both width (about 18”) and depth (about 20-25”) in order to fit into your car comfortably.
Infant car seats only last so long, but some convertible car seats don’t work for infants. It’s important to do your research to make sure the car seat you choose fits your child’s size and weight.
There should be plenty of safety cushion and layers in your car seat
You need to find a car seat that has been tested for every type of crash imaginable. This includes side-impact, head-on, rear-end, and rollover. The car seat should have plenty of padding as well as a strong frame to keep your baby safe.
The car seat you choose should be cost-effective especially if you end up needing a second car seat down the road. Babies grow out of infant carriers quickly; you don’t want to spend a fortune on something that will only last a few months. However, don’t skimp on quality to save a little bit of money.
Top-Rated Car Seats for Small Cars
Chicco KeyFit 30
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The Chicco KeyFit 30 is currently the #1 rated car seat on the market and for good reason.It has some great safety features. The SuperCinch tightener ensures a tight LATCH fit with the pull of a single strap making installation a breeze. It is also made with energy-absorbing EPS foam to keep your baby safe in the event of a crash. You can use this car seat from birth with the included infant insert.
This helps to keep your baby’s head in the right position and fits babies from 4 to 11 pounds. There is a multi-position canopy to keep your baby protected from the sun on your long drives or outings in the stroller (with travel system base). The car seat itself is also a bit heavier (estimating between 10-12 pounds based on the total weight minus the base) and only handles up to 30 pounds of baby weight.
- SuperCinch tightener
- Leveling foot and bubble indicator on the base
- The seat pad is machine-washable
- The car seat is quite heavy
- Only suitable up to 30 pounds
Safety 1st Guide 65
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Safety 1st is known for its affordable baby products, and the Guide 65 car seat is no exception. This car seat is available for a price point just about any family can afford. This is a convertible car seat, which means it can be used both rear-facing and front-facing. Able to used rear-facing from birth (5 pounds), you shouldn’t need to buy another seat for your child until they are ready for a booster seat since this one supports up to 65 pounds and has an adjustable headrest. The Guide 65 is one of the best car seats for small cars.
In fact, it’s so narrow (18”) that they claim you can fit three right across your back seat if you needed. However, be sure to measure your back seat as many have said that three did not end up fitting in their vehicle. The seat is all one piece and can be installed via the LATCH system or seat belt. Many have said that this car seat is a bit difficult to install, specifically when tightening the strap for the LATCH system. The car seat seems to fit loosely making it less safe.
- Rear and front-facing
- Supports up to 65 pounds
- May not be able to fit 3 across
- Hard to tighten strap for LATCH
Britax B-Safe 35
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If you are looking for the safest car seat for your small car, you want the Britax B-Safe 35. Just by looking at this car seat, you can tell that this Britax Car Seat is made well and extremely safe. With a steel frame, 2 layers of side impact protection, SafeCell impact technology, and an impact-absorbing base you know your baby is safe and secure.
This car seat is easy to install with the Safe Center LATCH system or built-in seat belt lock-offs. The base is also adjustable with spring-assisted recline for comfort and proper installation. The B-Safe 35 has a small frame (only 17.75” wide and 26.5” deep), and the smart contoured shape takes up very little space in the car, Despite its small size, it is still pretty heavy (11.5 pounds) most likely due to the steel frame.
Being narrow also means that your baby may outgrow it before they even reach the 35-pound weight limit. The cover is removable for cleaning. Simply spot clean if there are any stains and allow it to drip dry.
- Premium safety features
- checkTakes up little space in the car
- Baby may outgrow the narrow seat quickly
Maxi-Cosi Pria 70
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The Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 convertible car seat has luxury written all over it with its premium fabrics and lush padding. You can tell that this car seat is safe just by looking at it. There is plenty of padding with the Tinyfit insert for infants. There is also the Air Protect advanced cushioning system which keeps your baby safe in the event of a crash.
Though there is an infant insert, this car seat, unfortunately, is not recommended for babies under 9 pounds. This may be a deal-breaker since most babies are born lighter than this (unless you have a big baby like I did).
Even though there is a minimum weight of 9 pounds for this car seat, it does support up to 70 pounds, which is sure to fit your little one right up until they are ready for a booster seat. This car seat installs via LATCH or seat belt like most convertible car seats, but this one claims to be easier than most thanks to its shape which is reclined and contoured to fit your vehicle better.
- Easier LATCH system
- checkAir Protect cushioning for safety
- Supports up to 70 pounds
- 9-pound weight minimum
- A little wider than others
Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 Elite
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If it’s made by Graco, you know it’s good. They’ve been trusted by parents for years thanks to their commitment to quality, comfort, and safety. This car seat has gone through rigorous safety testing. It is one of the top safety-recommended car seat models. It has been specially engineered and tested to meet US standard FMVSS 213 for child safety restraints.
The SnugRide Elite is one of the easiest to install thanks to the special SnugLock base feature. You can use this 3-step system to lock the base securely in place with just the car’s seat belt or you can install it with the LATCH system if you so desire. The base is also adjustable, giving you 4 recline options to choose from to keep your baby comfortable and safe.
There is also a bubble level indicator ensuring that your car seat is installed properly. This car seat can be used from birth (4 pounds) with the infant insert that is included. It creates a snug fit, but some parents complain that it fits just a little too tight for comfort.
The large canopy is ideal for protecting your baby from the sun and prying eyes when you’re out and about. However, with the canopy open, it is nearly impossible to adjust or grab the handle.
Further reading: Full Review of Graco SnugRide 35 Elite
- Easy to install
- Adjustable base
- Can’t adjust handle w/ canopy up
- Support cushions are too tight
These two, in particular, are some of the narrowest models on the market making them the most ideal for small cars. Both have great safety features and are usable with infants starting from 4 to 5 pounds. They are also affordable for just about any family’s budget.
Do you have a car seat you recommend for a small car? Be sure to share your recommendation with us and others.