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Even before you became a parent, buying a new car could be a complicated process. Throw in a car seat or two and a dash of anxiety over safety, and suddenly it can feel like a monumental task. In fact, according to a national Cars.com survey, for two-thirds of parents car seats play a significant role in the selection of their car.
Fortunately, when it comes to the right car for a family, Cars.com has done the heavy lifting for you. (Literally!) In their 2021 Car Seat Fit Report Card, their certified child passenger safety technicians compiled Car Seat Check scores for 51 vehicles to determine which provide the safest fit for the most car seats. "Cars are an investment and parents or parents-to-be will want to find a car that can grow with their family, but that doesn't mean you need to jump into a minivan before your first child arrives," says Jenni Newman, Editor-in-Chief at Cars.com.
We sat down with Newman to discuss the Report Card's findings and get her tips to help you make the best decision for your family's ride.
Motherly: What are the top considerations parents or parents-to-be should look for when choosing a car that will provide the safest fit for a car seat?
Jenni Newman: Here are a few things to consider when shopping for your next car: Is there enough space? Look for vehicles with roomier backseats, and think about the number of kids in car seats you could have at one time. Nearly half of parents' decide to buy a new car because they need to fit three in a bigger car. Remember, kids can stay in some level of car seat until they're 4 feet, 9 inches tall—for some kids, that could be when they're 12 years old. Not to mention, you will need enough room for your stroller, grocery bags, equipment for kids' activities and any other items parents and caregivers tote around.
[You also want to ] consider how easy it is to find and use the lower Latch anchors, which are located in the outer rear seats between the back and bottom cushions. A good Latch system makes car-seat installation easier, and since you'll be using car seats for many years, anything that makes life more convenient is a big win.
Finally, how does it feel? Once you've done your research online and have narrowed down your search, get to your local dealership for some hands-on experience. Test out the roominess, ask about kid-friendly features, bring your car seat and try to install it in the cars you're interested in. Dealers are happy to work with you and help you test all the cars and features that matter to you.
Motherly: What are the top cars that accommodate a car seat and why?
JN: The following cars aced our car seat fit tests thanks to their easy-to-find Latch anchors and spacious rear seats. The top cars are:
- 2021 Audi SQ8: A two-row SUV with a twin-turbo V-8 that puts the fun into the most mundane errands.
- 2021 Genesis GV80: This luxury SUV can be had with two or three rows — we tested a two-row version. The refined interior might have parents thinking twice about putting kids in the backseat, but don't worry, leather seats are easy to clean.
- 2022 Hyundai Tucson Hybrid: The redesigned compact SUV now comes in a hybrid version that sips gasoline, meaning you can take those family road trips without fueling up as frequently.
- 2021 Nissan Sentra: This compact car is small but mighty when it comes to family duty, thanks to its roomy backseat.
Motherly: Which cars are best for families with 2 or more car seats?
JN: Whether it's a sedan, SUV, pickup truck or minivan, most vehicles can handle two car seats as long as there's enough rear legroom to accommodate a rear-facing infant or convertible car seat.
Three car seats make life more interesting. Not many cars can fit three car seats across the rear seat, but in our car seat installations, we test each car to see if it can accommodate all three of our car seats across the backseat—an infant seat, convertible seat and booster seat—and publish the results. The Volkswagen Atlas, a three-row SUV and the Cars.com 2021 Family Car of the Year, features a roomy second row that easily manages three car seats across it, and its third row is spacious enough to handle car seats or even adults.
Motherly: What are the best ways for parents to confirm that their car seat has been installed correctly?
JN: There are some simple steps that parents can take when installing a car seat. First, they should read the car seat owner's manual as well as their car's manual to make sure the installation is starting off correctly. The manuals may have guidance on whether a car seat can be installed in the middle rear seat, for example.
When installing the car seat, parents should use either the car's Latch anchors or a seat belt, but not both at the same time. Using the Latch system tends to be a little easier for most parents, but if you cannot find your car's lower Latch anchors, then using a seat belt for installation is perfectly acceptable. With a seat belt installation, make sure the seat belt's retractor is in the locked position to keep the car seat securely in place. Your car's owner's manual will walk you through how to lock the retractor.
Check your car seat install by grabbing the car seat near the belt path and giving it a tug. If it moves more than an inch in any direction, tighten the Latch strap to better secure the car seat. It's important to do this test at the belt path because if you test an infant seat, for example, at the top of the car seat, where the baby's head is, it'll seem like there's too much movement, but if you test at the belt path, you'll get a better sense of installation's snugness.
Motherly: Aside from car seat fit and safety, what are some other features or technology that parents or parents-to-be should consider when shopping for their next family car?
JN: Automakers are loading cars with tons of family-friendly features. One of my favorites is the in-vehicle vacuum in the Chrysler Pacifica minivan. I'd love one of those in my own car - and it would have been amazing to have when my kids were toddlers.
Speaking of minivans, the Pacifica, Odyssey and the all-new Kia Carnival minivan offer an in-cabin camera system that allows parents to monitor any shenanigans in the second and third rows. The camera in the Carnival, which was named Cars.com's Best Minivan of 2021, has impressive resolution, zoom functionality and even night vision.
Automakers are also working to combat child in-car heatstroke with a commitment to add rear-seat reminders to their vehicles by no later than the 2025 model year. GM and Nissan, for example, have systems that use an alert to remind the driver to check the backseat if the rear doors were opened at the start of a car trip. Hyundai offers its Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert system, which uses sensors to monitor the backseat for movement. It alerts the driver if it senses any movement.
Whether you need a car to accommodate one child or a brood, the new Cars.com report could be the first step to getting your family on the road safely. And when in doubt about your car seat's fit, remember, you have options. "Installing car seats can be frustrating. I've been doing it as a certified child passenger safety technician for more than 10 years and have two teenage boys and there are still times when I struggle," Newman says. "Cars.com has hundreds of Car Seat Checks that can be a useful resource for parents who are installing car seats into a new or older model car. Parents should ask for help when they need it, and can find certified technicians at their local police department, fire department or hospital."