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A stuffed bear is shown buckled into a car seat.

Baby on Board: Choosing the Right Vehicle for a Car Seat

Whether you’re an expectant parent, a new parent, or you’re considering starting a family in the next year or two, I’m sure you care about how well your vehicle will work with a car seat for your child. For most of us, the last thing we want to think about is the idea of a car crash, let alone one in which a small child is in the vehicle. Still, it’s better to choose the best vehicle for a car seat and drive safely to ensure it never happens, rather than to simply hope for the best. While most cars and SUVs work well for up to two car seats, the situation becomes a lot more complicated as soon as you need three or more car seats in a single vehicle.

Today, we’re going to briefly discuss the LATCH system used to secure car seats into vehicles and then explore how many of them you really need. We’ll consider not only how many LATCH points each model has but how well they support different types of seats. While I can recommend some specific models, you’ll ultimately have to really consider what options are most important for you.

A seat belt buckle is shown.

What Is the LATCH System?

When you’re looking at a vehicle for use with a car seat, the single most important thing to consider is the LATCH system and how many of them are in a vehicle. In decades past, car seats had to be strapped into a vehicle using the seatbelt, and the rate of improper installation was incredibly high. In an attempt to make things easier, safety groups and the auto industry got together to create a single standard for how car seats install into vehicles.

There are different names for this system in different countries, but here in the US, we call it the LATCH system, which stands for “Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children.” As the name suggests, there are two components to this: straps for lower anchors at the bottom of the car seat and a tether at the top of the seat. Vehicles have lower anchors at the bottom of the seat, where the cushion meets the back and a tether anchor on the back of the seat.

To install a car seat in a vehicle, you position the seat correctly, then attach straps with hooks onto the lower tethers, and the top tether strap goes over the top of the seat and hooks onto the anchor on the back. This secures the seat not only at the bottom but at the top too, which prevents movement of a child’s head in a collision by as much as 6 inches. In some instances, the seatbelt can be used to connect to the lower anchors, but forward-facing car seats must always have the top tether connected to the anchor on the back of the seat.

How Many LATCH Locations Do You Need?

Every vehicle made in the US since 2003 uses the LATCH system, so you’ll find it in most cars on the road. The issue to consider, however, is how many LATCH locations are found in a vehicle. Not every seat in a car will have anchors and tethers – the front seats won’t because they should never be used for a car seat. But the rear seats might only have two LATCH locations, and this can become an issue if you need flexibility or you need multiple car seats at once.

Just because a large SUV has enough seating for eight people doesn’t mean it has six LATCH locations in the second and third rows. It might only have two or three, so it’s important to keep this in mind when you’re figuring out which vehicle is right for you. Here are some of the best options for vehicles to use with car seats, including their number of LATCH locations.

A red 2022 Kia K5 is shown driving along a desert road.

Best Sedan Options

Nissan Sentra

One of the best cars around for children and infants, the Sentra works well with both forward and rear-facing car seats as well as booster seats. The back seats have two lower anchors and three top latches, so while it can only fit two seats at most, you can position one seat on either side or in the center.

Cadillac CT5

Nearly as good as the Nissan Sentra, the Cadillac CT5 works well for rear and front-facing car seats for children and infants but isn’t quite as ideal for a booster seat. It has a similar anchor and latch layout as the Sentra, so you can fit two seats or one in any rear position.

Kia K5/Optima

If you like the functionality of the CT5 but you’re not about to spring for a Cadillac, then the Kia K5 (previously called the Optima) is a great option. It works well for a wide range of seats, though it’s not great for use with a booster – it has the same setup as the CT5 and the Sentra.

A black 2022 Volkswagen Arteon is shown parked in a driveway.

Best Hatchback

Volkswagen Arteon

If you’re looking at hatchbacks, then the Volkswagen Arteon is a great pick as it works well for a wide range of car seats, though the seat belts might be tricky for a child in a booster to use. Much like the sedans, it has three latch anchors on the back of the second-row seats but only two sets of lower anchors, so it can’t fit three car seats.

Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf is also a great choice for a hatchback; it fits a booster seat well, but installing a forward-facing car seat can be tricky, so keep that in mind. It has room for two car seats, like similar models.

A silver 2021 Nissan Rogue is shown parked at a campsite.

Best Two-Row SUVs

Audi Q8

The Audi Q8 is a fantastic choice for fitting car seats as it works very well with forward and rear-facing seats, infant seats, and boosters. Much like the sedans and hatchbacks, it has two sets of lower anchors and three top latches.

Hyundai Tucson

If you want something a bit more affordable, then the Hyundai Tucson is a great pick that has a setup that makes installing car seats just as easy and effective as the Audi model. It has two lower anchor sets and three top latches like the previous models.

Nissan Rogue

The Nissan Rogue is not only a very popular SUV overall but a great choice for car seats. It can easily fit different types of seats, though installing a forward-facing car seat can require some extra work; it has similar connections points as other two-row SUVs.

Subaru Forester

Finally, the Subaru Forester is also a great option; installing car seats is generally easy, though the use of a rear-facing seat can require shifting the front seat forward and losing some legroom. It has three top tethers and two sets of lower anchors like similar models.

A black 2022 GMC Yukon is shown towing a silver camper.

Best Three-Row SUVs

Volkswagen Atlas

One of the best options for a large vehicle, the Atlas works very well with any kind of car seat in both the second and third row. With the standard second-row bench seat, it has three sets of lower anchors and three top tethers, so you can easily fit three car seats in the second row – or two if you choose a model with a pair of captains chairs. It also has a pair of lower anchor sets and two top latches in the third row, so you can get up to five car seats into this vehicle.

GMC Yukon

The GMC Yukon is nearly as good as the VW Atlas, though it can be difficult for a kid in a booster seat in the second row to reach the seat belts if you pick the available captain’s chairs. There are three sets of lower anchors and three tethers in the rear, so if you choose a model with the second-row bench seat, you can get six car seats into the Yukon.

Kia Sorento

Although not quite as good as the Yukon or Atlas for car seats, the Kia Sorento can still be a great pick. It works well overall, though getting to the third row can be tricky, and the third row isn’t great for booster seats. You also don’t get as many connections throughout, so you won’t fit as many seats in it as the GMC model.

A silver 2021 Honda Odyssey Elite is shown parked in a desert area.

Best Minivans

Honda Odyssey

Although minivans might not be as popular as they once were, the Honda Odyssey is one of the best ones around and a great choice for car seats. Booster seats can be a little tough in this model, and it’s hard to get to the third row, but otherwise, it’s a terrific choice. It has three sets of top anchors in both the second and third row, with three sets of lower anchors in the second row and two sets in the third row.

Toyota Sienna

The Toyota Sienna is my other top choice for a minivan for car seats – booster seats work better in its second row than in the Odyssey, though getting to the third row and using a booster seat in the rear can still be tricky. Its biggest weakness is that it only has a pair of top latch anchors in the rear seats, so you get fewer options for installing car seats with this one. Still, it is a great choice overall, and Toyota’s reputation for excellent safety features makes it even better.