The Best Infant Car Seats for Small Cars That You’ll Love

best infant car seats for small cars

As stated in previous articles, it is important when shopping that you find the right seat for your budget, vehicle, and child.

As a child passenger safety technician, one of my biggest struggles is making sure that folks know how to install their seats correctly. This also sometimes means letting them know that the seat they have chosen may not be what they envisioned.

It is a hard thing to be the big bad wolf sometimes.  My goal is not to upset caregivers with their choice but to help them make sure they know the ins and outs of their seats.

chicco car seat

What Type of Seat Are You Looking For?

Infant Seat

A rear-facing only seat that usually attaches to a stroller. The traditional “Bucket Seat” as many call it.  This is the common seat used to leave the hospital.  It goes from 0 to 12m+ depending on the child’s stats.

A Convertible Seat

A convertible seat consists of a seat that can be rear-face and forward-face. However, not all convertible seats are financially worth it. These seats go from newborns to age 6+. Many folks are ditching the infant seat and going straight to the convertible. 

Rear-Facing until you have met the maximum requirements of your convertible seat protects your child’s spine from serious harm.

Multi-Mode Seat

A seat that starts from newborn to booster. This is sometimes confusing when it comes to marketing. You really want to research this well. Although marketed for all stages, it does not guarantee you will get all stages. It also does not guarantee you will be able to safely install a newborn into this seat.

Combination Seat

A seat that only works forward facing. Minimum age of 2 is recommended for most combination seats and is required by some manufacturers.  This type of seat converts to a booster seat option after the maximum limits of the harness are met. 

The majority of harnessed seats in the US and Canada harness to a maximum of 65lbs. However, some discontinued seats are still floating around and not expired that go to 80lbs. This seat is recommended for use with the top tether in the US and in Canada it is legally required.

Booster Seat

Booster seats come in high back format and low back format. Both are equally as safe if used correctly and at the right time. Children must be mature enough to sit still for the duration of the trip and not play with belts. The child must be able to sleep in a seated position without slouching over. Usually, we see this being needed more around ages 6 & 7.

Vehicle Seat Belt

When engineers invented seatbelts, they were designed for the protection of grown men. Women and children were an afterthought. So it is important that your child has reached at least 4ft9 for the seatbelt to fit properly. It is also important to remember bone maturity. This is often met between ages 10-12.

Before You Shop for Your Infant Seat

Many folks are ditching the big SUVs for more energy-efficient options.  This is great for our environment but what does it mean for our families?

A common misconception is that all seats will fit all vehicles. But they don’t. Just like children, all seats come in different shapes and sizes and have different requirements.

Here is what to look for before buying a seat

  • Affordability– All seats on the market are equally as safe if used correctly.
  • The Right Fit– Not all seats fit all vehicles. Some seats have a smaller footprint than others and some just do not work for smaller infants. Making sure you read reviews and reach out to a CPST near you on a seat before buying will be key to ensuring your baby can fit in and find out if it works for your vehicle.
  • Stroller Compatibility- Finding out which stroller will work for your family can sometimes be challenging. I will break down a few options available.
  • Eco-Friendly– Many companies are finding ways to make their products just as safe using eco-friendly products. Not that this makes the others unsafe. It is what works for your lifestyle.

century baby

When Downsizing Your Vehicle

When downsizing your vehicle you need to factor in your entire family.  Now making sure that everyone fits correctly and safely is a matter of reaching out to a CPST near you to make sure your dream of downsizing will work for your family.

3 seat belts and top tether anchors on the back of every seat is not an indicator that you will get 3 children in.

Compact Infant Seats

Some of our most compact options on the market today, are pretty easy to work with multiple vehicles. A breakdown of a few of our tech favorites will hopefully help you make the right choice when making your purchase.

This list of seats, you are about to get to know, are some of the seats with the smallest footprint. These recommendations are factored with expertise from many child passenger safety technicians across the US and some Canadian techs for the models available in Canada.

Chicco KeyFit 30- Mid Price Range

The Chicco KeyFit 30 comes in 4 different options.

KeyFit 30 Base Model

KeyFit 30 Base model

Comes in 3 different fashions. Orion, Calla & Parker. The seat comes with easy to install base with two solid level guides and premium LATCH. Easy to wash fabric. The compact size of this seat allows for installation in the small spaces.  It has a 4 to 30lbs weight limit and height limit of 30inches.

KeyFit 30 ClearTex

keyfit30 cleartex

Comes in 3 different fashions. Glacial, Pewter & Slate. What makes this one pretty special is it comes ClearTex fabric. It was created with no added chemicals. Meaning parents can have some comfort knowing that their babies are riding in a chemical-free environment

KeyFit 30 Zip

KeyFit 30 Zip

 Currently available in Black. It comes with a ventilated canopy, zip-open boot cover for that chilly fall and winter days, and an ergonomic plush infant insert. The zip feature allows for easy removal of fabric for washing or storing when not in use. 

KeyFit 30 Zip Air

KeyFit 30 Zip Air

Currently available in Q Collection.  This canopy comes with zip to add on a visor for extra shade and easy removal for washing. Made with 3D AirMesh to help add airflow to your baby.

Chicco Infant seats are compatible with Chicco brand strollers and those strollers that have Chicco adapters. Chicco Infant seats have different bases that work with different models. Their website has a great guide to help you make sure you’re getting the right base. 

Just to note, please make sure if selecting a separate base than that that came with the seat purchased that the dimensions are not larger. This could hinder the compact nature you are seeking. Chicco also has a Canadian website for those available in Canada.

Century Infant Seats-Lower Price Range

Century might be a name that rings a bell for many.  Making their return to the market with children’s products during the pandemic they took a chance and created one of the most compact infant seats on the market.

Weighing in at only 7lbs this seat is super lightweight. This allows for easy transportation of your tiny infant to and from the house.  This rear-facing only seat allows babies as low as 4lbs to ride safely and securely.  It has a max weight limit of 35lbs and a max height limit of 32inches or one inch from the top of the shell.

Century has also gone above and beyond with the production of their infant seat using the HAPPY PLANET COLLECTION. This is part of their “Do More™ promise to Recycle, Reimagine, and Give Back. ” Its tiny footprint allows for it to be installed into smaller vehicles with ease. Using either the seatbelt or LATCH connectors.  It comes in two models

Carry On™ 35 Base Model

Century

Carry On™ 35 Base Model comes with an infant insert and easy-to-clean fabric.

Carry On™ 35 LX Premium Model

Century Carry On 35 LX Lightweight Infant Car Seat

Carry On™ 35 LX Premium Model with an added visor on the hood and extra bottom insert for infants. Also includes Harness Covers. 

Currently only available in the US.

Clek Liing- Higer Price Range

Clek

A Canadian-designed and made seat entered the market in 2006 when it was under the Magna Umbrella company. It then parted ways with the company in 2010 to what it is now known as Clek Inc. Designed by two parents who wanted to keep their children safe on the roads while riding in style.  This innovative design was the first of its kind to hit the North American market with few safety aspects from around the world combined into one seat.

They engineered their seat to go above and beyond the Federal Safety Standards. Its narrow design also makes it a contender on the market for the possibility of 3 across situations.

With a great passion for safety, Clek introduced its first-ever infant seat in 2019. The Clek Liing. This compact option comes in all the fun colors offered by Clek inc. especially their bright color choices and fun tokidokie patterns. Clek also comes in some flame retardant-free options like the Merino Wool.

The Liing offers a weight limit of 4 to 35lbs and a height limit of 32inches. With the different reclines offered on the base of the seat, you can ensure your seat is installed level.

Liing’s base comes with a load leg option for added safety to the baby’s neck and spine. This helps reduce the downward rotation in a collision. Now before everyone panics, you do not need a load leg to ensure your baby’s safety. 

With easy-to-use Rigid LATCH the base installs like a breeze.

Clek Liingo

clek liingo

I decided to put Clek Liingo into its own category.  The reason for that is this is the first of its kind infant seat that installs with no base.  This seat is great for travelers who don’t own a car and rely on public transportation like UBERS, LIFT or Taxi services.

This infant seat installs with LATCH connectors or using EURO routing. EURO routing seat belt installs are becoming more popular on the American market for infant seats. Liingo comes in all the amazing patterns and colors offered by Clek and also comes in the Marino Wool which is flame retardant free.

This is the most compact infant seat on the market. However, it might not be ideal for everyday use if you own your own vehicle. It is definitely for the on-the-go careless lifestyle. Like all other Clek seats, Liingo is also part of the Clek recycling program where you can send them back to be recycled properly and avoid landfills!

Clek infant seats are compatible with a huge assortment of strollers with adapters. One con of the Clek seats is that it is a more challenging seat to wash. Clek offers its own cleaning tool kit available on its website with wonderful instructional videos.

Clek customer service is amazing and they have a database of seats and vehicles fit for your convenience as well.

Clek seats are available through Canadian retailers as well as on the Canadian version of the website.

To Sum It All Up

Of course, not every family can afford the seats listed, and sometimes finding the best sale or they need to apply for program seats.  I understand I have been there. Some families have had to make their passenger seat unusable to safely fit their infant seat and the second parent sits in the back with the baby.  This is ok too.

Some families have had to buy used seats. Which is something we don’t recommend due to unknown history. however, if a used seat is all you can afford, that is ok too. This is what to look for when getting a used seat.

  • Is this seat expired? Check for the manufacturer date sticker on the seat
  • Is this seat legal in my country? In the US your seats will have FMVSS stickers in Canada your seat will have a CMVSS Maple Leaf sticker.
  • Has this seat been in a collision? It is important to know if this seat has been in any type of collision. Different manufacturers have different crash criteria for collision it is important to read your manual to find this information out.
  • Has this seat been washed correctly? All seats have proper washing instructions listed in their manuals and sometimes on the tags of the padding. Harness straps CAN NOT be submerged.
  • Can I trust this person with my child’s life? If buying from a complete stranger are you 100% sure you are able to trust that this person has your child’s best interest at heart?

FAQs

Question: Why can’t I install this with both LATCH & Seatbelt? Doesn’t it make it safer?

Answer: Each seat was independently tested by using one or the other.  A good example is that you don’t use glasses and contacts to improve your sight. It is also important that you read your manuals thoroughly to ensure you are installing the base or seat according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  A couple of seats on the market do permit installing with both LATCH and seatbelt. The majority do not allow this.

Question: Expiry dates are just for show. Isn’t it just a money scam? My seat for my daughter born in 2010 is still new we used it twice.

Answer: Over the years, even if not in use, a seat will deteriorate. Just like anything else. Take a green lawn chair for example. You buy your bright green plastic lawn chair. Over time from sun use, the cold snaps, the rain, that chair will change colors.
More and more research into child passenger safety is becoming available. With this, many laws and federal requirements are added. New tests developed and best practices. Meaning that the 2010 seat although still “new” might not actually be the safest.

Question: My neighbor’s great aunt’s cousin had this seat and it is the best of the best. Why won’t it fit my vehicle properly?

Answer: Choosing your seat should not be based on what your neighbor has. Each seat on the market has its own individual footprint.  Although it works for one family it might not work for yours. Getting the right fit for all your needs is key to ensuring your child’s safety

My Ending Tech Choice

clek car seat

While remaining nonbiased, I must say my favorite infant seat out of this list is the Clek Liing. I love the tiny footprint. The thought and ingenuity that went into this seat are from a parent’s perspective. As a parent who lost two children in a motor vehicle collision, I am more conscious of what thought processes and factors go into a seat that I will be using to potentially save my child’s life.

I love the added load leg feature to help with the downward rotation and I LOVE that we have beautiful color options with all Clek seats. These seats are on the higher end of the price range so not affordable for everyone.

When it comes down to it, all that matters is that you find the right fit for your family that can be safely and correctly installed.  With inflation and gas prices at some of the highest they have been in over a decade, many people are downsizing to smaller cars.  You can safely fit your family too. It just take a little digging to find the right fit for your family.

Saving Lives, One Car Seat At A Time.

Eran J Child Passenger Safety Advocate & CPST

HAILIE AND TRENT'S LAW

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