RV with Kids: Which Car Seats Our Family Uses

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I wrote previously about why we started RVing with kids, and also the safety considerations when putting car seats in RVs. Our research made us feel comfortable that if we could meet those safety requirements and follow all of our additional precautions, that we could RV with kids safely.

In this post, I’ll discuss:

  • our family’s everyday car seats,
  • which car seats the Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs) recommended we use in the RV with kids,
  • and what configuration and safety protocols the CPSTs recommended.
Start by reading my Car Seats in RVs: Safety Considerations post!

 

As I’ve stated previously, I am NOT a Child Passenger Safety Technician, so I relied on multiple other CPS Techs to glean information and expertise. I am also NOT advocating for anyone else to choose our same path. However, I often find it helpful to see how others have balanced safety considerations to make reasonable and practical decisions for their families. This is also true when in an RV with kids. I hope that sharing our research and experience helps those of you considering RVing with kids, too.

rv with kids car seats

 

Everyday Car Seats for Our Family

At home, we drive a minivan (which almost feels like a necessity with 5 small children – sliding doors forever!!). Here are the child restraints we use on an everyday basis:

9 Year Old
  • Weight: 70 lbs
  • Restraint: Low-back booster seat
  • Minivan position: Back row, middle
  • Why we chose it: We switched to a booster less than a year ago, just after he turned 9, when he was approaching the weight limit on his 5-point harness. We chose a low-back instead of a high-back due to space constraints in the back row.
7 Year Old
  • Weight: 53 lbs
  • Restraint: Forward-facing 5-point harness
  • Minivan position: Back row, left side
  • Why we chose it: Our kids have generally been on the smaller end of the weight spectrum, especially in the earlier years, so we tend to keep them restrained longer than others might. Our daughter is still well within the forward facing car seat weight limit. Though it converts to a booster (and feels like one), we don’t see a reason to switch to the booster setting yet (and she’s not bothered by the 5-point harness. Also, since our daughter is tall for her age, we like that this car seat has a relatively heigh height limit for the 5-point harness setting.
5 Year Old
  • Weight: 35 lbs
  • Restraint: Convertible 5-point harness, installed forward-facing
  • Minivan position: Back row, right side
  • Why we chose it: This is our favorite convertible car seat, and our son is still well within the limits.
2 Year Old
  • Weight: 24 lbs
  • Restraint: Convertible 5-point harness, installed rear-facing
  • Minivan position: Captain’s chair (middle row, left side)
  • Why we chose it: Told ya we love this seat! Our son is still well within the rear-facing height and weight limits. We extended rear face our children, and typically turn them between 3.5-4 years of age.
5 Month Old
  • Weight: 11.5 lbs
  • Restraint: Rear-facing infant bucket car seat
  • Minivan position: Captain’s chair (middle row, middle position)
  • Why we chose it: It’s a great infant seat. Enough said.

 

Which Car Seats We Used in an RV with Kids

Most of our kids were able to use their everyday car seats while traveling in the RV. I’ll explain more about the configurations below. Our 7 and 5 year olds remained in their forward-facing car seats, while the toddler and infant were able to stay rear-facing.

The trickiest child restraint was for our 9 year old, who is typically in a low-back booster seat. Every child (and every person in the vehicle!) needed to have some sort of upper body restraint, and since the back only had lap belts, we knew we couldn’t use a booster. We considered having him sit in the front seat with a booster and lap-and-shoulder belt. However, we didn’t feel great about putting him in the front seat. Additionally, that would have meant that one adult was sitting in the back with only a lap belt – also not ideal.

So we started looking into a couple options to properly restrain him. I originally really wanted him to be in a 5-point harness like the other kids. Almost all 5-point harnesses, however, max out at a 65 lb weight limit, and he is just over that (70 lbs). I did find this car seat that technically has an 85 lb weight limit. However, I talked to a couple of car seat experts, who were VERY skeptical it would actually perform up to that weight. Additionally, it has a 52″ height limit, which our child had definitely passed. So that wasn’t a great option.

Which Child Restraint for an Older Child

Since a 5-point harness wasn’t an option, I started looking into the Ride Safer Travel Vest. We’ve owned the small size vest for 6 years, and have taken it on many domestic and international trips. So we started looking into the large size vest for our 9 year old.

The folks at Ride Safer vest is completely safety tested and provides terrific protection. And unlike traditional boosters, it comes with an optional tether anchor when a shoulder belt is unavailable. This means it’s perfect when there is only a lap belt option, assuming there is a tether point available.

Since I originally thought a 5-point harness would be safest, I did ask the CPST if he would recommend using a 65 lb weight limit 5-point harness (even though our child was a few pounds over the limit) instead of the vest. (This was before I realized our child also exceeded the height limit on the 5-point harness.) He pointed out that the vest may actually be even safer than the 5-point harness car seat in this case. This is because with the 5-point harness, the seat/belt are then bearing the load of not only the child (who was just over the weight limit), but also the heavy car seat. With the vest, there was a much lower weight load since the vest itself weighs almost nothing.

Installing Car Seats in An RV with Kids

Anchoring the Forward-Facing Car Seats and Ride Safer Vest in an RV

Our particular RV had two anchor points built in to the two forward-facing seats in the back. These are the seats that were pull tested. We were most confident in these built-in anchor points carrying the load of a tethered car seat. All of the CPSTs suggested we put our heaviest two forward-facing children in those seats, the 7 and 9 year old.

That left us with one more forward-facing car seat without an anchor point. Fortunately, The Ride Safer folks also make something called an Energy Absorbing Tether Anchor Loop (EATAL). Basically, it’s a loop with a metal anchor attachment on one end that you can use to create an anchor point in a vehicle when there isn’t one available.

This way, you can tether the top of a forward-facing car seat even without a built-in anchor point, so long as there is a secure place to anchor the EATAL. In other words, if tyou can loop the EATAL around a sturdy place (e.g., a metal bar that’s also bolted to metal so it is structurally sound, perhaps on the bottom of the front captain’s chair), then you can create your own anchor point. The EATAL allowed us to then tether our third forward-facing car seat, since we do have a structurally sound metal bar available to tether it.

Forward-Facing 5-Point Harness or Ride Safer Vest for 5 Year Old?

I did debate using the small size Ride Safer vest with our 5-year old instead of a 5-point harness. After all, Ride Safer guarantees testing the EATAL with the vest. Plus, our child has worn it before. However, our 5-year old is small enough and does occasionally fall asleep in the car, so I felt more comfortable with him in a 5-point harness.

Because of his lower weight, I felt better about using the car seat + EATAL option than the the travel vest + EATAL option. The CPSTs also recommended this to me.

To be clear, the EATAL is ONLY safety tested with the Ride Safer vest. Since our 3rd kiddo is still well under the weight limit of the large vest (which the EATAL is tested with), and is also well under the weight limit of the car seat itself, we felt okay about anchoring with the EATAL. At the very least, even if it ever failed in a crash, it would at least absorb much of the impact prior to failing. That’s definitely better than nothing.

Installing Rear-Facing Car Seats in an RV with Kids: RVing With A Baby

Once we were clear on how to tether all the forward-facing car seats, it was much easier to figure out the rear-facing toddler and infant car seats in an RV. Since rear-facing car seats can be installed with a lap-only belt, that gave us more flexibility with where to place them. Putting the rear-facing convertible car seat and the infant car seat in an RV was pretty straightforward. RVing with a baby already felt new and uncharted, but this part was consistent amongst the CPSTs.

While I didn’t love having the two youngest children on a side-facing bench, the CPSTs pointed out that the 5-point harness seats, especially the infant bucket seat, are side impact tested. I definitely didn’t want them on the rear-facing bench in a rear-facing car seat (because that would essentially put them in a forward-facing position toward the front of the vehicle). So that left the side-facing option. While it isn’t the closest to the middle of the vehicle, they are still centered front to back, providing protection to them.

 

Car Seat Configuration in an RV with Kids

The final piece was nailing down the official configuration. We had a pretty good idea at this point, and settled on the following:

9 Year Old
  • Restraint: Ride Safer travel vest
  • RV Position: forward-facing seat with built-in anchor
  • Notes and considerations: We knew we needed to put our oldest child in one of the two forward-facing seats with the anchor points, as our two heaviest children needed to go there. The cushion was preventing a totally tight tether, however. So we removed the cushions from behind and underneath, and just had our son sit on a thinner cushion. That way, we were able to get the vest plenty secure.
7 Year Old
  • Restraint: Forward-facing 5-point harness
  • RV Position: forward-facing seat with built-in anchor
  • Notes and considerations: Like with our oldest, to get a tight enough tether, we removed the cushions from underneath and behind the seat.
5 Year Old
  • Restraint: Convertible 5-point harness, installed forward-facing
  • RV Position: backward-facing seat, tethering with the EATAL
  • Notes and considerations: Since he was in a forward-facing car seat installed on.a backwards-facing bench, he was essentially in a rear-facing position in the vehicle (facing toward the back). Since he’s still under the maximum rear-facing weight, we could also theoretically install the seat in a rear-facing position on the rear-facing seat, which would put him facing the front of the vehicle. That seemed to introduce more risk, and also gave his legs less room as they’d then be against the seat back, and wouldn’t be facing his siblings. We found a tether point for the EATAL on the driver’s captain’s chair, which was bolted to metal. We also removed the seat cushion from under and behind his seat to get a tight tether.
2 Year Old
  • Restraint: Convertible 5-point harness, installed rear-facing
  • RV position: Side-facing bench
  • Notes and considerations: This was an easy one to install rear-facing with the lap belt.
5 Month Old
  • Restraint: Rear-facing infant bucket car seat
  • RV position: Side-facing bench
  • Notes and considerations: This was another easy one to install rear-facing with the lap belt.

 

While our seats and configurations definitely err on the conservative side for restraining our children to the highest possible level, it’s always wise to check seat belt laws in your state.

Whew! Did you make it to the end? I hope sharing our experience, tips, and tricks for which car seats and the configuration we used in our RV with kids was helpful to you. What questions do you have? Please drop them in the comments below!

 

IF YOU LIKED THIS POST PUTTING CAR SEATS IN AN RV WITH KIDS, YOU MIGHT LIKE THESE POSTS TOO:

 

NOT PLANNING TO PUT CAR SEATS IN RVS QUITE YET? PIN THIS POST FOR LATER!

rv with kids which car seats to use


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5 Responses

  • Sarah Almquist says:

    We just picked up our new class C and I’ve been making myself a little crazy trying to figure out the car seat situation! Thank you for writing this! We have two children so we can use the two anchored lap belts on the forward facing dinette seat. My son is 5 so a forward facing 5 point harness seems pretty straightforward for him. But my daughter turns two in 2 weeks, and her seat can’t fit rear facing in that bench because of the recline angle. I can’t figure out if it’s better to have her forward face in the dinette next to her brother? Or install her forward facing in the rear facing dinette seat which ultimately puts her in a rear facing position? I wondered if any of your conversations with the CPSTs gave you insight into that!

    • I’m so glad it was helpful! I made myself crazy researching, too, so I’m glad someone else can benefit. 😉

      Can you install the toddler’s seat rear facing at the tether point if you remove the dinette table? If so, that’s what I would do. I suspect you’ll need to remove the table for legs to fit with the forward facing seat, anyway. And though you won’t need the tether point for the car seat in a rear facing position, the two forward-facing spots are the safest as they have been pull tested (at least they were in our RV).

      If that doesn’t work, I would probably put her forward facing in the seat next to her brother (Though I’m obviously not a CPST, so please do double check with one). Since there’s a built in tether point there and that spot has been pull tested, it’s going to be more secure than the rear-facing bench. And since she’s close to 2, I would personally take the benefit of that over the benefit of extended rear facing (since then you’d need to create a tether point for the car seat on the rear facing bench – it’s obviously doable and we did it, but only because we had 3+ kids. The two FF dinette positions are the first two spots I’d use, though).

      Whew! Hope that helps and feel free to email me with more questions!

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