The Best Trucks for Car Seats | Top Pickups for Families
Many families are now using pickup trucks as family vehicles. Manufacturers are creating new cab configurations that offer more space and greater safety for passengers of all ages and sizes. If you’re considering that option, it’s important to research the best trucks for car seats before making the purchase.
This guide does much of that research for you. We looked at the top pickup trucks on the market today to see how they measure up to safety guidelines. In addition, we reviewed design options that are important to parents with young children.
Let’s jump in and discover the best pickup trucks for families towing a lot more than furniture!
Are Car Seats Safe in Pickup Trucks?
Car seats are safe in pickup trucks as long as you follow some basic guidelines:
- When installing a car seat in the front seat of a truck with an active airbag, never place the car seat in rear-facing position. If your child is still legally required to ride rear facing, select a truck with a forward-facing back seat or a key on/off switch for the passenger side airbag.
- Never place the car seat in a back seat that faces the side or back of the truck. Front-facing seats are safest for little ones.
- Make sure the car seat fits properly on the truck seat. We’ll discuss truck seat dimensions and other specifics later in this guide.
- When installing multiple car seats, make sure they are all properly installed and aren’t squished too tight together. In some cases, it’s safer to place one car seat on each side of the seat rather than placing them side by side.
- Read your truck’s manual to determine the location of the tethering anchor. You may need to lift the seat up or fold it down, and there are different types of tethering devices in trucks. Also look for directions on properly routing the seat belt through the tether because that can differ between trucks.
Some pickup trucks are safer for babies in car seats than others. Some trucks may also have manufacturer warnings or recommendations regarding positioning for car seats. Make sure to read the truck’s manual. And ask questions before purchasing to ensure you understand the limitations of the truck’s design.
In general, many trucks are safe for car seats. The rest of this guide will help you identify the best trucks for car seats. And then you’ll learn how to safely install your car seats for maximum protection.
The Best Placement for Car Seats in Trucks — What’s Safest?
The center of the back seat is the best place to install a car seat in a truck. If the center seat isn’t available or you’re installing multiple car seats in a truck, the passenger-side seat is the safest second pick. The driver-side back seat isn’t unsafe. But crash research has proven it a bit less safe than the other seat options.
Any position in the back seat is better than placing the car seat in the front. While that means trucks with back seats are generally safer for children than single-cab trucks, that doesn’t mean you can’t safely install a car seat in the front of a truck.
If you purchase a single-cab truck with one row of seating, make sure the seat is wide enough for the base of the car seat and there is a top tether to securely anchor the car seat. Also make sure you can turn the airbags off for the passenger seat. We’ll touch more on single-cab car seat safety elsewhere in this guide.
Essential Features for a Car Seat-Friendly Pickup Truck
Cab and seat design are the most important features to consider when selecting a family pickup truck. Start by choosing between small cabs with one seat and larger cabs with back seats.
Crew cab trucks with full-sized back seats are ideal as long as the back seat meets the following criteria:
- Wide enough to accommodate the base of a car seat. Extended cab back seats may not offer enough room between the back wall and the front seat to safely seat a child in a car seat. The folding seats of some extended cabs are also not wide or strong enough to accommodate a car seat.
- Forward facing. Back seats turned to the back or out to the sides aren’t safe for car seats.
- Easy access. Small back seats that are accessed by the front doors are often difficult to impossible for car seat installation. Separate doors in the back allow for safe installation. Plus they make it easier to get young children in and out of the truck safely.
The seat design is important regardless of the number of seats available. Some designs feature wider seat cushions on the ends with indented seat cushions in the center of the back seat. That may eliminate the back seat center position for car seat installation due to the limited width.
This list serves as your cheat sheet when shopping for a new or used pickup truck:
- On/Off Airbag Switch with Key — Not all single-cab trucks allow you to turn the airbags off. But this capability is critical if you’re installing a rear-facing car seat in a single-row seat or front seat. The force of an airbag opening during a crash is enough to harm a child restrained in a car seat. That means they’re often more dangerous than helpful for the littlest family members. Make sure your truck has a key to turn the airbags off completely.
- Top Tether Anchor — Top tethers are required to safely install forward-facing car seats in front seats or single-cab trucks. Tethering limits the distance your child’s head will travel forward in an accident. Trucks made after 2001 should have an anchor, but you may need to fold the seat down or lift it up to find it. Installation is often tricky, but this isn’t an installation step you want to skip.
- Wide Seats — Make sure the truck’s seat is wide enough to hold at least 85% of the car seat’s base. If you can fit the full base on the seat, all the better. Some car seats require full seat coverage, so read your manual and compare base and car seat measurements to make sure you meet manufacturer guidelines in this area.
- Safety Features — Modern trucks have a wide variety of standard and optional safety features that give parents peace of mind when riding with little ones. We’re talking about lane control, backup cameras, and blind spot detectors. You can even turn your rearview mirror into a camera that shows you exactly what’s back there in real time. The more you have to invest in a family truck, the more you should consider these safety features.
Notice that some of these features relate more to some types of trucks than others. For instance, a single-cab pickup truck must have a seat that is wide enough to accommodate the car seat. For rear-facing car seats, a key to turn off the passenger-side airbag is essential. Single-cab trucks should also have the proper tether to anchor the car seat.
What Trucks Can You Put a Car Seat In?
You can put a car seat in most modern single cab trucks plus many extended cab trucks and most crew cab trucks. It comes down to the seat design, available legroom, and proper tether anchors for modern car seats.
We’ve talked about the features of the best pickup truck for car seats in general. It’s time to get specific and start looking at some leading family trucks on the market today. If you’re going for a new pickup truck, the following three are among the best:
The Best Truck for Car Seats- Ram 1500
2021 models have 45.2 inches of legroom in the back seat, which makes it easier to install a car seat and reach back to interact with your child on the road. That space may also make it easier to strap a child in and out of the seat safely. Older Ram 1500 models also have adequate legroom for installation and daily travel with a car seat.
The back seats are wide enough on these trucks to accommodate a car seat at least on the sides. Some may have narrower center seats, so check dimensions if you need to use the center back seat for your car seat.
If comfort for adults is a top concern for you, the Ram 1500 still wins. One large comparison of 2020 model vehicles found that the Ram 1500 seats had the fewest complaints from consumers and were among the most comfortable.
The best pickup truck for 3 car seats – Honda Ridgeline
The Ridgeline is a great pick for larger families. The crew cab seats up to five people and offers a roomy back seat that safely accommodates one or more car seats. The back seat is a straight line, so you don’t have to worry about a narrow middle seat that won’t work well with wider car seats. The seats are also flatter than other truck seats, so it’s easier to fit multiple car seats.
The potential downside to this truck is the difficulty level of installation. Positioning one car seat on the side of the back seat is rather easy but positioning some car seats in the center or adding a second or even third car seat complicates the issue. That said, you can fit up to three car seats in the Ridgeline’s spacious back seat.
The best truck for ages 0-18 – GMC Canyon
The Canyon is known as a small pickup truck ready for adventure, but the crew cab models have spacious back seats. These cabs can fit up to five people and feature straight back seats that are suitable for installing at least a couple car seats.
The extended cabs are also an option for parents who only need to install one or maybe two car seats. The back seat is smaller than the crew cab, but the truck will still seat up to four people. The smaller back seat may just make car seat installation a bit more difficult.
The cabs are also designed to remain quiet while in operation, which is important to many families riding with newborns or young children. The truck is less likely to interfere with naptime on the road when designed to reduce interior noise.
When the little ones grow up and take over the steering wheel, these trucks are equipped with a special setting for teen drivers.
Best Pickup Trucks for Newborn Car Seat to Booster Seat
The best family trucks will take your little ones from a newborn car seat to a booster seat and on into the teen and young adult years. Any of the trucks listed above in our general recommendations will work, but there are a couple additional options for families hauling one to two car seats:
- Nissan Frontier Crew Cab — The king cab may work for one car seat, but the crew cab offers a bit more room for a second car seat. The crew cab also makes installation a bit easier if you only have one car seat at a time. Note that the back seat doesn’t offer the space that you would get from the Ram 1500 or Honda Ridgeline, but you may pay a bit less for the Frontier.
- Toyota Tundra CrewMax — The CrewMax cab is available with several newer Tundra models, including the SR5, Limited, TRD Pro, and Platinum. The cab includes a roomy back seat that can hold up to five people, including a car seat or two. Newer models have the tethering anchors you need to securely install a car seat in the back seat.
- Chevy Silverado — The Silverado features a spacious back seat with the right tethers to safely install at least two car seats. The newer models are also packed with built-in cameras, so you can take safety to new levels while relaxing in comfort with the whole family.
Related post: Do you have a tall or larger than average kid? Find the best car seats for big babies here!
Best Trucks that Fit 3 Car Seats
Finding trucks that fit three car seats safely and comfortably is a bit of an adventure for many parents. Ideally, all three car seats will fit in the back seat, but there is also the option of putting one car seat in the front. If two adults need to ride in the truck, then the third car seat must fit safely in the center of the front seat.
Some of our top picks for three car seats include:
- Ford F-150 SuperCrew — The back seat is large enough to hold three car seats safely, and you won’t have to work too hard to get all three seats in place. The back seat includes top tether anchors that are easy to access. The interior is also designed for productivity with built-in front seat workspace and a large touchscreen console. The cab features added storage suitable for toys, diapers, bags, and other supplies.
- Ram 1500 Crew Cab — Ram does make it a bit difficult to get three car seats into position across the back seat, but it’s possible with the crew cab. With added storage space and ample legroom, this is a good option for families in need of a powerful truck that is also safe for the little ones.
- GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cab — The Sierra is a light-duty truck with enough back seat space to fit two or three car seats without significantly repositioning the front seat. You may get away with one car seat in the smaller cabs, but the crew is essential if you have three little ones along for the ride.
Related post: Once you’ve selected a truck, find the best car seat to go with it!
Which Trucks are Good For Car Seats and Get the Best Gas Mileage?
Midsize pickup trucks are the best option for good gas mileage without sacrificing room for car seats. Some compact trucks may offer the best gas mileage but lack the space needed to properly install a modern car seat. Most families will get what they need with a midsize pickup.
Gas mileage varies not only by truck but also by engine. It’s important to consider all engine options before making a final selection, especially if you’re purchasing a new truck and have the option of multiple body and interior styles. Sometimes the most energy-efficient engines are limited to select models.
In general, the following trucks will serve double duty by accommodating a car seat or two while keeping the gas guzzling in check:
- Ram 1500 EcoDiesel
- Chevy Silverado
- GMC Sierra 1500
- Ford F-150 2WD Hybrid
Related post: Do you travel a lot? Check out the best FAA approved car seats that will also fit in your pickup truck with their small footprints!
What are the Best Used Trucks for Families?
When shopping for used trucks that will work well for a family, consider a few basic criteria:
- Interior room
- Seat size
- Seatbelt tethers/anchors
- Safety and comfort options
If you want to make sure you have enough space inside the truck for a growing family, look to used models of the following trucks:
- Chevrolet Silverado – The 2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Crew Cab was quite popular, and you can still find them used in most local markets at reasonable prices. They have roomy interiors with six seats, and most have some modern upgrades like keyless entry, Bluetooth, and steering wheel controls.
- GMC Sierra 1500 – Look for models 2018 and newer to avoid some mechanical issues prevalent with older models. The 2020 and 2021 models are the best options as far as mechanical quality, but all models offer a roomy interior that will work for many families.
- Ford F-150 – The best options for used F-150 trucks are the years 2013 through 2020. The SuperCrew cab offers the space many growing families need, and the truck is quite powerful when it comes to towing capacity.
If you’re looking for a tough family truck that you can take camping or on other outdoor adventures, look for a used Jeep Gladiator. It was designed for off-road adventures and doesn’t drive as smoothly as most pickup trucks in the city, but it will take your family into the woods or up a mountain with the greatest comfort and safety. The design fits up to five people, but keep in mind that the interior is still not as roomy as the trucks listed above.
What is the Most Reliable Used Truck Brand?
According to J.D. Power reliability ratings, the following brands offer some of the most dependable used trucks on the market today:
- Nissan – Best Picks: 2019 Titan, 2017 Frontier
- Chevrolet – Best Picks: 2018 Silverado 1500, 2018 Colorado
- Ford – Best Picks: 2019 F-150, 2019 Ranger
- Toyota – Best Picks: 2017 Tundra, 2017 Tacoma
What Trucks are Best to Buy Used?
You can buy most used trucks used without problems as long as they were well-maintained by their previous owners. To minimize the risk of mechanical problems, look for trucks with only one or two previous owners. Many dealerships and used car lots will show you the CARFAX, which tells you the number of previous owners and whether the vehicle was involved in an accident plus other historical information. You can also pull the report online for a fee.
Also, look at the number of miles on the truck. In general, trucks with over 100,000 miles are most likely to need mechanical repairs. Assuming the truck is properly maintained, many trucks made in 2010 or later years will last close to if not more than 200,000 miles. Buying under the 100,000 mark is the best way to get a truck that is worth the price you pay, especially if you don’t know how well it was maintained in the past.
Keep in mind that trucks with diesel engines generally last well past the 200,000-mile mark. You may purchase a diesel truck with more miles with less risk of needing mechanical repairs.
The Worst Trucks for Car Seats
Some trucks are great on gas mileage and have enough power to take you on amazing off-road adventures and camping trips… But they aren’t so great for families with car seats on board. Many older model single cab and extended cab trucks fit into this category. They don’t have the tethering anchors and seat width required for safe car seat installation.
Some modern trucks fit into the not-so-great category for families as well, including the Ford Maverick Hybrid. It’s one of the most energy-efficient trucks on the road today, but it doesn’t offer the space needed to comfortably install a car seat. If you can get a seat in there, it’s a tight fit and a lot of work. IT may remind you of installing a bulky car seat in the back of a small compact car.
Related post: The Best Car Seats for Compact Vehicles
Buying the Best Truck for Families with Young Children
The owner’s manual is your best friend when buying the best pickup truck for car seats. If you’re considering a used truck, ask if you can view the manual before committing to the sale. Make sure that the truck doesn’t prohibit or discourage the use of car seats. Study the recommended seat positions for car seats and the directions for installation.
For used trucks, you can ask a dealership or auto salesman if they have a manual available. If not, you may need to settle for asking questions. Ask about the safety and installation of car seats prior to buying. Reputable dealers will have information regarding the interior features. And they may help guide you toward a great truck for family use.
Trucks are great resources that make everything from gardening to moving easier. But you’re now hauling cargo far more important than a washer or dryer. Select carefully to ensure your little one is safe and happy in the family’s new ride.
Related post: Best Trucks for Families