The Best Car Seats for Pickup Trucks: The Safest Seats for Your Baby

Year after year, pickup trucks such as the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado or Toyota Tacoma are among the most popular vehicles sold in the United States. If you’re reading this article, chances are you know firsthand the utility value of a midsize pickup truck.

For those with children, however, their often restrictive cab sizes can clash with child car seats and make safely transporting youngsters a challenge. Many families choose to own two vehicles, and ensure that the other one has a roomy back seat perfect for child seats.  For those who need to transport child car seats in a pickup truck, here are some rules, tips, and suggestions on selecting and installing a child seat to keep your precious cargo safe.

Table of Contents: The Best Car Seats for Pickup Trucks

best car seat for pickup trucks tips

Where can my child ride in the pickup truck?

The safest place for a child to ride in the pickup truck is in the rear middle seat. The rear driver’s side seat is the second safest place.

Never transport children in the bed of a pickup truck

Next, you should know, there are some places a child should NEVER be transported.  Children should never be placed in the bed of a pickup truck, even with jump seats or a camper shell (source).  Aside from the obvious danger of collisions, exhaust fumes can cause death from carbon monoxide poisoning.  It’s also illegal in most cities and states, although a ticket is the least of your worries!

what about the best car seat for a pickup truck in a dinosaur safari park? Asking for a friend.
If you leave the top off your jeep, your baby may be susceptible to pteranodon attacks.

Never let children ride in the side-facing seats of pickup trucks

Children should also never ride in a side-facing jump seat in the cabin.  Child car seats are designed to be installed facing the front or rear of the vehicle, not the sides.  Every child seat on the market is rigorously engineered and extensively tested to keep its occupants safe. But all the tests focus on the two most common forms of impact:  Frontal or rearward impact.  

Where should I put the car seat in my pickup truck?

Avoid airbags

It is also critical to not place a child car seat in the path of an airbag.  Airbags deploy with great force and speed, and can kill or seriously injure children who are too small to tolerate the impact.  Even adults experience airbag deployment like a punch in the face! Modern vehicles increasingly come equipped with side curtain airbags in addition to the normal frontal airbags.  Side curtain airbags do not deploy with as much force and are safer, but could still harm a child. Children should be seated in the center of a row if possible, and taught not to lean against the side of the car where the side curtain airbag will deploy.

The rear center seat is best

The ideal location for a child car seat in a pickup truck is in the rear passenger seats of the cabin, in the center of the row.  Many pickup trucks today are sold in a 3-4 passenger configuration with names like quad-cab, crew cab, crewmax. If you have this style of cab, center of the rear seat is the best location, followed by the passenger’s side and driver’s side of the rear seat. 

What about pickup trucks with small passenger areas?

Many pickup trucks have a smaller passenger area behind the driver’s seat.  These spaces can take the form of a row of small seats or a bench, and pose a greater challenge for child seat locating.  It is extremely important to place the child seat in such a way that there is not excessive overhang. Consult the user manual for your child seat and never exceed the maximum listed overhang. 

On many light pickup trucks such as the Toyota Tacoma, the back of the rear bench folds down to create a broader shelf. This shelf can serve as the base for a child car seat. Verify with the owner’s manual that this usage is supported by your vehicle manufacturer.  

I haven’t found any car seats recommended for karts yet… the search continues!

Can children in car seats ride in the front seat of a pickup truck?

If the rear seat or bench area of your compact pickup truck is unsuitable for car seats, you can use the front passenger seat.  It is critical that you disable the front passenger airbag while children are using this seat. Many vehicles have a sensor in the front passenger seat that detects an underweight occupant and disables the airbag, but don’t rely on this. 

Many pickup trucks have a keyed on/off switch that disable the front passenger airbag. These will use your ignition key and can be used to safely disarm the airbag. If you cannot disable the airbag by a method which the vehicle designers have specified, do not transport children in the front passenger seat! 

Unofficial methods of disabling the airbag such as removing a fuse or cutting wires are extremely dangerous and unreliable and should never be done. While using the front passenger seat for a child car seat, move the seat position to its most rearward to maximize the distance between the child seat and the dashboard.

How do I install a car seat in my pickup truck?

All vehicles and child car seats sold in the US use a common system of attachment known as LATCH.  If your vehicle supports child car seats on a folded bench, these attachment points will be available in this configuration.  Additionally, it is critical to find the tether points installed in the pickup cab for properly securing the child seats.

If you’re unsure if your child seat fits on the bench of a compact pickup, most areas have free car seat installation checks provided by police, department of transportation workers, or even dedicated car seat inspection stations.  Use of these resources is highly advisable, and your local driver’s bureau will have the information you need.

What type of car seat is best for a pickup truck?

Children should be transported in a rear-facing child seat for as long as possible. It is the safest orientation for injury avoidance in a crash.  The usual cause of injury to a child in a crash is contact with the interior of the vehicle. The child seat restrains them from this.

In the rear-facing position, the child is pressed against the child seat with its back, neck, and skull completely supported by the child seat’s padded, impact-absorbing material.  In the front-facing position, these same forces are applied to the child’s chest and torso where the straps secure it, and the more concentrated force has a higher chance of causing injury.

Overwhelmingly, organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institute of Highway Safety, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recommend transporting children in a rear-facing child seat until reaching the maximum height and weight for that seat.

Please note that not all car seat manufacturers test for whomping willow impacts

Get to the point already! What’s the best car seat for a pickup truck?

When selecting a child seat for a pickup truck, it’s a good idea to get one that is compact to maximize your ability to install it safely.  As convenient as the 3-in-1 convertible systems with a detachable bassinet are, they take up more room which is at a premium in a compact or midsize pickup truck.  Stick with slim, dedicated car seats for maximum safety. The seats I recommend are small and narrow, which means they are likely to fit in your pickup truck. Here are a few recommendations:

The best infant seat for pickup trucks: Chicco KeyFit 30 

The Chicco KeyFit 30 is narrow (only 17 inches across) and not too deep, so it fits in a variety of pickup trucks.  It accommodates babies from 4-30 pounds.

You can also purchase it together with a compatible stroller, so you can just pop the car seat out of your truck, click the seat into the stroller, and your baby keeps on sleeping while you run errands.

Check the price of the Chicco KeyFit 30 on Amazon, or the car seat plus stroller!

Click the image to see more details on Amazon

The best convertible car seat for pickup trucks: Britax Boulevard ClickTight (And it’s my #1 pick!)

Thinking of buying a convertible car seat? These seats are more expensive than infant seats or forward facing seats. However, you’ll probably save money by purchasing just one seat.  

The Britax Boulevard ClickTight has one of the smallest profiles for a rear-facing car seat. This means it fits in even small trucks, like the F150 and Colorado. It fits children rear-facing from 5-40 pounds and forward-facing 20-65 pounds. It is super easy to install, and even clicks when tightened correctly. Check the price of the Britx Boulevard ClickTight on Amazon!

Click the image to see more details on Amazon

If you have a little more room in your truck, or are looking for another option, consider the Combi Coccoro. It fits children from 3-33 pounds rear-facing and 20-40 pounds forward facing. It can be somewhat difficult to install in your truck, but it is very narrow.
Again, Amazon has more details and images on the Combi Coccoro for you to review!

Click the image to see more details on Amazon

The best low-cost convertible car seat for pickup trucks: Evenflo Tribute

A cheap car seat will still protect your child. All car seats must pass rigorous safety testing. Lower-cost car seats often have less padding or are more difficult to install. The Evenflo Tribute LX fits that bill exactly. It will keep your child safe. But the thin cushioning may not be comfortable for your child on long trips. It can be difficult to tighten the straps to install the seat properly in certain vehicles. And when rear-facing, it is important to install the seat at a specific angle so that your baby can breathe properly. This seat does not have features to help you with that. Instead, the owner’s manual explains that you should roll up a towel to angle the car seat properly.

The Evenflo Tribute LX is available on Amazon.

Click the image to see more details on Amazon

More tips: How can I check if this is really the best car seat for my pickup truck?

Many stores allow parents to try installing car seats before purchase! Take your truck to the store and check it out. Or buy it on Amazon and then return it if it doesn’t fit. It is always best to have the car seat ready to go before your baby arrives!

Did you know you can even have a car seat technician certified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration check your car seat installation and even help you install it, or show you how to use it? Use this NHTSA tool to find an inspection station near you!

in the star wars universe, searching for the best car seat for pickup truck only shows podracers as the results
Be aware: an AT-AT may have a spacious interior, but since it is a military vehicle, it does not have LATCH points for car seats.
You will have to install it using the normal seat belts.

Conclusion: The Best Car Seats for Pickup Trucks

As you can see, the best car seats for pickup trucks have narrow profiles that will fit in the smaller rear rows of many trucks. The Britax Boulevard ClickTight is the best choice, and I recommend placing it in the rear center seat of the truck. Try the seat out and visit a local car seat station for help installing and using the seat.

Figuring out life with a new baby is hard enough. I hope this guide answered some of your questions about car seats and pickup trucks so that you and your family stay safe! 

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