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How to Fix Your Rear-Facing Recline Angle Using Noodles or Rolled Towels

2014-chrysler-town-and-country-rear-interior-view-motor-trendPerhaps you don’t have a vehicle like the one on the left, but vehicle seats like those send shivers up most child passenger safety technicians’ spines. When we see a vehicle seat cushion with a slope that deep, we know we’ll have to even it out when installing a rear-facing carseat.

Rear-facing carseats require adjustment to a particular recline angle – that angle can vary from one carseat to another and is specified by each manufacturer. Most (but not all) infant carseats have a base that has a built-in recline feature so you can adjust the angle in order to achieve the correct recline on any vehicle seat. However, if your carseat doesn’t have a built-in recline feature, or if it isn’t enough to get the seat reclined appropriately – you can usually use a cut foam pool noodle or rolled towel.

graco-snugride-recline-feature-on-base
Convertible carseats all have some way to adjust the angle when the seat is installed rear-facing. Most convertibles on the market today can be installed properly rear-facing without needing anything extra. However, if the recline feature isn’t enough to achieve the necessary angle specified by the manufacturer, you can usually use a cut foam pool noodle or rolled towel to fill the gap and support the carseat at that recline angle. The seat below is the perfect example of a situation where you might need to use a pool noodle or rolled towel.

Tribute reclined line level to ground

Which is better—noodle or towel?

First, read your carseat instruction manual to see if they specify a preference or have any prohibitions. Some manufacturers will specify in the instruction manual or on their website what to use with their carseat. Some manufacturers (e.g., Chicco and Diono) don’t allow pool noodles or rolled towels to adjust the rear-facing recline angle on their seats. Clek specifies the use of a tightly rolled towel, if necessary, when installing their Fllo convertible seat. This is a quote from the Fllo instruction manual:

A tightly rolled towel may be placed under the recline foot at the vehicle seat crease if needed to achieve the correct recline angle. Do NOT use pool noodles to adjust the recline angle as this may affect the stability of the installation.

If foam noodles are available in your area and your instruction manual doesn’t specify a preference for a rolled towel, by all means, use lengths of noodles. Both noodles and towels might squish down over time and you may need to replace them or readjust them periodically.

How Many Noodles or Towels?

Use as many as you need to get to your required recline angle but don’t use more than necessary.

Britax B-Safe 35 Elite - installed without base b-safe-35-with-towel

How Long to Cut or Roll?

I like to cut my noodles to fit between my lower LATCH anchors. There’s no exact science to it, but you don’t want the noodle or towel to cover up either a lower anchor or the seat belt buckle.

You can twist a noodle to “cut” it, use a plastic knife, scissors, or do what I do—stick a pocketknife into the noodle and twist the noodle.

What Kind of Tape?

Use whatever kind of tape you want, though I don’t think regular ol’ Scotch tape will work. You also don’t need to go overboard with the tape: the pressure from the carseat will usually hold the noodles in place. Don’t overthink this! These are pool noodles, after all.

trio of pool noodles taped together

Where to Place?

Pool noodles or rolled towels are placed in the vehicle seat bight. That’s the crack, folks. All sniggering aside, noodles/towels are used only to adjust the rear-facing carseat angle and that’s it. Some carseats have bases that don’t reach all the way to the bight, like the Evenflo Symphony (3rd pic below). In this case, you need to place the noodle or towel under the edge of the base. Just remember that noodles/towels are only used rear-facing under the base towards the back of the car, like in the pics. They are not used to even out a vehicle seat to prevent tipping of the carseat or to fix a forward-facing seat. If you want to use your noodle to be creative with your noodles, do it inside your house or your pool, not with your safety devices.

Safety 1st Go and Grow - max recline SnugRide 30 LX installed Evenflo Symphony RF with pool noodle

Psst . . . Tech Trick

Sometimes we encounter a carseat where the belt path and seat belt latchplate, or very occasionally the lower LATCH connectors, interfere with each other and the recline foot is adjusted to an optimal position. When this happens, the seat belt can’t be pulled tight enough. One of my tricks is to put the built-in foot back inside the base all the way and use noodles instead. This usually alters the recline angle just enough so that the latchplate is moved out of the belt path and I’m able to continue with the installation safely. It’s not one of my favorite tricks because I’d rather use a built-in device first (recline foot) before resorting to outside add-ons (noodles or rolled towels), but it is something I keep in my bag of tricks.