How to Fix Your Rear-Facing Car Seat’s Recline Angle Using Pool Noodles or Rolled Towels
Vehicle seats like these Chrysler Town & Country captains chairs send shivers up the spines of child passenger safety technicians. When we see a vehicle seat cushion with a slope that steep, we know we’ll have to level 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. Find the recline angle indicator on your car seat.
Most (but not all) infant carseats have an adjustable 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 section of foam pool noodle or rolled towel to achieve the appropriate recline angle.
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 built into the car seat isn’t enough to achieve the necessary recline 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 the necessary recline angle.
The seat below is the perfect example of a situation where you might need to use a pool noodle or rolled towel. This car seat is reclined to the appropriate rear-facing recline angle, as per the recline level line on the side of the shell. See that huge gap between the car seat and the vehicle seat? Using several pool noodles or a rolled up towel will fill that gap and help support the carseat at the correct angle.
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 noodles. Both foam 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.
How Long to Cut or Roll?
I like to cut my foam noodles to fit between the lower LATCH anchors. There’s no exact science to it, but you want the noodle to be long enough to adequately support the bottom of the car sear but don’t want it to block either a lower LATCH anchor or the seat belt buckle.
What Kind of Tape?
Use whatever kind of tape you want, though I don’t think regular ol’ Scotch tape will work. Over the years, I have used masking tape, painters tape, electrical tape, medical tape and clear shipping tape. Use whatever you have handy.
Where to Place?
Pool noodles or rolled towels are placed in or near 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.
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 retract the built-in recline foot back inside the base (all the way) and use pool 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 leveling 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.