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.
Hi! We have a 2023 Honda Odyssey. We had a lot of trouble trying to install our Baby Jogger City Turn that is rear facing. Our manual says we can use towels. There is a picture showing the towel near the crack of the seat. Our seat slides and we lose the correct angle. Can we put a towel under the front of the seat as well to prevent it from sliding?
@Meghan, I’m concerned about your seat “sliding” because when it’s installed tightly there shouldn’t be any sliding. After it’s installed, it shouldn’t move more than 1″ from side to side when you check for tightness *at the beltpath*. Often, it doesn’t move at all (at the beltpath) once it’s installed correctly. I don’t think a pool noodle or rolled towel will fix your issue because the only reason to use a rolled towel is to add more recline to the seat and the City Turn has multiple recline adjustments on the base. Darren made a very helpful City Turn installation video here (skip to 3:15 where he starts to demo the rear-facing installation). Take a look at the video and if you are still having issues, let us know and we will help you troubleshoot them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPbKZ3F-nlg
Hi Meghan. I have a City Turn with me in class this week, so if you want to email me directly at [email protected] with a pic of the carseat installed on your vehicle seat, I can help you more quickly than I can here through the comments, where I don’t get notifications. Darren’s video should help, but I can help you fine-tune if needed.
Hi. I have a 2022 Honda Odyssey and the captain chairs are fairly sloped. We have a Nuna Rava car seat. The problem I am having is that upon installation of the seat in rear facing mode, I can push the top of the car seat away from the front drivers seat and towards the captains chair backrest and it really starts to tip (the base of the car seat slides towards the front of the car and the top of the car seat towards the rear of the car). It does take a bit of force, but I can push the seat enough so that my toddlers head would literally be touching the backrest of the captains chair. This happens when using either the latch connection or the actual seat belt. And this happens even when the car seat is extremely tight, so that doesn’t seem to be the reason. I had the same experience when trying to install the Maxi Cosi Pria Max. Do you know what the solution to this problem would be?
Hi Brady. That’s a normal movement for a rear-facing carseat called rebound. As long as you have the proper recline angle for your child and the carseat is installed so that it moves less than 1″ when you give a tug at the belt path, there’s no problem.
Does this trick work for forward facing carseats? I have a 2013 Buick Enclave and need my daughters forward facing carseat lifted up a bit to sit more flush!
Hi Amy. No, please don’t place anything under your forward-facing carseat. It can affect the way it reacts in a crash. Does your vehicle seat recline? Perhaps reclining it one click will help.
Hi, and thank you for such great information. Here’s my issue. We have a 3 across installation with Cleks in a Prius V. The issue is that the middle seat of the Prius V is MUCH squished than the side seats, and it’s also not really Centre (the side seat behind the driver is wider than behind the passenger). So our centre seat is a little but on the harder side seat, with the rest of it on the very squishy middle seat. When tightened, this makes the middle carseat tilt to the side a little. I assume this isn’t safe. Is there any way to safely even out/ add support/ add bulk to an entire side under a car seat? Maybe with a large foam wedge? I understand not putting a towel the length of the carseat, but to make the carseat even the entire side will need to be wedged up in some way.
Hi Ruthann. Sorry, there really isn’t anything you can do to prop the carseat up in that manner. Are all the carseats facing the same direction? If not, you could try switching them around to see if that helps. Try giving Clek a call and see if they can offer a solution. They keep a database of vehicles and issues and may be able to offer some ideas to you.
Hello, we have the Graco 4ever all in one convertible car seat and a 2016 Honda CRV. We installed the car seat using the built in level but our baby’s head droops forward when he falls asleep. Although there are different recline settings when I change it to a position that is more reclined the bubble in the built in level is no longer centered. Is this ok or could I use a pool noodle or towel to fix this problem? Thank you.
Hi Grace. You can continue to make changes to the level as long as the bubble is within the recline range specified on the level indicator including using noodles or a tightly rolled towel if you’ve maxed out the built-in recline; just take it right to the edge of the line. If you have the head insert in, you might want to remove that as it may push your baby’s head forward.
I have the safety 1st 3 in 1 convertible car seat for my 5 month old son and I have a 2015 jeep grand Cherokee. The seats are at an incline so when I put him in his head falls forward when he falls asleep. I tried the rolled up towel and it doesn’t seem to work. I had to pull over and wake him up so his head would not fall forward. What else can I do? Thinking about returning it if I can’t figure it out.
Hi Tristyn. Safety 1st carseats have a level line on the side of the seat, near the child’s head, that you must follow for recline. If that line is level for your son’s size and his head still falls forward, try removing the extra head pillow that might have come with the seat. You may need more than one tightly rolled towel to get proper recline.
My husband has 2014 Grand Cherokee and the backseats are the worst for installing rear facing car seats . We used pool noodles to get the arrow/line on our carseat to be level with the gound.
I have a nuna pipa and the carseat is installing at too much of a recline. Therefore noodles, towels, nothing will work. I consulted a tech and she said it may not be such an issue, since the baby is MORE reclined and there isnt a risk of airway obstruction. But she said she wasn’t positive and needed to consult someone. I’m wondering your thoughts on this? I’ve read this is actually a common issue with the 2018 nunas
Hi Natasha. It can be a common problem with the Pipa, but it is an issue because carseats are tested and must pass at particular angles. While there isn’t an issue with the baby’s airway, in a crash, the baby can ramp up and out of the carseat in a crash more easily because of the angle because it’s “flatter.” Have you tried a different position in the back seat? Usually moving the base from the center to outboard or vice versa is enough to make a difference.
I have the Nuna Pipa light lx I’m trying to install second row in 2012 Chrysler town and country. Even with the recline it’s not at an appropriate angle for a newborn. Our local car seat tech at chp isn’t being helpful because technically the bubble still touches the line. I tried the rolled towel and seat belt install ( since latch doesn’t look correct with towel) and the seat base is completely wonky and crooked. Starting to panic as I’m 35 weeks with 3rd baby
Kari, is the bubble touching the line all the way while the van is on flat ground? If so, there’s really nothing else you can do. You can try tucking the recline foot up and away and using noodles instead, but it’s tough to get the lower anchors installed that way. You could also do a hybrid noodle: take one noodle and tightly roll a hand towel around it, then tape it all securely.
One thing I show in my training classes is I have a tightly rolled towel that I’ve taped. It’s very dense so it won’t compress if used as a positioning tool and if you make it short enough, it won’t get in the way of the seat belt anchors (or LATCH anchors).
You may find, however, that the best angle you get is the bubble touching the line and that is acceptable to Nuna.
I have safety 1st 3-1 grow and go, my daughter is 9m. We drive a 2010 Chevy cobalt, the seats are HORRIBLE they’re slanted. Even when she’s awake her head will go forward, I’ve removed the pillow and changed the recline to three she still doing it. And acting like she’s having issues breathing
Shianne, you can use noodles taped together or a tightly rolled towel to get the base flat. This will help you recline the carseat to put it at the recline line on the side of the seat (we have pictures in our review: https://carseatblog.com/38582/safety-1st-grow-and-go-3-in-1-carseat-review-raising-the-bar/). If that’s still not enough recline for her, you may want to look at a different carseat for her, but see if you’re reclining it so that the red line is level first.
This is a very helpful post, thank you. I’m trying to fit 3 across in a 2008 Prius with very uneven leather seats. I’ve tried doing a seatbelt install to get wider useage of the seat space, but between the leather (more slippery than cloth) and the significant dip in each seat (the sides of the seat are higher than the center), the seats always want to slide back down into the center as I tighten the belt. It’s been recommended by a car seat tech that I try a pool noodle in the bight to give the carseat a more even space and hopefully encourage it to stay where I put it, but I see in your post that using one to even out a seat is a no-no. Is there any hope?
Are the carseats sliding down sideways into the center? I know there’s a small lip at the bight that a rear-facing carseat can sit on and if the seat slips off that, the angle can be thrown off. You can definitely use a noodle there. But a pool noodle should never be used length-wise along the side of a carseat. If you need to ask more questions or post a pic, you can do so at our forum: https://www.car-seat.org/forumdisplay.php?2-CAR-SEATS-General-Child-Safety-Seat-Questions-Help-and-Advice.
We have the Nuna rava in a town and country mini van. The tech said the angle was off and I was wondering if there’s something we can do? The manual says nothing about noodles and towels.
Hi Cristina. Why did the tech say the angle was off? There’s no angle indicator on the Rava. As long as one of the rear-facing recline angles is being used, it’s fine. However, if the seat is being used for a newborn and the baby’s chin is falling to its chest, that is an issue and a different carseat should be used until the baby is older and can handle a more upright angle. The Rava doesn’t allow the use of noodles or rolled towels for angle adjustment.
I’m having my first child in November and I’m really confused about what car seat is the safest and best to use I’m looking for one that will last longer then the infant stage but is safe enough for him to use for a while can you please shed some light on my situation?
Hi Krystal. Our list of recommended carseats is a good place to start: https://carseatblog.com/safest-recommended-car-seats. With the exception of the Britax B-Safe, I think all of those seats are fairly long-lasting with the Chicco Fit2 probably having the greatest potential of getting a child to age 2. Or you can skip straight to a convertible carseat from the beginning. Most start from 4-5 lbs. and have good fit for average-sized newborns.
My husband just went and bought a 2018 mustang out carseat is a safety 1st convertible carseat. It does not fit in the backseat rear facing without swaying side to side. I can not get the latch system tight enough and the seatbelt will not lock to keep the carseat tight. What can I do?
Hi Leigh. You’ll probably need a different carseat that meshes better with the Mustang’s back seat. How old is your child?
I just got a Graco Slim fit for my 2 1/2 year old niece. I put it in a Elantra from Hyundai, last car seat was cosco scenera and I love the recline so she usually slept nicely, with the slim fit her head hangs to the front, I put a rolled towel under neat and the little ball is still in the border between the read and blue part.. is it ok to be like that? or.. what can I do so her head doesnt hang while she is sleeping? Thanks!
Selene, you can add another layer of thickness to the towel and roll it again to see if that improves the angle. At age 2.5, if your niece doesn’t have medical problems, it doesn’t harm her to have her head hang down. If she sleeps soundly, it’s not bothering her. At that age, her ligaments are still loose to not have any issues.
We had a different car that went in a ditch 2 Fridays ago.
So I’m getting a new seat. (Cosco senatra is only 30$) I wanted it but 1st of all the jeep grand Cherokee 2002 doesn’t have latches.
I also read it sinks when put in the middle seat..
(I know his infant carrier does) I think it’s cause the middle is 2 or 3 inches shorter.
So anyone have any other seats that could go there?
I wasn’t wanting him on the sides yet but unless I find a good rf seat that Will install correctly I’m going to have to…
Hi Kyra. I’m not quite sure what you mean when you say that the seat “sinks” when it’s in the middle seat. Some American vehicle seats can be pretty squishy, if that’s what you mean. The Scenera NEXT has a pretty small footprint, so it may fit well in the center. At least 80% of the base must be on the vehicle seat and I’ve found the best way to get that is to stand behind the carseat and lean over the top of it while installing it. That way you’re pushing it both down and back against the vehicle cushion instead of just down.
And if you have to move it to the side, don’t worry too much. A solid outboard installation is safer than a wiggly center installation. Be sure to check for movement right at the belt path since all rear-facing carseats will move up by the child’s head.