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Our daughter has been in an infant seat since birth, but is now 16lbs, and very near the height limit for this seat. We have received a nearly-new convertible seat from friends, but have a few questions about installing it in our compact car.

The documentation (linked below) indicates that the seat may only be used rear-facing in its most fully-reclined position (of three). What is the rationale for this instruction? The back seat of our Yaris cannot accommodate the seat fully reclined, however it fits without a problem in the middle and upright positions.

I can understand the seat needing to be fully reclined to accommodate an infant without proper head control, but our child is nearly walking!

The seat in question is the Alpha Omega Elite.

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You would have to contact the manufacturer. My guess (purely a guess) is that structurally, the seat is only designed to meet the impact and installation requirements based on that particular configuration. –  DA01 Mar 14 '12 at 16:15
    
This sounds like a strange requirement, but then again in the European countries I know of (DK,AT) only infant car-seats can be placed rear-facing; toddler seats must be front-facing. Try asking your local automobile association. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Mar 14 '12 at 16:20
    
I concur with Torben - in the UK only infant seats can face backward. If your toddler is too big, I would advise getting a suitable toddler seat. –  Rory Alsop Mar 14 '12 at 17:33
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In the US "convertible" carseats that face forward or backward are the most common kind for children who have outgrown infant/bucket carseats, but may not be old enough or heavy enough to safely place in a forward-facing carseat. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends rear-facing until 2 years old or more. Most infant carseats do not fit a 2 year old ;-) –  Jessica Brown Apr 26 '12 at 15:12
    
Interesting TED Talk on child car seats... ted.com/talks/steven_levitt_on_child_carseats.html –  Paul Cline May 10 '12 at 21:20
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6 Answers

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Hmmmm...the book is somewhat confusing because it indicates that it MUST be in the fully-reclined position in rear-facing, but then it says "This child restraint must always face the rear of the vehicle and be in the fully reclined position when the child weighs between 5-35 lbs. and is less than one year old" which sort of leads me to believe that once the child is OVER a year old it's ok to adjust the recline to the middle position and still have the seat rear-facing. I would tend to agree with you that a one-year-old should be able to handle rear-facing in the semi-reclined position.

A Yaris is a pretty small vehicle so I can see where having a seat fully-reclined might not be much of a possibility, and if it came down to forward-facing or rear-facing in a semi-reclined position there's no doubt that rear-facing is the safer of the two options. Could you take your car and the carseat to have it installed by a police department or local organization that does that kind of thing? Every time I've had one installed or inspected by those groups, they've been extremely knowledgeable and they might be able to explain the logic behind the carseat manufacturer's instructions.

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That's a good thought—we'll take it to the police station and see what they think. We're certainly not opposed to spending another $150 on an intermediate seat; it just seems like a colossal waste, and there are many other ways we could spend that which would benefit her a lot more. –  mikepurvis Mar 15 '12 at 2:02
    
If it makes you feel any better (in case you can't make that one work), our four-year-old is just now starting to reach the maximum height restrictions on our intermediate carseat that we bought when he was 7ish months old, so whatever you choose you'll probably have it for a long time. –  Meg Coates Mar 15 '12 at 4:58
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FYI, your local fire station may also assist in car-seat installation. In fact, our local stations would actually GIVE parents a new car seat if the one they had was too old or improper for the vehicle (a great program that I'd love to see more cities adopt). –  DA01 Mar 15 '12 at 15:18
    
aside from the police and fire departments, many car dealerships have someone on staff that's certified in car seat installation, certainly worth checking with the local ones if the police/fire departments don't pan out. –  cabbey Mar 16 '12 at 8:14
    
That is an excellent point, cabbey. When we first moved and I needed to install our new carseat, it was incredibly difficult to find a place around here that would install and inspect it. I wound up driving 45 minutes one way to another county to have it inspected there. –  Meg Coates Mar 16 '12 at 12:38
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We have this car seat. Part of that requirement has to to with the angle of the seat coupled with the shape of the seat. The car seat does not meet the safety standards unless in the proper rear facing configuration. Additionally, regardless of your child having head control, if the seat is not leaned back enough, when you go uphill it can cause strain on your child against the shoulder harness. I know we had to make some sacrifices to our comfort to fit our daughter's seat in, but it is now recommended that they are rear facing until 2 years old (I know some states have already implemented that standard).

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Oh, we fully intend to stick with rear-facing—that has a very clear safety benefit. It's the reclining angle which I'm questioning. An interesting thought about hills, but I have trouble imagining it would make that much of a difference. –  mikepurvis Mar 15 '12 at 2:05
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The rear seat of a car is sometimes angled. See the later pages (page 49) in the book which talk about using a rolled towel under the front edge of the seat.

There is a lot of force involved in a car crash. Perhaps the reclining system is safer if it's already fully reclined.

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The recline angle when rear facing has to do with keeping the infant's airway clear. Smaller infants with poor head control could have a hard time breathing if too upright in their car seats and their head leans forward.

Here is some info I found from the Cleveland Clinic (well respected medical experts).

http://my.clevelandclinic.org/healthy_living/safety/hic_car_seat_safety.aspx

And here is the relevant section:

Use your baby’s car seat rear-facing and semi-reclined no more than 45 degrees, so that the >baby’s head stays in contact with the seat and the baby’s airway stays open.

Often your local fire department or police station have experts on staff who can advice you on how to install your car seat.

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I agree, call the company and ask. It's important to follow the rules of your seat as stated in the manual, as that's how it has passed testing.

Another option would be to look at other seats. I know the The First Years True FIt allows a 30 - 45 degree angle rear facing. The Diono Radians also allow more upright positions and sell an option angle adjuster to accomplish this.

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Sorry for the late reply, but I didn't feel any of the existing answers adequately answered the question. A newborn needs to be at a 45 degree angle because they don't have the neck control to support the weight of their head, but a recline of more than than 45 degrees would put them at risk of being ejected from the carseat during a crash. Obviously, as you've noted, your child is older and does have the neck control to handle a lesser recline. Many rear-facing car-seats can have the recline angle decreased safely, usually between 30-45 degrees for an older baby is ok. However, a few carseat models, such as the Safety 1st Complete Air and possibly your carseat(?), are not designed to be used at any angle other than 45 degrees in rear-facing mode. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as manufacturer testing may have found that the seat's design is not secure or safe in an accident at a lesser recline, or the seat-belt/latch belt path may not clip correctly to keep the carseat secured well.

I would second the advice to consult either the manufacturer or a certified carseat technician (CPST) to help you determine whether your particular seat is safe to use at a decreased recline or not. You may wish to get a different seat if your model is not one that safely supports a decreased recline and you plan to leave it rear-facing for a long time.

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