Many parents have expressed confusion about the American Academy of Pediatrics' new car seat guidelines, which recommend that toddlers stay rear-facing until age 2, or until they reach the height or weight limits for their rear-facing car seat. So we asked Alisa Baer, M.D., a New York City pediatrician known as The Car Seat Lady, to address parents’ most frequently asked questions, from worries over the child’s discomfort to fitting rear-facing seats into a small car.
What if I have a small car that won’t fit my convertible seat rear-facing, or won’t fit two rear-facing seats?
Having installed more than 5,000 car seats, I can tell you that the overall size of your car or car seat don’t matter as much as the distance between the back seat to the back of the front seat. Also at play is how the back of the front seat is contoured, as some vehicle seats protrude more into the back seat's territory than others.
When picking a car seat to go in the center of the back seat, pick a car seat that is more contoured at the head area; those that are more squared off or rounded will have difficulty tucking themselves between the two front seats (see the photo above to see what I mean). These two convertible car seats are the same width, but the one on the left is much more contoured at the head area and will therefore tuck itself nicely into the gap between the two front seats, while the one on the right will often not.
When picking a car seat, especially one that will be going behind the driver, the best one will be the seat that can sit the most upright when installed rear-facing. When you are in the store, see how much room the car seat takes up front-to-back when it is in the most upright position allowed for rear-facing by the manufacturer. The sloping of your vehicle seats will also determine how reclined or upright the car seat sits; the more sloped the bottom of the vehicle seat, the more upright the car seat will tend to sit, and the more room it will typically allow for a front seat passenger.
If you are curious which car seat currently on the market has the smallest footprint in terms of front-to-back distance, the answer is the Combi Coccoro. Its drawback is that it is also shorter in seated height than most convertibles, so won't last rear-facing as long as others. But it may be an option for a family with two rear-facing kids, especially in a small car with a tall driver where one child has to go behind the driver’s seat.
Confused? Visit www.seatcheck.org to find a trained technician in your area who may be able to help you arrange the seats securely in a way that maximizes the space for everyone in the vehicle.