All major health and safety organizations strongly recommend that kids under age 2 ride rear facing. Scientists, statisticians and child passenger safety advocates agree on the immense safety benefit of rear facing to very young spines.
Until recently, the rear facing capacity of most car seats in the United States maxed out at 35 lbs. Car seat manufacturers have responded to both the safety recommendations and the increasing weight of American children, introducing — beginning in 2009 — seats with a 40 lbs rear facing weight capacity. Beyond that, manufacturers have designed car seats that let older kids sit more upright when rear facing and that fit in compact cars.
For most children, a 40 lbs rear facing limit is perfectly adequate: according to the CDC growth percentile charts the 97th percentile boy won’t reach 40 lbs until well over age three (40 lbs is barely even marked on the charts that end at 36 months!). While rear facing is safer for three year olds and we would prefer to see all children rear face until close to age four, a properly used and tethered forward facing car seat is certainly a safe choice for children over 24 months who have outgrown the rear facing capacity of their convertible car seats.
What About Bigger Kids?
Still, some kids, like mine, are larger than their peers. When my first son outgrew his rear facing only car seat at three months old, no car seats on the market rear faced past 35 lbs. I simply chose the seat with the tallest shell, knowing he would need the tallest seat out there. Three years later, when my second son was born, there were two companies making convertible seats that rear faced past 40 lbs. Today there are six companies making convertibles with rear facing capacities of 45 and 50 lbs!
We’re thrilled that larger children in the United States now have great safe options that they didn’t just a few years ago. But there are other situations where kids might need seats that rear face past 40 lbs: children with special physical needs often are much better supported by rear facing, caregivers with older vehicles that can not have tethers retrofitted may benefit from children rear facing until they have the maturity to sit in a booster, and rear facing might work better to achieve safety for three seats across a small back seat. In other words, having the option to rear face past 40 lbs benefits many families, not just those like mine with great big Littles.
There are currently six companies making car seats that rear face to 45 or 50 lbs. Their car seats offer different benefits and features.
Diono (under its previous name, Sunshine Kids Juvenile Products) was a leader in designing seats that rear faced beyond 35 lbs. Now all of their convertible car seats rear face to 40, 45 or 50 lbs. All Diono convertible car seats have the same shell height, and they all have the same overall height limit for rear facing: 44 inches.
Depending on torso height, some children will outgrow Diono seats before 44″, as their heads will be within 1.5″ of the top of the shell. Diono seats are often recommended to people looking to fit three seats across a back seat and they also fold for travel, a convenient feature. While the Diono convertibles can be installed very upright for older children, often an additional accessory called the Angle Adjuster is required to make this possible. The Angle Adjuster is made by Diono and approved only for their convertible seats (and the convertible seats made under their previous name, Sunshine Kids Juvenile Products).
Clek makes two handsome premium convertible seats, the Foonf and the Fllo. Both these seats are slim and relatively compact. They both rear face to 50 lbs and have an overall height limit of 43.9″ (to clarify: the height limit is stated as 43″ but clek states that they mean the child must not be 44″, so these seats are outgrown at 43.999″). Clek’s similar overall height limit and weight limit to Diono convertibles means that the seats from these two companies are usually outgrown at about the same time: choosing between these seats is likely more an issue of considerations other than longevity rear facing.
The Safety 1st EX Advance 65 Air+ was an important addition to the market when it came out in 2015. Not only does this seat rear face kids up to an astonishing 50 pounds, it costs less than $200, putting it in reach for many families. Along with its cousins, the Safety 1st Elite EX 100 and the UltraMax Air360 4-in-1, this is a very large seat that reclines quite a bit more than the other seats listed here, and it will not fit in all cars. But it is also a very long-lasting seat that will fit children longer both rear and forward facing than the Diono and Clek seats.
The Grow and Go EX Air is another seat from Safety 1st, with an important difference: this seat will rear face to 50 pounds or 49″, but it is much more compact than the EX Advance 65 Air+. Since this seat may be installed more upright for a child who can sit unassisted, the Grow and Go EX Air is just as compact front to back as its Grow and Go cousins, the Grow and Go and Grow and Go Air (which both have a 40 lb rear facing limit). It’s also under $200, and boasts tall and heavy rear facing limits and a usable booster mode. It’s clear that Safety 1st continues to lead the market in truly long lasting rear facing seat for all sizes of kids.
The Extend2Fit (and its slightly more expensive sibling, the Extend2Fit 3-in-1) features an extendable panel for rear facing children to rest their legs on and can be installed very upright, making this seat a long lasting and compact option for kids who need to rear face past 40 lbs. Like other Graco convertibles, the Extend2Fit has a no-rethread harness with a very high capacity, so this seat will allow tall children under 50 lbs to rear face far past the 44″ overall height limit of the Diono and Clek seats. The Extend2Fit can also be found under $200.
Peg Perego has had their Primo Viaggo 5-65 Convertible on the market for several years. With the lower seven headrest clicks usable rear facing, it’s on par for height with the Dionos. It allows a range of 35-45 degrees rear facing, so it often fits well in most cars.
Nuna’s Rava convertible rear faces to 50 lbs, has a generous standing height maximum of 49″ and will last even tall children a very long time. With 10 different recline settings, the Rava can be very compact front to back for older and bigger rear facing children.
For most children, a car seat that rear faces to 40 lbs is a fine choice. Remember, the safest seat is the one that fits your child, fits your car and that you use correctly every time. But for larger kids, or families without access to tether anchors, or kids with special physical needs, seats that rear face past 40 lbs are an important consideration. We’re thrilled to see more companies offer more choices to keep all kids safely riding rear facing until age two at a minimum.