Commonly Asked Questions about LATCH Use in Car Seats
What is LATCH?
LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. In other countries, it’s known as ISOFIX/ISOFIT or LUAS/CANFIX (in Canada). It’s a way of tethering a car seat to the seat in your vehicle without using the car’s seatbelt. With a top tether and 2 lower anchors, LATCH is used to ease installation of car seats to help ensure the seat is safely secured. It also makes helps to make various vehicles compatible with the car seats on the market through this universal installation system.
Is LATCH safer than car seat installation with a seatbelt?
Not necessarily. If a seatbelt is used to install a car seat properly, it should be just as safe as a car seat installed with LATCH. However, LATCH is supposed to make installation easier, and the easier it is, the more likely it is for the average car seat installation to be done correctly.
Must I use LATCH to install the seat?
No. If your vehicle doesn’t have LATCH anchors, it’s perfectly fine to install a car seat with LATCH compatibility with the seatbelts instead. If your vehicle is equipped for LATCH, it’s better to use that to install the car seat if one can. Sometimes, a car seat doesn’t work well with a specific vehicle’s LATCH system, in which case it’s better to get a more secure install with the seatbelt. One should not use both the seatbelt and LATCH system at the same time.
What is a top tether?
A strap connected to the top of the car seat to anchor it to the car is called a top tether. It can either be used together with the lower anchors of the LATCH system or with the seatbelt. Some countries legally mandate its use, but not the USA. The tether connects to an anchor in the vehicle behind the car seat to prevent the top of a forward facing car seat from pitching forward in a frontal crash, thereby reducing the chance of injury to the child. Any car seat that faces forward comes with a tether. Virtually any car made within the past 10 years will have tether anchors. If yours doesn’t, chances are you can have it installed at a factory or dealer. Check your manual to find out information about where tether anchors were placed and if anything else be used as an anchor point. You should always use a top tether if it’s available, so it’s important to be know this information. (It actually is required by the manufacturers to use the top tether when a forward facing car seat is installed using LATCH, unless the car seat manual specifically says otherwise.)
There are various models of tether straps. Some are easier to adjust by tilting or pushing a button, while others come with slider buckles which are more difficult to change. This varies by car seat. Once the tether is properly anchored, the car seat should be held back from moving forward.
Most car seats available in the USA cannot be used rear-facing with a top tether. Notable exceptions are Britax convertible car seats and Sunshine Kid Radian convertible car seats. The manual should specify if the top tether can be used RF toward the front of the vehicle, or toward the rear of the vehicle. Both are considered very safe, as long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and there is a suitable anchor in your vehicle for the seat to be tethered to. Tethering toward the rear is thought to improve restraint in a frontal collision, while tethering toward the front helps get the proper recline for small babies and stabilizes the car seat as well. It may help limit rebound, which would mean it’s safer in crashes to the side and rear as well as rollover accidents.
How do I install my car seat using LATCH?
1. Read the manual to recognize the correct attachments and position of the anchors. Loosen the attachment straps.
2. Place the seat sideways on the seat of the vehicle. If you’re installing the seat rear-facing, the front should face you, and if you’re installing it forward facing, have the back face you.
3. Connect the attachment furthest away from you to the far anchor, move the seat into its proper position, and then attach the nearer strap to the closest anchor.
4. Some LATCH systems, like those with push-button connectors, will give an audible clicking noise when the seat is anchored in properly.
5. If the connectors have a hook, make sure to insert them over the anchors, and then press down before tightening.
6. Double check you have used the right attachments and anchors, and that they are inserted correctly and attached to the bar, not to the fabric of the seat.
7. When tightening the straps, hold down the car seat. If need be, you can do one side at a time while you tighten each strap.
8. If using a top tether, attach it to the anchor at this time, and tighten the strap.
9. If you need to remove the connectors, you can loosen them by pressing the car seat into the seat cushion and tilting the adjuster. If your car seat has hook connectors, depress the tongue, push the hook over the bar, and then turn it 90 degrees before removing it completely.
10. Rigid LATCH car seats can be removed by extending the attachments, finding the anchors, and then pushing the car seat back into the vehicle seat. After that, you just release the car seat by pushing or squeezing the button.
Which car seats have LATCH?
Any car seat manufactured these days (I’m writing this in 2011) should include the LATCH system if it is meant to be kept installed in the car. This excludes car beds, infant carriers, and boosters. Infant car seat bases will have the LATCH system, and some of the carriers do as well, but it’s not required by law for the carriers. Note that convertible seats sometimes have separate attachments for rear and forward facing installation, so double check that you use the right lower attachments. Other models need some adjusting to switch between rear and forward facing use, so please be sure to read the manual to know that you are using the LATCH system correctly. Combination seats only have one set of lower attachments, as they only are installed forward facing. The top tether of these seats may have a smaller weight limit than the seat itself. If the child has outgrown the LATCH system, but can still be harnessed, you can install the car seat with the vehicle’s seatbelt. Most boosters cannot be used with the LATCH system, but there are a few exceptions, like some Britax, Graco, and Evenflo models. Read the manual to know how your seat is safest installed when used in a booster mode.
Can I install the car seat using LATCH in the middle seat?
Generally, the middle seat is considered the safest place in the car, but it’s only safe if you can install the car seat properly there. Most cars do NOT have anchors for LATCH in the center seat, but a few of these state in the manual you can use the anchors from the sides for the middle seat, because the distance between the inner anchors still meets the guidelines. To determine if you can do this, you need to read both your car seat and your vehicle manual to see if it’s prohibited; if it is, install the car seat with the seatbelt. If both allow it, you can try to use the LATCH system. If your car seat needs a top tether, and there is none in the center, you should use the outboard seats instead. Please be sure to NEVER use the same anchor for more than one car seat; it’s not made to withstand so much weight. If there is any doubt whether it’s safe in your circumstances, the safest thing to do is to install the car seat with the seat belt in the center position. Always err to the side of caution when dealing with safety matters like this.
Can I use the tether straps from a different car seat for this one?
No. If the straps are from a different model, they have not been tested to work properly. They can loosen over time without you being aware, or not distribute force properly in the event of a collision.
My child is over 40 lbs. Can I still use LATCH?
It’s best to ask your car seat and vehicle manufacturer if it’s not stated in the manual. The federal safety standards were based on testing 65 lbs of combined weight of the child and the car seat, so it’s hard to know what the actual safety limit is based on child’s weight alone. Not all companies will have the information you request, though. Note that the Radian carseats being manufactured these days have special LATCH attachments that allow for anchoring for the full weight limit of the seat — 65 or 80 lbs, depending on the model.