What Are LATCH Car Seat Anchors?
LATCH, which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren, is a method for securing a child’s car seat inside of a car. It uses metal loops in the car, and hooks and straps on the car seat. LATCH was designed as an alternative to using seat belts to secure the child seat.
How Do You Use LATCH Connectors?
First, let’s look at the two types of LATCH anchors:
- Lower Anchors: Lower anchors are U-shaped metal loops that are tucked into the gap between the lower seat cushion and the seatback, and can sometimes be hard to locate. According to carseat.org, this area is called the “seat bight,” and is where the backrest meets the seat bottom.
- Tether Anchors: Tether anchors are located above and typically behind the seats, but the location can vary. In a sedan, they’re found on the shelf behind the seat, below the rear window. In other types of vehicles, like SUVs and vans, the location can vary, so familiarize yourself with the system before trying to install a car seat.
If you have trouble identifying or locating the anchors, consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual.
In the U.S., a passenger vehicle from 2003 or later must include lower anchors in at least two positions and tether anchors in at least three positions. That means most vehicles feature lower and tether anchors at both rear side seats, while the rear center seat features a tether anchor.
Now, let’s take a look at the three main types of car seats:
- Rear-Facing Child Seats: Infants and toddlers should ride in rear-facing seats (these usually have 5-point harnesses) as long as possible, until the child outgrows the seat’s height and weight limits. Rear-facing seats must never be used in the car’s front passenger seat.
- Front-Facing Child Seats: When a child outgrows the rear-facing seat, it’s time to move to a front-facing seat (also, usually with a 5-point harness), usually around age 2. This seat can be used until about age 7, again, depending on the child’s height and weight and the seat’s limits.
- Booster Seats: Booster seats are used after the front-facing seat. A booster positions the child so the car’s 3-point seat belt fits properly and should be used until the child is large enough that the 3-point belt can be used alone, which, according to the IIHS, is around age 12.
All 5-point harness car seats have connectors for the lower anchors, and all forward-facing 5-point harness car seats have a tether strap and hook for the tether anchors. For booster seats, depending on the type, there may be just lower anchor connectors, or there may also be a tether strap.
The lower anchor connectors are usually hooks, or straps with hooks. In general, these should not be used in combination with the car’s seat belt. The tether on a forward-facing car seat is a strap that helps stabilize the car seat, reducing movement of the seat and the child in the event of a crash, and is designed to be used in conjunction with the lower anchors. Tethers are not included on most booster seats, or on most rear-facing child seats. On a convertible seat, which is used front- or rear-facing, depending on the age or size of the child, the tether generally should not be used when the seat is installed in the rear-facing position, unless the seat’s user manual directs otherwise.
After installation, pull and push the child seat. If it’s installed correctly, it won’t move more than one inch side-to-side or back-and-forth. If you have questions or concerns, look for a local child safety seat inspection site to have your installation checked by a certified technician. The NHTSA website has a locator for this service.
Proper Installation Depends on Your Child’s Weight
As of February 27, 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) required child seat manufacturers to label the seat with the maximum weight of the child for safe use of the lower anchors. If the child exceeds this weight, but still fits the seat’s overall height and weight limits, the seat should be installed using the car’s seat belt instead of the lower anchors.
However, the acceptable weight for the lower anchors can also vary by car make and model, so both the car seat instructions and the car’s owner’s manual should be consulted when installing a seat.
IIHS Ease of Use Ratings
The IIHS began rating LATCH hardware for ease of use in 2015, based on research showing that the system didn’t necessarily make it easier or more effective for consumers to correctly install car seats. IIHS LATCH ratings, when applicable, are shown on a car’s IIHS rating page and include a diagram showing the locations of the car’s built-in LATCH hardware. According to IIHS, common problems include lower anchors that are too deep in the seat cushions to easily access, and upper tethers that are hard to find or reach, which may cause some parents to intentionally or accidentally connect the tether somewhere else.
As of the 2019 model year, IIHS rated almost 75% of that year’s vehicles for good or acceptable ease of use. That’s a significant improvement from the first ratings in 2015, when most vehicles got a poor or marginal rating. IIHS notes that Subaru and Toyota (including Lexus) generally earn the highest ratings, and currently have the most vehicles with Good+ ratings. It’s worth noting that pickup trucks still generally have the trickiest LATCH systems because the rear seat backs up to the cab, making it difficult to locate easy-to-access hardware.
When it’s time to shop for a car, check the IIHS LATCH ratings and take along your child seat to see if you’re comfortable with the installation. Our Car Research section has more information about the IIHS’ LATCH ratings for each vehicle.
Before You Drive
State laws that regulate how child seats are installed vary, so check your own state’s requirements. Many specify the type of restraint used based on a combination of age, weight, and height. Some states also have specific requirements for how restraints are used, and where the seat is located within the car. Find your state’s laws on your state’s motor vehicle department website or AAA’s digest of motor laws site.
Why Using LATCH Connectors to Install a Child Seat Can Be Better Than Using a Seat Belt
Car seats can also be installed with seat belts, but it’s more difficult to do that correctly. Seat belts are very effective, when used correctly, but the rate of incorrect usage was high, contributing to an overall child restraint misuse rate of 72.6% prior to the introduction of LATCH, according to a 2004 NHTSA study. A May 2015 NHTSA study showed a child restraint misuse rate of 42%, including misuse of the LATCH system, as well as other installation and use problems.
Though these statistics indicate LATCH has helped improve car seat installation somewhat, it’s very important that parents, and anyone else who has young passengers, become familiar with the system for safe car and booster seat usage.
LATCH Anchors Are Required by Law in Cars
LATCH system components have been required in passenger vehicles since model year 2003 and on child restraints manufactured beginning in 2002. By law, LATCH connectors are built into the car as well as the car seat.
According to carseat.org, the requirements include all passenger cars, trucks, and multipurpose passenger vehicles under 8,500 pounds, and buses under 10,000 pounds. Convertible cars and school buses are exempted.
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