If you’ve ever purchased, installed or used a car seat, you have probably heard about LATCH. LATCH, or Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, is a set of standard attachment points for car seats that are manufactured into cars. The LATCH system allows you to quickly and safely install a car seat without the use of a seat belt. In the Unites States, all cars manufactured after September 2002 are equipped with the LATCH system. Infant car seats, which are used from birth to age 2, are tethered with two attachments at the base of each side of the seat. Child car seats, used after age 2 and until a booster seat is needed, are attached with a single attachment at the top as well as the two attachments at the base of each side of the seat.
Is using the LATCH system safer than using a seat belt to install a car seat?
No, not necessarily. As long as the car seat is correctly installed, it is safe. Some car seat instruction books will tell you to use the LATCH system as a safer means to install a car seat, but you also have to consider where and how it is being installed in your car. If you have to accommodate multiple car seats, the LATCH system may not be easier to use. Also, if you have an older car, the LATCH system may not be available and you will have to use your seat belt. The bottom line is that you must have your car seat installed correctly in order for it to be safe. You can even go online to find local places that check, as well as teach, correct car seat installation.
Does the LATCH system have to be used on all car seats and booster seats?
LATCH is generally used on infant and child car seats and on some booster seats as well. The easiest way to find out of the LATCH system has to be used for your infant, child, or booster seat is to read the instruction manual. Some infant seats require only a seat belt. Some booster seats require no LATCH at all while some require a top LATCH tether. Always keep the instruction book handy and read it thoroughly before installing any infant, car or booster seat.
What are common mistakes made using the LATCH system?
One is that your car seat may not be installed tightly enough. Make sure you pull the straps tight after securing the hooks to your car’s LATCH system. The seat should move no more than 1 inch in either direction. Another common mistake is not using the top tether on a forward facing car seat. All three tethers must be used on a forward facing car seat. If a top tether is not available, which it may not be in the center position in some cars, you will need to move the car seat to another position.
Where can I find the LATCH anchors in my car?
The lower LATCH anchors are usually in the crevice between the bottom of the seat and the back of the seat, where the seat belt buckles are. There is often an emblem or mark on the seat back just above the anchor. The top LATCH anchors can be on the top of the rear filler panel or behind the seat. If you can’t find them, refer to your car owners’ manual for specifics.