Car Seat LATCH Rules

A few of you had emailed me asking about the new 2014 LATCH rules that further complicated the confusing waters of car seat installation. Crap. Okay, so off I went to a trade show to talk to a bunch of car techs to have them explain it to me.

When I awoke from my boredom induced coma I decided that it really wasn’t safe for me to tackle this one so I emailed Claire. She’s much better at taking complicated stuff and distilling it down, plus, Britax had this new ClickTight car seat that looked like it could skip all this confusion, so I wanted her to try one out too. Thankfully she agreed and figured out what they whole LATCH thing means (I made the chart look nice). I actually understand it now….sort of.

– Amy

A few months ago we wrote this handy post about common car seat mistakes. But there was something sorta confusing that we left out of that post: when installing your car seat, should you use the LATCH system or the seat belt?

First off, you might be wondering what the hell the LATCH system is. LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children and it’s those round metal brackets you can find wedged in the seats of most cars made after about 2003.

See? These are the lower anchors of the LATCH system. Ignore the nasty seats in my minivan
See? These are the lower anchors of the LATCH system. Ignore the nasty seats in my minivan

Historically the seat belt alone was used to attach a car seat to a car, but people often found getting super tight installation with a seat belt really challenging. The LATCH system was invented to create an easier way for parents to secure the car seat. Rather than snaking the seat belt through the seat and cursing a lot, your car seat comes with these lower anchor connectors that basically click into the lower anchors (above). Then you tighten it up and that sucker is attached to your car. (If you’re a visual learner like me, check out this video so you can see an example of one type of LATCH install.)

When my husband and I installed our first car seat we thought the LATCH system was the bees knees. So much easier and way more convenient than using the old seat belt! We continued to use it for rear-facing and eventually our forward-facing car seat installs.

But then in 2014 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was all like, WHOA NELLY! They figured out that, because new car seats are now much heavier than ten years prior, these little metal anchors might not be strong enough to hold a heavy car seat and a child to the frame of a car in a crash. As in, they might just break off and send the car seat flying. Fuck. NHTSA released new guidelines saying that LATCH is fine to use when your kiddo is little but when the car seat weight and child’s weight are combined, the maximum weight limit for the LATCH system is 65 pounds.

Ok, great, that’s all well and good. But how the hell are you supposed to know exactly when to stop using LATCH and switch over to using the seat belt?

First off, you need to know how much your kid weighs. Duh.

Secondly, if your car seat was made in the last 2 years then you car seat manufacturer did the math for you based on the weight of the seat you bought. There should be a clear label on the side of your seat showing you your install options for your specific seat based on your chid’s weight.

EXAMPLE label from my car seat. Please check weight limit for your own model
EXAMPLE label from my car seat. Please check weight limit for your own model


If your seat does not have this label on it then it gets a bit more complicated. My advice is to either make an appointment to go see a Child Passenger Safety Technician or call the manufacturer of the car seat and ask them about the weight limit for LATCH and your specific model. Or, you can just install the car seat with the seat belt and skip using the LATCH altogether.

Thirdly, just to get your ducks in a row, you need to check your vehicle’s manual because sometimes a specific vehicle has a lower weight limit than 65 pounds. If that’s the case for your vehicle, call the car seat manufacturer or go see a Child Passenger Safety Technician and explain your vehicle’s LATCH weight limit and they can help you figure out your own install guidelines. Or again, just skip the LATCH and install your seat with the seat belt.

Other notes about LATCH:

Don’t use LATCH and the seat belt together! You can read about that here. The short answer is that manufacturers don’t crash test with both, so just stick with the instructions given in your car seat’s manual, which typically say use one or the other, not both.

Also, I didn’t mention the tether part of the LATCH system. Most convertible car seats come with a strap on the top that you can tether to the frame of the car for added spine/brain safety in a crash. You’ve gotta check your car seat’s manual but typically you can and should use this tether if you’re using LATCH or your seat belt to install the car seat because it reduces how much the top of the seat ‘flings’ in a crash. So using the tether can really reduce spine and brain injuries in a major crash.

Here’s a handy dandy graphic that explains all of this!

Here’s some real talk: I suck at installing car seats with the seat belt. I am a moderately intelligent person. I have read the car seat manuals. I understand HOW to do it. But I always felt like my installation was too loose, no matter how many times I climbed into that tiny seat and tried to tighten that damn seat belt.

Enter the newest in car seat seat belt installation technology: The ClickTight system from Britax. I swear when I installed this car seat for the first time I almost wept with gratitude and relief. The one shown here is the Advocate.

To install it you turn this little knob and pop open the base of the seat. Then you thread the seat belt over the exposed base of the seat like this:

So it looks like this:

Then you just lower the seat base down again until it clicks into place.

DONE. It essentially takes the guess work out of the seat belt installation. I know it’s tight enough and it takes less than a minute to install it. And you don’t even have to climb in the seat or anything. Love!

My kiddo loves it, too! Goofball.

Good luck with those car seat installations, folks! Buckle up!

Britax supplied us with a ClickTight car seat but my only compensation was not having to read car seat safety regulations anymore. Thanks again, Claire.

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  • I had a carseat safety technician tell me that seats using seatbelts (except clicktight) STILL need to be latched when the child is not in the seat to prevent the seat from becoming a projectile in a crash.

  • I’m still confused. You say, "First, know your child’s weight. Second, …your seat [shows] you your install options for your specific seat based on your chid’s weight." The second item doesn’t explain to me how I can use that information to estimate the weight of my child + car seat. OR, do you mean to say, "If you follow your carseat’s guildelines on weight restrictions for forward- and rear-facing, you can safely use the LATCH system because the manufacturer has accounted for this 65-lb limit?" (The latter would suggest that the manufacturer has ensured child+carseat never weighs more than 65 lbs, though.)

    • Sorry if that was confusing! If your seat was made in the last 2 years then the manufacturer has taken the new weight-limit guidelines into account. So if you check that sticker on the side of your seat or the manual you’ll see the install options for your specific seat based on your chid’s weight. They did the math for you. 🙂

  • Ok what about the booster seats with latch? The booster latches in and you buckle your kid in like a regular booster. Safe? Unnecessary?

    • I’m not sure what type of seat you have and the answer depends on whether your seat is a convertible that turns into a booster or just a high back booster. If it’s booster-only (not a car seat that is a 5 pt harness that transitions to a booster), the ones that come with LATCH are more for the purpose of securing the booster to the car, so they’re not used for the same purpose as installing a car seat. And as you know, the seat belt should always be used with a booster to safely secure the child. Bottom line: please check your booster’s manual to find out if you should be using the LATCH!!

  • The chart is misleading on rear facing. …if they answer no the chart says seatbelt with top tether (if allowed) and also says lower anchor (if allowed) . It should say OR…people might think it is OK then to install both the lower anchors and seatbelt together. Also where did you get the FF 69 lbs info?

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