Making sense of LATCH: answers to common questions

June 18, 2015

Q: If my car has a bad LATCH rating, does that mean I should avoid using LATCH?

A: Not necessarily. LATCH hardware with a poor rating provides the same protection as hardware with a good rating; it's just harder to use. A correct installation using the vehicle safety belt also is just as safe. In other words, use whichever method is easiest for you to achieve a good, tight installation. A tight installation means that when you push and pull on the seat where the safety belt or LATCH webbing passes through, it won't move more than 1 inch in any direction. If you have doubts, have a certified child seat technician look at your installation. Use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's child seat inspection station locator.

Q: I heard LATCH has a weight limit. Should I switch my child to a booster after he reaches that weight?

A: LATCH does have a weight limit, based on the combined weight of the restraint and the child, but, as long as your child hasn't reached the overall weight limit for the seat, you can continue to use it with the vehicle safety belt. Don't rush to switch your child to a booster; a harness-equipped restraint provides better protection.

Restraints manufactured since February 2014 have a label that specifies the maximum weight of the child for LATCH installations. If you don't have such a label, check the manuals of both the vehicle and the car seat.

When installing the seat using the vehicle safety belt, you'll need to take the extra step of locking the belt, which can be tricky. Consult your child restraint and vehicle manuals for instructions. Be sure to continue using the top tether. You need that with any forward-facing restraint, regardless of whether you're using lower anchors or the safety belt.

Q: I understand it's safest for a child to ride in the center rear, but what if there is no LATCH in that position?

A: A properly restrained child is very safe in any rear seat. Beyond that, the second-row center position is the safest position because it's far from the hard surfaces of the vehicle interior and from the striking vehicle in a side crash. If there is no LATCH in that position, you can use the safety belt. Again, don't forget to lock the belt and remember to use the top tether with a forward-facing restraint.

Some vehicles that don't have dedicated lower anchors in the center allow you to borrow the anchors from the outboard positions. If you do this, remember that you can't use an anchor to hold more than one seat at a time. You would have to use the vehicle belts to attach child restraints in the outboard positions. Some child restraint manufacturers advise against borrowing, so be sure to check your child seat manual on this point as well.

Q: I've seen some booster seats with LATCH attachments. Is it important to use LATCH with a booster?

A: Booster seats don't need to be attached to the vehicle, but there are some that can be connected to the lower anchors. With or without LATCH, a booster provides significant safety benefits over the vehicle belt alone after a child outgrows a forward-facing restraint.

The most commonly cited reason for using LATCH with boosters is to prevent an unoccupied seat from becoming a projectile in a crash. Some boosters can only be secured using LATCH when they are unoccupied and need to be disconnected before a child is seated. Check the booster manual for the specifics on your particular seat.

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