Keeping your family safe in your vehicle is of paramount importance, no matter where you are. Because your little ones are unable to care for themselves, the responsibility of keeping them safe while they are in a car falls on you.
In previous vehicle generations, child seat installations included routing the car’s seat belt through the car seat to hold it in place. The seat belt could prevent the child seat from moving around excessively when it was installed, but too many variables existed that allowed for excessive or improper movement. These included:
The seat belt not being “locked” to prevent it from extending out further
The child seat not being installed tightly enough in place, allowing it to move forward and backward too much
The seat belt buckle becoming accidentally pressed, allowing the child seat to move around
Any of these conditions can cause serious harm in the event of a collision. Since 2002, all car manufacturers must equip their vehicles with the LATCH child car seat anchor system. LATCH stands for “Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children” and involves safe and secure attachment points for your child.
Installing a child seat with the LATCH system is easier than with a seat belt. It is also more secure because the latches are much more difficult to release than a seat belt buckle, meaning accidental release is nearly impossible.
Here we will go over how to properly install a child seat equipped with the LATCH system.
Method 1 of 2: Install a rear-facing child safety seat
Step 1: Park the vehicle on a flat surface. If you are parked on an angle, determining the correct seat installation angle is more difficult and applying proper pressure to install the seat is trickier.
Step 2: Locate the LATCH anchors on the back seat. The LATCH anchors are square metal loops that protrude from the back seat and are attached securely to the seat frame.
They are located at the join between the seat back and the seat bottom, sometimes right at the seam and sometimes through the seat bottom fabric.
The anchor locations are typically marked with a symbol of a child seat.
Step 3: Position the seat according to the safety seat instructions. Place the rear-facing child seat on the seat surface with the back of the child seat pointed toward the front of the vehicle.
- Tip: Move the front seat forward to provide more room for your car seat installation.
Check the angle indicated on the seat or in the seat’s installation instructions. There will be a mark on the side of the seat indicating the plane the seat should be positioned at.
There may also be a level attached to the side of the seat to assist in proper positioning.
- Tip: If the seat is not at the proper angle, place a tightly rolled towel under the car seat to improve the angle.
Step 4: Locate the LATCH strap on one side of the seat. There are different styles of attachments on the latch strap. Some have a button to press to open and close the hook on the strap, while others have a spring clip to attach the strap to the LATCH hook.
Step 5: Attach the strap to the LATCH anchor on the seat. Make sure the strap hook is closed over the loop of the anchor on the seat. Leave the strap loose for the moment.
Attach the LATCH strap on the other side of the seat as well.
Step 6: Tighten the LATCH straps. With both LATCH car seat straps snapped into place, pull on the loose end of the attachment strap to tighten them.
Be sure to pull firmly to ensure the seat is properly secured down. A properly secured child car seat should not move more than one inch forward and backward or side to side.
- Tip: If need be, press down on the child seat with your body weight to cinch the straps tighter.
Rear-facing child seats may also be converted to front-facing child seats if they are equipped with a tether strap attached to the back of the child seat.
Method 2 of 2: Install a front-facing child safety seat
Installing a front-facing child seat follows the same process as a rear-facing child seat with the exception of the direction of the seat and the tether strap. The tether strap is located on the back of the child seat and attaches to a secure point on the floor behind the rear seat or on the back of the rear seat itself. This adds an extra level of safety for your child when they are in the seat.
Step 1: Repeat Method 1, Steps 1 through 7. Follow Steps 1 through 7 of Method 1 to attach the front-facing child seat to the LATCH anchors on the bottom of the rear seat.
Note: In this method, the seat should be positioned with the back of the child seat pointed toward the back of the vehicle.
Tip: Cinch the straps more tightly by using a knee in the child seat to press it deeply into place.
Step 2: Locate the tether anchor. Find the tether anchor loop on the seat back, the back dash panel, or on the floor behind the seat.
- Tip: It looks similar in design to the LATCH loops on the front of the seat.
Step 3: Route the tether strap to the tether anchor. Pass the tether strap over the seat back toward the tether anchor. If you seat has adjustable headrests, lift the headrest and route the tether strap through the headrest posts. You can also remove the headrest completely at this time.
Your tether strap should be installed in a straight line to the anchor without being able to slip to one side or another and become loose. Make sure the tether strap is not twisted and lays totally flat.
Step 4: Attach the tether strap to the anchor.: Snap the tether strap onto the tether anchor. Typically, tether straps have a spring clip to securely attach to the tether anchor. Make sure this clip is fully closed around the anchor.
Step 5: Tighten the tether strap. Pull the loose end of the tether strap away from the anchor to cinch it tight. Pulling upwards in the direction of the tether strap itself will achieve the best results.
Always read your child seat’s installation instructions fully to ensure your particular seat is installed correctly — your child’s safety depends on it. If you have questions about your car seat installation, visit any local fire hall to have your installation inspected and verified.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Anchor a Child Safety Seat and was authored by Jason Unrau.