What is LATCH? And what are LATCH weight limits?
LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tether for Children. (LA = lower anchors, T = tether, CH = children.) LATCH is in vehicles and on car seats made after Sept. 1, 2002.
When LATCH was released, the intention was to make installing car seats easier for parents. The intent often got lost (perhaps along with the instructions). While it was a great intention, it backfired as car seats are still highly misused and installed incorrectly — a whopping 75%-90% (depending on who you ask).
I’ve seen LATCH misused in many ways. One of the most common I’ve seen is using the LATCH system and the vehicle seat belt to install the child restraint.
A lot of people believe it would be better to use both the lower anchors of LATCH and a seat belt to install the child restraint. It’s kind of the philosophy of: if one is good, two will be better. No. Let me repeat that, NO, it is not better! (Of course there are always exceptions to the rule as there are a couple of restraints that do allow it. Read your manual!)
For one thing, your car seat was likely not tested using LATCH and seat belt (unless you have one of the acceptions) so using both to install the car seat would be going outside of the manufacturers recommendations and would cancel the warranty.
Plus, and more importantly, when you use both you double the webbing which prevents it from stretching as intended during a crash. This lack of stretch takes the crash energy that the webbing is meant to absorb and transfers it to the plastic shell of the car seat. The child restraint is meant to have some give (less than 1″ movement at the belt path). The straps are meant to have some stretch. And, during a crash, this is what absorbs crash energy, reducing the amount of energy the child is exposed to.
You always had the option of installing the car seat using the seat belt. When LATCH was released a lot of parents thought it was safer; it’s not. Many thought it would be easier to use; statistics show, it’s not. For many, LATCH weight limits just make something already confusing even more so. And that may be.
LATCH Weight Limits
It was argued that the Lower Anchors (the pair of metal bars in the vehicle’s seat crack) of the LATCH system could possibly fail at higher weights. Whereas vehicle seat belts can hold very large adults, comparatively a lot heavier than 65 lbs., and are tested to withstand at least 6,000 pounds of crash force.
LATCH weight limits are not new. Though there was a big to-do about them back in 2014 when NHTSA directed manufacturers to include labels indicating the LATCH weight limits for their seats.
The reality is many car manufacturers already had weight limitations in place for using LATCH. You just had to read the vehicle manual and the car seat manual to learn what the weight limitations were for your situation.
For most vehicle manufacturers that lower anchor weight limit is 65 pounds. That 65 pounds is the combined weight of the seat and the child. Seat + child = Combine weight.
Download our report: Common Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them
So if a seat weighs, as many do, 25 pounds, the weight limit for the child is 40 pounds. At which point parents need to start using the seat belt system instead of LATCH to install the car seat.
If weight limits have been in place since the beginning of LATCH, what is the need for another label? (I mean, how many of the labels on your current car seat have you read?)
Car seat manufacturers are required to label their 5-point harness child restraints to tell parents that it should not be installed with the LA part of LATCH (lower anchors) when the combined weight of the seat (this is listed on the label) and weight of the child (the parent needs to track this) reaches 65 pounds. At that point the seat can still be used and installed using the vehicle’s seat belt.
The label also should tell you the maximum weight for a child for which the lower anchors can be used after taking into account the weight of the seat. This makes it easy for the parent so they don’t have to weigh both and do the math. You just have to weigh your child and make sure it’s under the weight limit on the label.
Remember seat belts are just as safe as LATCH. Many parents asked me about this when I moved their incorrectly LATCH installed restraint to a seat belt install. Again the purpose of LATCH was not to be a better install but to be an easier install. And seat belts can be used to higher weight limits.
Top Tether of LATCH
The LATCH weight limit does not necessarily effect the use of the top tether. Tether weight limitations still vary depending on the vehicle manufacturer.
Many vehicle manufacturers are still limiting top tether anchor use to the same combined (restraint and child) 65-pound weight even when the restraint is installed using the vehicle’s seat belt system. Some manufacturers use a lower weight limit. This is another instance where you need to check the vehicle manual.
One thing to note here is that the RideSafer Travel Vests weigh a little more than a pound. The combined 65-pound weight for the top tether anchor would mean a maximum child weight of 63 pounds, if the vest is being used with a lap-belt only. Above that, we offer a dual tether to distribute the weight across two top anchors for heavier children.
If you are using a booster seat with LATCH (there are a few), you can use both the seat belt and LATCH. In this situation the seat belt is the primary restraint holding the child in the event of a crash. The lower anchor weight limits do not apply.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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We originally published this post in May 2013. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.