What is LATCH?

Installing a child safety seat can be difficult. In fact, it is estimated that 3 out of 4 car seats are not installed correctly. The LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system was developed to make it easier to correctly install child safety seats without using seat belts. LATCH can be found in vehicles as well as infant, convertible and forward-facing child safety seats, made after Sept. 1, 2002. 

Learn about LATCH and how it makes installing a child safety seat easier.

The LATCH system consists of built-in straps and hooks on the safety seat and anchor hardware in the vehicle. When using LATCH, the LATCH anchors and attachments take the place of seat belts. Tuck the seat belts out of the way to avoid interfering with the lower anchoring system.

In most cases, LATCH is not needed or used for booster seats. Check both your vehicle and booster seat manuals.

  • Where you can find LATCH

    In your vehicle

    • Lower anchors. LATCH anchors are required in at least two seating positions in the rear seat of your car, each with two small bars called "anchors." The most common spots are the right and left positions (next to the windows). This can vary, however, by vehicle. You can find these bars in the space where the rear seat back meets the seat cushion.
    • Top tether anchors. Anchor points for the top tether strap are on the rear shelf in passenger cars. In other vehicles, the anchor points could be on the floor, under the seat or even on the ceiling. Check your car owner’s manual.

    On your child's safety seat

    • Lower anchor straps. This strap has two hooks and is located at the base of the car seat.
    • Top tether. The top tether strap comes from the top of the car seat and has one hook at the end.
  • How to install a LATCH-equipped child safety seat

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that using LATCH correctly will cut the number of improperly installed child safety seats in half.

    Basic installation steps

    • Read both your car owner’s manual and child safety seat instruction manual.
    • Attach each hook from the base of the child safety seat onto its own lower anchor in the space where the rear seat back meets the seat cushion. Tighten and adjust the straps according to the child safety seat manual. In order to get it to fit tightly, you need to press the seat down and back while tightening the straps.
    • If you are using a child safety seat in the forward-facing position, attach the child safety seat's top tether strap to the correct anchor point. This is an important step because top tethers greatly reduce the amount of dangerous forward-head movement in a crash. Pull to tighten.
    • Check to see if the seat is installed tightly. You should not be able to move it more than an inch from side to side or forward when holding the seat where the LATCH strap goes through the seat.

    If your vehicle is not equipped with LATCH

    If your child safety seat has built-in straps for LATCH but your vehicle is not equipped with LATCH, you can install your child safety seat correctly with the seat belt (you will not be using the LATCH straps on the car seat). Check both your vehicle and child safety seat manuals.

    Visit Car Seat Safety by age for information and videos on how to install your child safety seat in vehicles not equipped with LATCH.

    For help with LATCH or seat belt installation, find a local car safety seat checkpoint for free inspections held in most areas.

  • LATCH safety tips
    • Be sure to use both the top tether strap and the lower anchors on forward-facing seats.
    • Only one seat can be attached to the same anchor.
    • Check to be sure that your child's safety seat is attached to the LATCH anchor bars, not another part of the car seat or vehicle. Some LATCH anchors are visible and some are deeper into the space between the rear seat back and bottom cushion.
    • Use the anchors only in the positions listed in your car owner’s manual and do not put a LATCH-attached safety seat in the center position unless approved by the car’s maker
    • When switching a convertible child safety seat from rear-facing to forward-facing, refer to your child's safety seat manual to see how to properly switch your lower anchor straps.
    • Some rear-facing child safety seats allow you to use the top tether; refer to your child safety seat manual to see if this is allowed.
    • If you don't have LATCH in your car, using the seat belts to install your child safety seat correctly is as safe as LATCH. It is usually not possible to have lower anchors installed in your vehicle. However, contact your car dealer if you are interested in having the top tether anchors installed.
    • Each vehicle has its own weight limit for the lower anchors and top tether anchors. If you don’t know the limits and your child’s weight reaches 40 pounds, always use the seat belt, not LATCH, to install your car seat. For help with finding anchor weight limits, find a local car seat check near you.

    For more information about LATCH, please visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website.

Reviewed on April 25, 2014