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Home / LATCH vs Seat Belt… Which Comes Out On Top?

LATCH vs Seat Belt… Which Comes Out On Top?

You’ve done all the shopping, all the research into the safety of a seat and how to use it… and now comes the fun part: installation! Okay, so my definition of fun may vary from yours.  But if it’s gotta be done, it might as well be fun, right?

One of the first decisions that must be made is what to use to install the seat.  Every car seat on the market today must by law have the ability to be installed with a seat belt or with LATCH straps. LATCH is an acronym; it means Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. All car seats will have lower anchors attached to them somehow down near the bottom, and all seats that can be used forward facing with a harness will have a tether attached near the top half of the seat.  Some are designed for a seat belt install (like a Britax Clicktight, for instance) and some are designed for a LATCH install (such as the Nuna Pipa).  It’s important to note that your car seat should not be installed with both the lower anchors and seat belt at the same time unless such is expressly stated in both the manual for the car seat and your vehicle.  There are only 2 or 3 seats on the market that allow this and only one vehicle manufacturer that does, so unless you’re putting a forward facing Clek Foonf in a Ford vehicle, chances are you will need to choose one or the other.
Advantages of LATCH:
  • The straps are always there!  Well, unless you cut them off (please don’t do that), they will be. 
  • They usually make for a worry free install.  Just connect the anchor straps to their metal counterparts inside the vehicle seat, tighten them up, and you’re good to go.
Disadvantages of LATCH:
  • There is a weight limit.  The general rule is that the child and the car seat combined must not weigh more than 65lbs.  That means if your car seat weighs 25lbs and you’re harnessing a 40lb child, you cannot use LATCH. As the weight of your chosen car seat goes up the acceptable weight of the child goes down.
  • Not every vehicle has LATCH in every seating position.  In fact, it’s rare to find a vehicle that has every seat equipped with LATCH.  For instance, a lot of middle seats in sedans and van benches will be lacking them.
Advantages of Seat Belts:
A vehicle is shown here being lifted up by its seat belt.
  • They are tested to approximately a gajillion pounds of force (okay, that number is actually between 3,000lbs and 5,000lbs); as such, your child will never outgrow the weight limit of a seat belt.
  • No LATCH connectors?  No problem!  Install with the seat belt!
Disadvantages of Seat Belts:
  • Some seat belt systems are not compatible with certain car seats.  If the buckle for your belt system overlaps with the seating position next to it (I’m looking at you, RAV-4) it will severely limit where you can install a seat while keeping other passengers in the back seat restrained safely.  There’s also the possibility that the belt just won’t tighten enough to keep the seat snug.
  • Inflatable seat belts are a thing now!  While they are a really incredible safety feature for adults, they can throw a wrench into your car seating plans.  Most car seat manufacturers haven’t finished testing their products with inflatable belts, and as I’m sure you can imagine, it will take time (and money) to finish that testing.   So we have some time before we have a definitive answer on the use of inflatable belts to install child restraints.
While keeping all this information in mind, know that the best way to install a seat is largely dependent on the ability of the caregiver to install the seat the correct way every single time.  If that means moving the child restraint to a LATCH compatible position instead of the middle because that’s where you can get it installed tightly enough, that is perfectly acceptable.  
Remember: the child restraint should not move more than one inch in any direction – front to back or side to side – when properly installed.  Use the installation method that works for you and your car seat and make sure to get it right every time!
Author: Dana

Dana is the lucky mother to two incredible kids (aged 10 & 6) and the happy wife of Nate. She stumbled around in her adult life for a while before finally realizing that she could get paid to pursue her passion: keeping kids safe. In 2013 she started working at Modern Natural Baby in Ferndale where she eventually became a Child Passenger Safety Technician with additional Special Needs training. Dana also runs the child passenger safety-focused Facebook page Buckle Up Detroit and works with the amazing lady bosses at Metro Detroit Doula Services offering car seat classes, consultations, and more!