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Borrowing LATCH Anchors

 

Can You Safely Use Those Center LATCH Anchors?

There are 3 top mistakes we child passenger safety technicians see when we work with parents who want to do latch_symbolwhat’s best and safe with their children’s carseats: a harness that’s too loose, an installation that’s too loose, and a chest clip that’s too low. Following closely in 4th place is using the lower LATCH connectors in the center seating position of the back seat where they can’t be used. Really, any of these mistakes can be put in any order—they’re almost interchangeable given how often we see them.

Hold up, now. You mean I can’t use LATCH in the center seating position?

All passenger vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2002, have lower LATCH anchors (there are exceptions, of course). There are some vehicles that do have a specific set of lower LATCH anchors designed for use in the center position of the back seat, but most vehicles do not. That’s surprising to a large number of parents who rightly feel that the center of the back seat is the safest spot. It’s furthest from side impacts and LATCH generally is the easier method to get a tighter installation. So why is it that lower anchors aren’t available to be used in the center position and why is it that some CPS techs recommend using lower anchors in the middle while some don’t?

The Basics

Lower LATCH anchors consist of 2 U-shaped metal bars welded to a sturdy bar. The anchors are spaced 280 mm apart, which to those of us not used to the metric system measures out to 11” center to center. The lower anchors are a system, designed to be used together because they are all welded together as one big piece. LATCH altogether is a system as well: Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren. The Tether referred to in the acronym is on a convertible or combination carseat and is generally used only for forward-facing carseats to hold the top of the carseat in place (some carseats can be tethered rear-facing—that’s a different topic). We never call lower LATCH straps “tethers” but sometimes you’ll see them referred to as “lower connector straps.”

MDX LATCH assembly LATCH_sketch

First let’s discuss the concept of “borrowing.” Just as there are a variety of vehicles with back seats, so are there a variety of configurations for lower LATCH anchors. In all 4-door sedans, there will be 2 sets of lower anchors in the outboard (outside) positions, for a total of 4 lower anchors. You can safely install 2 carseats with those lower anchors. In sedans, trucks, and SUVs with big enough back seats, there will be a third set in the middle. Aha! That’s the key—space. Even though you may have 6 total lower LATCH anchors, you may not be able to install 3 carseats using those anchors. Think about it: the LATCH anchors are spaced 11” across and the narrowest carseats are 17” across. The math simply doesn’t add up. Again, in the widest back seats, you can do it, but you have to remember that LATCH was designed to be a convenience feature; it’s not going to work in all situations. In some vehicles, there may be 5 lower anchors: 2 on each outboard side with 1 randomly stuck somewhere in the middle. What engineer was smoking what when they came up with that design? Well, in this case, you can use lower anchors in the center by using the inside lower anchor from one outboard side with that randomly placed center anchor. The carseat will have an offset installation; that is, it won’t be perfectly in the center. Here’s an example:

2010 Honda CR-V has one dedicated center lower anchor

2010 Honda CR-V has one dedicated center lower anchor that is used with the inboard passenger side lower anchor

2014 Ford Focus has a set of lower anchors for each outboard position

2014 Ford Focus has a set of lower anchors to be used in each outboard position

2011 Acura MDX

2011 Acura MDX has 3 full sets of lower anchors

Can you use lower LATCH anchors to install your carseat in the center of the back seat if there aren’t any dedicated lower anchors in that position? Perhaps. This practice is known as LATCH anchor “borrowing” and you have to consult both your vehicle AND your carseat manual to see if they allow it. If one doesn’t, you can’t. It’s like asking mom if you can eat a piece of candy and she says no, so you ask dad. They both have to say yes. Why? Remember back to that lower anchor spacing of 11”. In a crash, forces are put on both the metal anchors (vehicle) and the plastic belt path (carseat). Because you are now using a spacing that is different than 11” (most likely more, and sometimes over 20”), the crash forces are coming at angles that either haven’t been tested for or have been tested but have failed.

Graco LATCH anchor wording

Graco LATCH anchor wording

Britax LATCH anchor wording

Britax LATCH anchor wording

Some manufacturers have tested for these contingencies and if you’re lucky enough to have a match, you can borrow those LATCH anchors.

2014 Ford Focus Borrowing

What’s a parent to do?

If you want to install your carseat in the center seating position with LATCH and your vehicle manual specifies that you have a set of dedicated lower anchors, go for it! It’ll likely be an easier installation for you. Don’t forget to check the label on the side of the carseat or the carseat manual for any LATCH weight limits, both rear- and forward-facing.

If you don’t have a set of dedicated lower anchors and want to borrow the inside anchors from the outboard positions, check both the vehicle AND carseat manuals to see if both allow it. The verbiage may be subtle (see the Graco manual excerpt), so if you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to call customer service.

If you don’t have specific lower LATCH anchors for the middle seating position, have no worries. A seat belt installation is perfectly acceptable since LATCH is a convenience feature. If, however, you find that you can’t get a tight installation using the seat belt and you can get a better installation with the lower anchors, it’s preferable to move the carseat to the outboard position and use LATCH. An installation where the carseat moves less than 1” trumps the center location of the back seat if you can’t get a tight install there.

Now that you know not to make the #4 mistake of borrowing lower LATCH anchors when you shouldn’t, it’s time to make sure that your child’s harness is snug enough, the chest clip is in the correct location, and the carseat is installed tightly enough. I’ve covered 2 of those mistakes in this article, so if you need a refresher on the others, take a glance at this blog: http://carseatblog.com/26763/carseatblog-quick-tip-proper-harness-tightness.

BUYER BEWARE – Illegal “Car Safety Seats” for Children

Illegal Chinese Car Seat - death by bunniesParents – if you see something for sale online that claims to be a “child safety seat” or “booster” or “car seat” but it comes from a manufacturer that you have never heard of and it doesn’t say that it meets federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) please be suspicious and do some research. It may be a legitimate product but it may also be an illegal death trap.

Currently Amazon is FLOODED with products from China claiming to be child restraints that are being sold by 3rd party sellers. Please don’t be duped into thinking these are a safe alternative to a car seat or booster seat that meets FMVSS 213 standards. As much as the seller wants you to believe that this product is “Compact and reasonable design make it enjoy the safety of traditional child seat”, it is neither safe nor reasonable.

A few examples of what’s available through 3rd party sellers today on Amazon:

Child Safety Car Seat 3 Colors Portable /Kids/infant/children Baby Car Safety Booster Seat Cushion Multi-function Chair Auto Harness Carrier 5-15kg

Sold by ZheJiang PT Car Accessories Manufacturing Company

Illegal Chinese Car Seat - no name

Child Car Seat 6 Colors Vehienlar Thickening Seat Cover Car Portable Annbaby Child Safety Seat Infant/baby Car Seat (Dark Blue)

Sold by ZheJiang PT Car Accessories Manufacturing Company

Illegal Chinese Car Seat - vehienlar

docooler Convertible Car Safety Booster Seat Cover Cushion Harness Carrier for Baby/Kids/Infant/Child/Toddler

Sold by Docooler

Illegal Chinese Car Seat - docooler

Bluesky Home Need Child Safety Seat for Car (Auto Thick Cushion Cover Harness Protector)

Sold by Willtoo(TM)

Illegal Chinese Car Seat - bluesky

I could keep going because there are even more products than this on Amazon right now but hopefully I’ve made my point.

A few years ago Jennie got her hands on one of these types of products and did a lovely “review” of it:

YIREN-Trouble: A Review of an Illegal Chinese Car Seat

Illegal Chinese Car Seat

I know most of our readers don’t need any further convincing that putting a child in one of these contraptions in a moving car is a really, really, bad idea. But just to highlight how bad the outcome really could be – check out this video courtesy of Surrey County Council & Britax. 

The Wrong Belt Path!

Have you ever had your carseat installed by a well-intentioned family member or friend and it just seemed off somehow? When you went to put your child in the seat, it tipped really easily?

Duhn Duhn Duhn! It was installed using the wrong belt path!

wrong-belt-path-RF

Use the wrong belt path and the carseat won’t protect as it should. In a crash, it will rotate around the belt path and if that belt path is several inches away from the seat belt/LATCH anchors, the results could be disastrous.

Using the wrong belt path isn’t limited to rear-facers. It can be even more damaging to forward-facing kids if the tether strap isn’t attached. In these situations the child’s head can be slammed into the vehicle seat or front center console that’s in front of them, or even the side pillar structure of the vehicle.

Rear-facing or forward-facing – it’s vital to make sure that you are installing the carseat using the correct belt path!

wrong-belt-path-FF

Watch this video from the Child Passenger Safety Board demonstrating using the wrong belt path. The carseat on the left has the seat belt threaded through the rear-facing belt path (incorrect). The carseat on the right has the seat belt threaded through the forward-facing belt path and the top tether attached (correct).

What can you do? Look for labels marking the correct belt path. They’re there. Read the manual that came with the carseat. If you can’t find it, look online or call the manufacturer and they’ll send you a new one. Give your kid a fighting chance if the time comes that the carseat is needed as a safety device.

The Safest Booster Seat for Your Child: Can IIHS Ratings Tell You Which is the Best for You?

The IIHS released its 2014 Belt Positioning Booster Seat Ratings recently. The Institute released its first results in 2008. Thirteen models were Not Recommended that year. In contrast, this year only 3 models were added for a total of just 5 boosters on the Not Recommended list. In 2008, only 10 models rated a “Best Bet”. This year, 27 new models rated a “Best Bet” making a total of 62 top performing boosters. That is great progress in a very important evaluation of safety!

It’s still important for parents to understand that the IIHS booster ratings are NOT based on crash testing results. They are also not based on a wide sampling of real-world fit evaluations with actual children who move around on their own. The ratings are standardized assessments of how well each booster fits a specific crash test dummy (6-year-old Hybrid III) in four test configurations that simulate a range of popular vehicle designs. Of course, kids and vehicles may vary significantly. So, this rating system doesn’t guarantee that a ”Best Bet” product will fit your child better than a model that is listed as “Check Fit,” especially if your child is significantly larger or smaller than the 6-year-old Hybrid III dummy (which weighs 51.6 lbs, has an overall height of almost 45″ tall, and a seated height of 25″). The same goes if your car has unusual seating or seatbelt design.

IIHS Good Belt Fit

The bottom line is that if you know how to make sure a booster fits properly on your child, in your vehicle, only you can determine the best booster for your situation, even without ratings! This is done with a simple 5-step test you can do easily in a couple minutes on your own. We do think the IIHS ratings are a great place to start when looking for a booster, but they don’t tell you anything else about the booster in regard to features or value. For that, we always suggest that parents browse CarseatBlog’s detailed reviews! For example, some boosters have poor shoulder belt guides that can catch the seatbelt and prevent it from retracting, a potentially dangerous situation. This type of problem is not identified in the IIHS testing, but we mention it in our reviews if we observe it in our testing.

All that said, the IIHS booster ratings have become a powerful shopping tool in the last 6 years. Witness the introduction of the Britax Frontier 90 and Pinnacle 90 a year ago. We evaluated them among the top combination booster models on the market, and they fit a wide range of children very well in both harness and booster mode. Unfortunately, the IIHS initially rated them a “Check Fit”. Many shoppers may not realize that this rating means that many kids may still fit very well in this booster in some vehicles, as we discussed in our coverage of the 2013 IIHS ratings. Britax even offered owners of the original Frontier 90 and Pinnacle 90 models a free SecureGuard clip that not only improves booster fit, but also provides a unique 4th point or restraint for the child.

BritaxPioneerIIHSSide2Even so, consumers have driven manufacturers to achieve the “Best Bet” rating. A few months ago, Britax released updates to these models along with the Pioneer 70, in order to obtain the top rating. You can see the design change in the photo (right). In our real world evaluation of fit, we found that the improvements from “Check Fit” to “Best Bet” can be very modest, especially on larger children who would be most likely to use booster mode in these products (photos, below).

BritaxPioneerIIHSoldA BritaxPioneerIIHSnewA


Like the IIHS vehicle crash testing program, the booster program has become an industry standard and has driven design. Some manufacturers now work with the IIHS to make sure their products will achieve Good Bet or Best Bet ratings. While the IIHS can’t predict if any specific booster will be the safest for your child, in your own vehicle, it does give you a good idea which models have the best chance to fit well! Savvy parents will also check out CarseatBlog’s detailed reviews and Recommended Carseats list for many details that the IIHS does not provide. But there’s always the question that concerns every parent:

 Should I buy a different booster because the one I have didn’t get a “Best Bet” or “Good Bet” rating?

If your kid is riding around in a booster that has a “Not Recommended” rating then you probably do need to get a different booster seat. You should still assess the situation first because there is a slim chance that maybe it’s positioning the seatbelt correctly on your child in your vehicle. But there is a good chance that it isn’t. Some seats that have been included in the “Not Recommended” list are notorious for doing a lousy job in booster mode. There is nothing wrong with them if they are combination seats being used with the 5-point harness, but in booster mode these models just don’t do a good job of positioning the seatbelt properly on many kids.

If your booster didn’t receive a “Best Bet” or even a “Good Bet” rating, it may still provide good protection for your child, but regardless, you need to check the belt fit.  If it doesn’t fit optimally, try a different seating position in your vehicle to see if it works better in a different spot. And make sure you read the instruction manual that came with your booster! You would be shocked at the number of mistakes many parents make when using booster seats. The IIHS goes strictly by the manual when it evaluates boosters and so should you, if you want your booster to perform as well as it did in their testing!

Consumer Reports on Potential Britax ClickTight Boulevard & Marathon Convertible Carseat Safety Issues

Britax ClickTight convertiblesSome New Britax ClickTight Convertible Carseats May Have Loose or Detached Harness Straps

Today Consumer Reports published an article detailing safety concerns over the new Britax Boulevard ClickTight and Marathon ClickTight convertible seats. Although not mentioned in the article, it is possible that the Advocate ClickTight models may have the same issues. We want to emphasize that this only applies to the brand new “ClickTight” convertible models. All other Britax convertibles, such as the “G4″ models, are NOT affected. Frontier 90 and Pinnacle 90 Combination seats with ClickTight are also NOT affected. 

Link to full CR article:

Two Britax car seats could pose safety risk
Consumer Reports finds potential problem with the Britax Boulevard ClicktTight and the Britax Marathon ClickTight

Fortunately, this should be easy for customers to remedy. In fact, the five-point harness design allows for repositioning the straps on their anchors to adjust for different-sized children. Our car seat installation experts found that if they followed Britax’s online instructions for adjusting the harness length, they were able to properly re-secure the harness strap themselves, paying particular attention to engage the straps inside the hook.

Here at CarseatBlog, we agree completely with the advice to check your Britax CT Convertible models and make a correction if necessary. Once the straps are properly secured to the anchors they should NOT be able to free themselves from the anchor. The thickness of the harness strap webbing combined with the shape/design of the anchor makes it highly unlikely that the strap could free itself from the anchor if it was attached properly in the first place. We’re not in the business of speculation but it seems highly probable that the issue with these seats is an error somewhere in the factory assembly process. 

Britax CT Infographic

 

We’ll keep you posted on this issue as more information becomes available from Britax in the near future. Parents can find basic instructions and video on how to locate and adjust the harness straps at the Britax USA Website. These videos show the basic procedure to attach the harness straps in the shorter or longer length as needed. They also demonstrate how to reattach a loose harness strap if yours is not secured properly:

In the mean time please share this info with your friends and family so we get the word out to as many Britax CT convertible owners as possible. There does not appear to be an immediate need to stop using the carseat, as it only takes a minute or two to re-attach the harness strap if it is found to be loose. In this case the only thing we need to keep children safe is information on what to look for and how to fix it!