LATCH, the built-in child safety seat lower anchors that have been required for every new passenger vehicle since model year 2003, has certainly simplified child seat installation. But new rules mean some drivers with pint-sized passengers may want to reevaluate whether to use the LATCH system or, instead, secure their child safety seat using the vehicle’s seat belt.

When the combined weight of the child and the safety seat is more than 65 lbs, using the seat belt to secure the seat may be a safer choice than using the lower LATCH anchors. That’s because LATCH anchors are not designed for weights beyond that limit. Federal regulators are not directly advising car seat users to change the way they use LATCH, but they are requiring child safety seat manufacturers to update their recommendations beginning in February, 2014.

Child safety seat laws vary by state, and this rule change does not directly affect state laws. But the recommendations are important for parents and other drivers that use the car seats, especially for bigger kids.

How to determine whether to use LATCH or the vehicle’s seatbelt to secure a child safety seat:

  1. Weigh the child safety seat. Because the new rule is based on the combined weight of the child and seat, you’ll need to know the weight of the seat you’re using. You may want to use a permanent marker to record the weight somewhere on the seat in case you forget it later.
  2. Subtract the seat’s weight in pounds from 65. The result is the maximum weight of the child that meets recommendations for using the LATCH anchors. For example, if your child safety seat weighs 20 lbs, you should use a seatbelt to secure the seat for a child weighing 45 lbs or more (65 – 20 = 45).
  3. Follow the child safety seat manufacturer’s instructions for installing the seat using LATCH when appropriate or using the vehicle’s seat belt for larger children.

Tips for using a child safety seat following the new 65-lb rule:

  1. Use the top tether when available. Unlike the lower anchors found between the seat bottom and seat back, this anchor attaches to a tether that secures the top of the child safety seat and reduces risk of head injuries in a crash.
  2. Err on the side of caution. If the combined weight of child and safety seat reaches 60 lbs, there’s no harm in switching from LATCH to seatbelt early.
  3. Buy a second seat. Securing a seat is easy with LATCH, but it can be more time consuming with a seatbelt. For parents with two or more vehicles, consider buying a child safety seat for each vehicle so you don’t have to remove and reinstall the seat when you switch cars.

Kids are our most precious cargo. Be sure to follow the car seat manufacturer’s instructions, abide by state and local child safety seat laws and use the seat for each and every trip. If you have questions or need help installing your seat, visit safercar.gov.

Photo: NHTSA

Originally published on NAPA Know How Blog.