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Heather Corley

Reader Question: When to Use a Car Seat Top Tether?

By April 17, 2006

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Q: I just bought a convertible car seat for my 14-month-old son who outgrew his infant car seat. The convertible car seat has a tether strap that looks like a LATCH connector on the top, behind where my baby's head is supposed to be. He is still rear-facing right now. Should I be using the tether strap now? My friend said the tether is only used for LATCH installations, and I'm using the car's seatbelt. The top tether is just hanging there for now and I'm not sure what to do with it.

A: First of all, I'm glad to hear that your son is rear-facing even after outgrowing an infant car seat. That's a smart choice, and extended rear-facing is recommended by more baby safety experts every day.

The car seat top tether can sometimes be used in the rear-facing position, but only for a few car seats. You need to check your car seat instruction manual to know whether your car seat can be tethered rear-facing. When it's time to turn your baby around to forward-facing, you should use the top tether anytime the vehicle has an anchor for it. The top tether, when properly used, reduces the forward motion of your baby's head in a crash. Less head movement results in fewer severe injuries to the head and neck.

The top tether is actually part of the LATCh system. In fact, LATCh stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. When you install a car seat forward-facing with the LATCh system, use of the the top tether is required. If you have installed a forward-facing car seat with the vehicle seat belt, use of the top tether is optional but highly recommended if anchors are present.

In your vehicle, the top tether anchor can be tricky to find. Some vehicles have a tether anchor on the back dashboard, while others have tether anchors on the floor behind rear seats or even on the ceiling in some SUVS. Vehicles manufactured between 1989 and 2000 often have pre-drilled top tether anchors, so you can take your car in to a service center and have the anchors installed. Vehicles manufactured after 2000 usually have top tether anchors already installed.

If your vehicle doesn't have a top tether anchor, or you can't use the tether rear-facing, be sure to secure the tether strap so it can't fly over and hit your baby in a crash or a sudden stop. Most car seats have a specific place to secure the tether's hook, so check your car seat instruction book to find out what the manufacturer suggests.

Heather Corley is a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.
May 27, 2011 at 10:10 pm
(1) Jill says:

We have a Britax Advocate CS for our 6 month old son. He is a very large boy and has outgrown his infant seat. He is, of course, rear facing with the top tether hooked over the back of the seat in the cargo area of my 2004 Saturn VUE. It is extremely difficult to get him in and out of the seat due to his size/length. Any tips? I almost dread going in the car because it is such an ordeal to get him in/out of his seat. Thanks,

June 30, 2011 at 11:26 am
(2) Sophie K says:

You’re only supposed to use the tether when forward facing, do not use when rear facing, it’s not designed for that.

June 30, 2011 at 1:20 pm
(3) Heather says:

Actually, the Britax car seat mentioned about does have a tether that can be used rear-facing. There are a few manufacturers who allow that method. You should always check the car seat manual to see whether or not your specific car seat can be tethered while rear-facing.

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