CARS.COM — The Latch system was designed to make child-safety seat installation easier for parents, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Despite the fact that all automakers have been federally mandated to include the anchors as standard equipment on all vehicles since September 2002, all Latch systems are not created equal, as we often discover during our Car Seat Checks. Many parents think that using the Latch anchors to install a car seat is a safer choice for their child than using a seat belt. Using a seat belt can be just as safe — if it’s done correctly.
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Buried or nonexistent anchors mean that the seat belt is often your best — or only — option when installing a car seat. This might make parents nervous, but a car seat installed with a seat belt can be just as safe as one installed with the Latch system, provided you know what you’re doing. Follow these tips to ensure safe car-seat installation with a seat belt in your vehicle.
Most seat belts have a switchable retractor with two modes. In Emergency Locking mode, the seat belt strap can be pulled freely and will only lock into a tight, fixed position when the car abruptly slows or stops. You can switch a seat belt out of Emergency Locking mode and into Automatic Locking mode by pulling the belt freely until the strap webbing runs out, then ratcheting the slack back into the retractor for a fixed, tight strap.
You can switch between these two modes in most vehicles, which is important when installing a car seat: In order for a child-safety seat to be safely secured using a seat belt, you must make sure your car’s seat belt is in Automatic Locking mode:
Step 1: Using your car seat’s manual, find its seat belt path; this is a set of slots or holes generally located near the Latch connector strap path on the seat.