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5
LATCH is Universal and (Possibly) Easier to Use

Car seats were often installed incorrectly and the blame was often placed on the installation process, which was complicated and varied from car to car, seat to seat. One of the benefits of LATCH is that, in theory, the regulations would produce a set of common elements that would be instantly recognizable, allowing seats to be moved quickly and easily among different cars.

The "lower anchor" part of LATCH was designed so that car seats no longer need to be strapped in with the car's seat belts -- it was confusing to know which belts to use, where they attached to or how they were supposed to be fed through the car seat and how they should be fastened. And there's no room for error.

Each LATCH installation location has two metal bars that protrude slightly from the lower part of the seat. The top tethers get three anchor points (the locations vary depending on the type of vehicle, usually on the rear shelf for small cars and various other locations for vans or SUVs). Parents can still use the lower belts instead of the lower anchors if they choose, which (again) can be confusing.

As always, consult the owner's and instruction manuals for your specific car seat and car. Even though the system is designed to be universal, different types of cars, from convertibles to SUVs, vary so greatly that carmakers, seat designers and government regulators have had to meet in the middle. The system is simpler because all the basic components are the same, but a few minutes of research will help ensure the seat is properly latched in place.

A Consumer Reports examination found that LATCH definitely makes it easier to locate everything that needs to be connected, but that making all the connections required can still induce a headache. At least, the magazine noted, the process of installing a LATCH-equipped seat lends the confidence that it was done correctly and that the seat will remain in place. As Consumer Reports found, the LATCH system in some vehicles are really easy to use. Others are a lot more complicated. One SUV, for example, required the rear seats to fold down to access the anchors, which was nearly impossible because the car seat was already on the seat, occupying the space necessary for the seat to fold. Other critics of the system point out that, by introducing inconsistencies and decision-making in the process, LATCH might be defeating its own purpose.

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