When to Use a Tether on a Car Seat

When to Use a Tether on a Car Seat

Before I say anything at all, it is crucial to know that all car seat/car combinations are different. READ THE MANUALS. This is the best way to get the specific information you need to properly install a car seat. With that being said, a lot of people don’t know about using the tether on their car seat. There are occasional exceptions, but below are a few basic guidelines to using a car seat tether.

What is a car seat tether?

Car seats are made with typically long tethers that come out of the top of the seat. At the end of a tether is a hook that will attach to a tether anchor in the car for added safety and support. When rear facing, many convertible car seats have a compartment to hide this tether away.

Why use a tether?

The tether is what fastens the top of a car seat to the car. Without a tether properly attached, the entire car seat (child included) comes away from the back of the seat in the event of a car crash, adding to the possibility of injury immensely.

When to use a tether?

Most rear-facing car seats do not have the option or need for a tether, again there are some exceptions, but the majority of the time you won’t need to bother using a tether until your child is facing forward--when he/she is AT LEAST 2 years of age. Depending on the seat, it is also uncommon for use of a tether when using a booster. You will always use a tether for a forward-facing car seat, whether a seat belt or the LATCH system is being used. Speaking of, be aware of the LATCH system’s weight limit when using a car seat with a 5-point harness. Once that weight limit is reached, a seat belt will need to be used until the 5-point harness is no longer in the picture--in which case, the LATCH system can be used again.

Where do you connect a tether?

First, be aware that a tether anchor is not the same as a cargo hook. Be sure to establish an actual tether anchor, as a cargo hook will not be strong enough to withstand the impact of a car crash. Tether anchors should be marked with this symbol:
Top Tether Symbol PC: CarseatBlog
There are a variety of common places you’ll find a tether anchor in a vehicle. Depending on the car’s size and configuration, it may be on the back of the seat, on the ceiling, or on the rear shelf above the trunk. Here is a picture of a few examples:
Tether Anchor Locations PC: The Car Seat Lady

A few things to keep in mind when using tethers:

  • The tether should be connected to the closest tether anchor possible
  • If there is no option for a tether, keep the child in rear-facing mode until accommodations can be made:
    • Have tethers retrofitted into your vehicle
    • Your child reaches the requirements for a booster seat
    • Buy a new vehicle equipped with tether anchors in the appropriate places
Choosing a higher-backed convertible car seat with a larger weight capacity can help in achieving this.
  • There should be no slack in the tether.
  • When in rear-facing mode, never attempt to loop the tether under the seat. IF using a tether while in rear-facing mode, it should anchor anterior to the car seat. Again, this isn’t super common, so be sure to read the manual on the car seat even if a tether anchor is available for use under the front seats.
  • Some car seats have v-shaped tethers to fit around a headrest. Do not attempt to create your own makeshift v-shaped tether to get around your headrest--there are likely other solutions.
  • It is safer for a child to be in a side seat of the car with a tether than it is to be in the center without a tether.
  • NEVER connect two tethers to one anchor.

Clarification for common misconceptions of car seats:

  • NEVER ever use a seat belt AND the LATCH system at the same time unless you own a Clek Foonf or a base for the Nuna Pipa. With the exception of these two car seats, the two buckling combinations counteract the safety features and create a dangerous situation for your child, should an accident occur.
  • A child should stay in rear-facing mode until 24 months. 2 whole years at least! The longer the better.
  • The LATCH weight limit (they all have one, look yours up) is only valid for 5-point harness use. Once the child has graduated to a non-5-point harness car seat, the LATCH system can then be used again. And typically, this booster will not be using the tether.

How’s that for an overload of information? Hopefully you’re now more informed, but if you still have questions, feel free to call our store and talk to a CPS tech or find someone in your area who can answer specific questions one-on-one. Happy travels and keep those little ones safe!

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