All forward facing harnessed car seats have a top tether. The top tether is an essential piece of safety equipment and an essential part of protecting children who ride forward facing in their harnessed car seats.
Since the model year 1999, all new cars in the United States and Canada include at least three tether anchors to connect those top tethers. These anchors will be identified in your vehicle’s manual and often with a tether anchor symbol near the tether itself.
Installing a Forward Facing Car Seat
Installing a forward facing car seat requires three steps. First, attach the lower anchors or vehicle seat belt. Next, tighten the lower anchors or lock and tightening the vehicle seat belt, depending on the installation method you’re using. The last step and the focus of our CPS Week 2017 is to attach and tighten the top tether.
Older Vehicles may not Accommodate Forward Facing Car Seats
For families who drive older vehicles, installing forward facing car seats safely may not be so easy. As time marches on, finding a way to secure that top tether in older vehicles gets more difficult.
Rear facing car seats fit just fine in many vehicles that don’t include factory-installed tether anchors becuase they don’t require a top tether. When the child outgrows their rear facing car seat, familes who drive a pre-21st century vehicle will need to carefully consider the child’s next step. One option is continuing to rear face in a seat that accommodates a larger child.
Retrofit Tether Anchors
Another option? Retrofit your older vehicle with a tether anchor. Unfortunately it is getting more and more difficult to find the necessary parts to upgrade older vehicles. If you’re driving an older vehicle with a rear facing child, we strongly urge you to get started on having your car retrofitted with a tether anchor now.
While many cars made between 1989 and 1999 were not shipped from the factory with tether anchors, the vehicle manufacturer prepared the car so that a tether anchor could be added by the consumer. If you have a car that can be retrofitted and you can get your hands on the tether anchor retrofit kit, installing the tether anchor can be easy enough for someone confident with a wrench, and a friendly mechanic or the vehicle dealer can help someone who isn’t.
If you drive an older vehicle, there are two steps you need to take as soon as possible to ensure your child will be able to safely use a forward facing car seat: first, determine if your car can be retrofitted and second, locate the parts needed. Locating the parts is the trickiest piece of this puzzle.
What About my Car?
To determine if your car has these designated tether locations, the first stop is the vehicle manual; if you don’t have your manual anymore, the internet may yield one. A CPST who has a LATCH manual can also help you with that information, and may also be able to help you locate the parts.
Once you’ve determined that your older car can be retrofitted, the next challenge is locating a tether anchor retrofit kit. While most of these simple kits are not expensive, sadly in the last few years they have become hard to come by in North America. Ideally caregivers would get a tether anchor retrofit kit from their vehicle manufacturer; several years ago I simply had my local mechanic order one from Honda for my 1996 Honda Accord for about $12.
Unfortunately, many vehicle manufacturers have stopped stocking these kits. Some vehicle manufacturers used to allow the use of a generic tether anchor retrofit kit made by a car seat manufacturer but these, too, have become hard to find in the United States.
SafetyBeltSafe USA offers retrofit certificates for Toyota & Lexus vehicles in every state but Hawaii. These certificates cost $5 per anchor, then the hardware and installation are free to the family!
Your first stop should be with your vehicle manufacturer, but the person behind the desk might not be familiar with the part. If that happens, persist! A CPST with a LATCH manual may be able to help in this search: this fabulous publication lists the part numbers and technical service bulletins that refer to these retrofits. Often the person answering the phone at the dealership will be able to give you more information if you supply them with these specifics.
Don’t Despair. Act Now!
Though top tether retrofitting may be an easy fix with an inexpensive part, there are more barriers to retrofitting tether anchors in older cars than there used to be. But don’t despair! A CPST can help you to retrofit a tether anchor in your older car, and explore other options to keep your Littles riding safely.
Top tethers are essential for the safety of children who right forward facing children. It’s worth a bit of hunting around to make your older car a safe place to install a seat for your forward facing passengers. Wherever this journey takes you, we urge all caregivers with older cars to start the retrofit process now.