Here’s how to fix it before you strap your precious cargo in again.

By Marisa Cohen
Updated October 02, 2017

Just when you thought you’d figured out how buckle, strap, and properly place your child’s car seat for maximum safety, it turns out there’s a whole other piece of the puzzle you may be missing: the top tether.

If you didn’t realize you need to attach that dangly strap found at the back of your car seat (or haven’t even noticed it’s there!) you’re hardly alone. A new survey by the nonprofit Safe Kids Worldwide found that 64 percent of parents and caregivers do not attach the tether at all, and of those who did, about half used if incorrectly. But the tether can offer potentially life-saving protection in case of a crash. While the seatbelt and lower attachments securely connect the seat to the car, the top tether is what keeps the seat from pitching forward if the car is hit or makes a sudden stop. According to Safe Kids, without that top anchor, the child’s head can move 4 to 6 inches further forward than it would with the tether in use, creating a much greater risk the child will bash his head into the front seat or even the console, causing serious injury.

If your child uses a front-facing car seat with a harness, check right now to see if the tether is properly attached. Here’s how:

  • Find the tether, which is a strap with a hook located on the back of the seat around the level of the child’s head.
  • Find the anchor in your car by looking for a boat-anchor-shape symbol on the back seat, the rear shelf or the ceiling (all cars manufactured since 2001 have at least three; if you can’t find it, check your car’s owner’s manual).
  • Attach the hook to the anchor, and then tighten the strap until the seat feels secure and doesn’t move more than an inch in any direction. Make sure it’s not attached to a cargo hook or wrapped around the headrest, two of the common mistakes found in the Safe Kids study.

If you need more help or want an expert to check whether you’ve anchored the top tether correctly, click here to find a Safe Kids Buckle Up event at a hospital, GM dealership, fire station, or other community center near you.