Car safety technology has come a LONG way.
Think about it… seatbelts weren’t even mandatory until 1968!
It wasn’t until the 1980s that it became mandatory for young children to ride in car seats.
In that time, the technology in cars that keeps us safe (both infants and adults alike), has grown by leaps and bounds. One of the coolest improvements, perhaps, is the addition of the LATCH system, which allows you to install car seats quickly, easily, and with the utmost of confidence.
But what if you’re looking for a car seat that will fit in an older car without a LATCH system? Don’t worry, there are plenty of good options!
The vast majority of car seats made today can still be installed with a seatbelt. But if you’re looking for a few that are particularly well-suited to seatbelt-only installation, here are my top picks:
- Best budget car seat: Britax B-Safe 35 Infant Car Seat (Amazon)
- Best mid-range car seat: Chicco KeyFit Infant Car Seat (Amazon)
- Best high-end car seat: Cybex Aton Infant Car Seat (Amazon)
|Weight||Dimensions (inches)||Weight Limit||Price|
|Britax B-Safe||10lbs||17 W x 25 H x 26.5 D||35lbs||$|
|Chicco KeyFit||17.5lbs||17 W x 24 H x 27.5 D||22lbs||$$|
|Cybex Aton||9lbs||17 W x 26 H x 18 D||35lbs||$$$|
What is the LATCH system?
Before we wrap up, I wanted to give a quick rundown of what LATCH is, why it exists, and what to do if your car doesn’t have LATCH.
LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children.
Lower Anchors are metal brackets placed around seatbelt level, usually buried a bit under the seat cushions. This allows you to clip modern car seat directly into the car frame itself rather than looping the seatbelt through and tightening it.
Tethers are brackets that are higher up, usually on top of the seat back or on the ceiling, which can give additional support.
Most modern car seats hook quite easily and securely into the lower anchors.
Having at least two rear seats with lower anchors became mandatory in the United States in the early 2000s, so almost all modern cars will be able to accommodate LATCH car seats.
Makes and models from the 60s, 70, and 80s may be more hit or miss.
Important Note: Some makes of older cars can be retrofitted with latch anchors (like Volkswagen and Audi). If your car doesn’t have LATCH and you’re concerned about safety, contact your vehicle’s manufacturer and see if you have any options for having tethers and anchors installed.
Is LATCH actually safer?
When installed correctly, a car seat secured with a seatbelt is just as safe as one clicked into the LATCH system.
It’s a bit of a myth that LATCH is safer.
The truth is that installing a car seat with LATCH is simpler, in my experience, and harder to do incorrectly.
There’s a lot less room for error involved when clicking a car seat into the metal brackets and pulling to tighten as much as possible.
Looping a belt through properly and getting it tight enough is a little trickier.
But don’t worry. If you have no choice but to install a car seat in your car using only the seatbelt, your baby will be perfectly safe if you follow the instructions and complete in the installation properly.
Best Budget Car Seat for Cars without LATCH: Britax B-Safe 35 Infant Car Seat
The B-Safe 35 Infant Car Seat has all the features you could want — it’s lightweight, uber-safe, and easily compatible with all of the Britax strollers and other accessories. It also says front and center on the Amazon product page that this bad boy is easily installed with either latch or seatbelt if you’re in an older car.
Dimensions: 17.75″ W x 25″ H x 26.5″ D
Weight Limit: 4-35lbs
Why I Like It: Some parents recommend going right into a convertible car seat for infants, but I really am a fan of these all-in-one systems with the baby carriers.
The B-Safe has a car seat base that installs easily into the car (and can be done quite perfectly with only the seatbelt) and then stays there 24/7.
That means the carrier itself, with baby in it, pops in and out seamlessly for easy transportation.
This seat is pretty lightweight as far as infant car seats go, at only 10lbs. So it should be pretty easy to lug around by yourself.
It’s well-padded and comfortable for infants, with really high safety ratings and great ease of use.
(One reviewer on Amazon even wrote that he totaled his car, and his baby came out completely unharmed thanks to this seat.)
Potential Drawbacks: It might be a little narrow depending on the size of your baby. The seat itself is about 8.75 inches wide.
If your baby fits snug in this seat, they could get a little bit hot and sweaty due to lack of breathability in the fabric.
Best Mid-Range Car Seat for Cars without LATCH: Chicco KeyFit Infant Car Seat
Again, this car seat specifically advertises its ability to easily install in older vehicles using only a seatbelt (via a built-in, belt routing, lock-off system), and manages to have one of the top safety ratings in its class.
This is also an infant car seat carrier system, so the carrier itself is compatible with most of the Chicco products like strollers.
Dimensions: 17″ W x 24″ H x 27.5″ D
Weight Limit: 4-22lbs
Why I Like It: This one is notoriously easy to install, and boasts one-handed removal of the carrier. That’s pretty impressive, and super useful if you’re a parent who tends to have an armful of stuff when getting in and out of the car!
Another cool feature is the seat itself has rockers so when baby is sitting in the carrier, you can easily rock them on the floor for soothing.
You’ll find this really easy to secure and tighten each and every time you put baby in the carrier, and taking the base in and out itself is also a breeze.
Again, you’ll find many reviews on Amazon noting just how well this seat holds up to real-world crashes, which would give me even more peace of mind than any formal safety rating.
Potential Drawbacks: The seat is a little bulkier than some competitors, at over 17 pounds (including the base… the seat itself is around 10).
This seat is recommended only for babies up to 22 lbs, which is a little less than some other competitors.
Best High-End Car Seat for Cars without LATCH: Cybex Aton Infant Car Seat
If you don’t like the bulky infant carriers but want something with the same functionality that looks and operates “cooler,” this one is for you.
It’s got great safety ratings, solid reviews, and should fit perfectly into any old car without LATCH.
Dimensions: 17″ W x 26″ H x 18″ D
Weight Limit: 4-35lbs
Why I Like It: Is it weird to say I like this one because it looks cool? I love the sleek design and lightweight frame, which is great for carrying around for parents who are on the go a lot with baby.
This car seat from Cybex might be your best bet for older and smaller cars that not only don’t have LATCH, but don’t have a lot of extra room. It’s very compact and easy to fit into tight backseat spaces (works great for 2-door cars and hatchbacks).
The material in the seat itself is crazy soft and perfect for keeping baby comfortable.
This seat also offers awesome safety features including side-impact protection, and is perfect for air travel and approved by the FAA.
Potential Drawbacks: The sun shade canopy hasn’t drawn rave reviews from users. Going with an alternative brand like Cybex might mean the seat isn’t compatible with other accessories you may already own.
There are tons of old cars out there without LATCH. If you’re here, you probably own one!
The bottom line is that the large majority of car seats made today can be installed with EITHER a seat belt or LATCH anchors and tethers (but never both, unless your car seat manual tells you to, specifically).
As long as you install the seat properly and get a product from a reputable brand with good reviews and a solid warranty, you shouldn’t have any safety concerns at all.
For my money, I would go with the Britax B-Safe Infant Car Seat. It’s lightweight, a super well-known brand, affordable, and should last your baby a while.
You can check out the Britax B-Safe on Amazon right here.
Hope this helped, parents!