In preparation for the 2017 LATCH Manual, SRN reviewed and updated the status of various aspects of retrofitting vehicles with tether anchors (TAs), leading to the following update report.
What is TA Retrofitting?
The concept of TA retrofitting became prominent in the late 1990s, when updated NHTSA regulations made tethers a feature of virtually all CRs with a forward-facing (FF) usage mode. At the same time, all new U.S. vehicles were newly mandated to include factory-installed TAs. But, with CR tethers so beneficial and readily available, it was a shame that they could only be used in brand-new vehicles. At that time, Canadian vehicles had been equipped with TAs for years, so tether anchor points (TA points) were specified and TA hardware was available for most vehicles sold in both countries. So, in the U.S., providing TAs was just a matter of installing available hardware in designated locations—and thus the campaign for TA retrofitting began.*
TA retrofitting was the main topic of the first edition of the LATCH Manual, issued in 1999 and titled Tethering Child Restraints. Now, 18 years later, this information is less utilized, but no less important for families who drive the many pre-MY 01 vehicles still on the road. Because tethering is so beneficial to child safety, it continues to be worthwhile for CPSTs to encourage TA retrofitting when educating families who have these older vehicles. While protective technologies like side-impact air bags and electronic stability control cannot be added to older cars, tether anchors often can be. This is a relatively easy and affordable way to make an older car much safer for kids.
Model-Specific Retrofit Parts
The first hurdle to retrofitting a TA is acquiring the hardware. The LATCH Manual assists by providing the part number(s) to give the dealership parts department. Some hardware comes in a complete kit, while some is issued as individual parts. However, over the years, many parts’ inventories have been depleted, and when supplies run out, they are generally not restocked. So, while most parts remain available, some are not. For the last few editions of the LATCH Manual, SRN has asked vehicle manufacturers to indicate, to the extent possible, the status of retrofit kit availability. Although it is difficult to get precise information at this level of detail, and the situation is constantly changing, each new manual edition provides updated information as of the press date. These efforts are intended to avoid frustrating caregivers by sending them off to get parts that don’t exist.
Generic Retrofit Kits
If vehicle model-specific parts are no longer available, some vehicle manufacturers say that a generic kit provided by a CR manufacturer may be used instead. Some vehicle manufacturers indicate this permission in the vehicle owner’s manual, the LATCH Manual, and/or a company retrofitting service bulletin. When tethers were added to CRs in the late 1990s, it was common for CR manufacturers to also provide tether anchor hardware for the vehicle, either with the CR or as an available accessory. The idea was that the generic kits would be compatible with enough vehicles to make providing one worthwhile (though, naturally, many vehicles have characteristics that defy the use of a one-part-fits-all kit).
Over time, as the proportion of vehicles in use with factory-installed TAs grew, fewer and fewer CR manufacturers offered generic TA kits. For the 2015 LATCH Manual, only BRITAX and Dorel were still offering a generic kit, and SRN found no one that offers them in 2017.
Is Retrofitting Still Possible?
With some model-specific parts out of stock and generic kits no longer available from CR manufacturers, it is easy for techs to feel discouraged about TA retrofitting. However, in researching the 2017 LATCH Manual, SRN has determined that it is still very worthwhile to pursue retrofitting. The majority of model-specific parts are still available. In addition, the service bulletins for the major brands that will provide free TA retrofitting are still authorized by the manufacturers, including Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Chrysler, Dodge, Eagle, Jeep, Plymouth, Toyota, Lexus, and all General Motors brands (both active and inactive).
Unfortunately, when model-specific parts aren’t available, retrofitting options are quite limited. The truly persistent vehicle owner could pursue locating parts through a reseller (although it’s a good idea to check first with the manufacturer to see if an authorized dealer of such parts can be recommended). In order to assist such efforts, SRN lists the manufacturer part numbers for both in- and out-of-stock parts on the “Tether Anchor Retrofit” page at www.saferidenews.com. (For most brands, the 2017 LATCH Manual only includes numbers for parts that are still available as of the press date.)
When parts are acquired from a reseller, special care should be taken. The part dimensions, and sometimes the bolt’s thread count (if a weld nut is present), must conform with the vehicle manufacturer’s TA point. In addition, the owner must be certain that the part is undamaged, was not used in a crash, and comes from a reputable CR or vehicle manufacturer.
Installing a Retrofit Kit
Once hardware has been acquired, the retrofit TA part(s) must be properly installed. The process of installing a retrofit TA varies by vehicle and ranges from extremely easy to quite complicated. Always consult the vehicle owner’s manual for guidance, and contact customer service, if necessary.
For brands listed earlier in this article, a service bulletin authorizes dealers to install at least one free TA in vehicles without factory-installed TAs. For other brands, owner’s who want the dealer to install the TA must pay for the part and installation. (Note, manufacturer documents typically indicate a service time of 10 to 20 minutes for this work, but some outliers take much longer.)
In many cases, vehicle owners can install a retrofit TA kit themselves. Guidance is sometimes found in the vehicle owner’s manual, and more information can also be found in Chapter 6 of the LATCH Manual and on the “Tether Anchor Retrofit” page at www.saferidenews.com.
©Safe Ride News Novewmber/December 2016