What is a locking clip? Why you need one and how to use it

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What is a seat belt locking clip? I’m glad you asked…

One of the best aspects of American car seat standards is that they are required by law to offer two installation options: LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) and seatbelt.

LATCH is simple: push in or hook on the clips, then tighten the strap. Installation with a car’s seatbelt isn’t usually too tough either: thread the seatbelt through your car seat’s belt path (often with arrows showing you the way), buckle, and then pull the seatbelt alllllll the way out before letting it slowly feed back in at the top. This last step is referred to as locking the seatbelt at the retractor. It’s been a requirement in new US cars over twenty years!

In other countries, you are likely to encounter cars with seatbelts that don’t lock at all and have no LATCH attachments. If the car has a lap-only seatbelt it’s pretty easy to install a child car seat (more on that below). But if the car has a lap-shoulder belt that you can’t lock at the retractor and it doesn’t have LATCH, you may need something else to help you out

What is a locking clip?

This is a seat belt locking clip:

It’s a small, light, inexpensive piece of metal that keeps the seatbelt from sliding freely by holding the lap and shoulder sides together very tightly.

Buy one. Learn how to use car seat clips with the video tutorial below. Put it in an outer pocket of your carry-on for convenience. Then cross your fingers that you won’t have to use it.

I kid. Sort of. No one loves using a locking clip. It takes a few extra minutes and usually involves lots of swearing for me. That’s how you know you’re doing it right, because if it’s too easy to get on then it probably isn’t going to be secure enough to do its job in an accident.

But when you need it, you’ll be really glad to have it! Just tell the taxi driver to check some sports scores while you do your thing.

Read more: Important info for traveling with car seats

Do you need a locking clip?

It depends on your car seat and where you’re taking it.

If you’re traveling within the US, Canada, western Europe, Australia and New Zealand with a convertible or forward-facing car seat, you should be able to install your car seat with LATCH (or the local equivalents, which go by different names like LUAS and ISOFIX) if your child is within the LATCH weight limit for your car seat. The limit varies from 35lbs to 50lbs depending on the weight of the car seat. You’ll also generally find seatbelts that you can lock at the retractor in those countries.

If you’re traveling outside of those regions or bringing an infant car seat without its base or your child weighs more than the car seat’s LATCH limit, it’s a good idea to bring a locking clip with you. You may be pleasantly surprised to find a car that has a locking seatbelt or that has lower anchors, but you don’t want to be caught off-guard without a safe way to drive your baby.

Remember, a locking clip weighs a few ounces and is the size of a credit card. There’s no downside to having it in your carry on!

Many car seats are actually easier to install with a lap-only seatbelt (just like on an airplane). The body of an infant car seat typically has two little “arms” over your baby’s legs. Thread the lap-only seatbelt under those and tighten. On a bigger car seat, the lap seatbelt goes under the cover (below the legs for rear-facing, behind the back for forward-facing). Done! This can come in handy if you bring a car seat to countries in the developing world, where some seating positions (often the middle) only have a lap seatbelt.

This photo shows my daughter in her Chicco Keyfit30 on an airplane, but you’d use the car seatbelt the same way if it is a lap-only seatbelt.

Car seats that don’t need a locking clip

Many “premium” car seats have built-in locking mechanisms (called “lock offs”) and don’t need another device no matter where you’re going. Some of those are too heavy to easily travel with, though you can make it work by using a car seat travel cart. The Britax ClickTight car seats can also keep a non-locking seatbelt in place on their own. Here are some of our favorite car seats that have built-in lock offs and don’t require a locking clip:

Combi Coccoro *amazing for travel
Chicco Nextfit
Chicco MyFit
Britax Marathon ClickTight
Britax Grow With You ClickTight
Clek Fllo

Infant car seats are generally advertised as having a lock off, but it’s built into the base rather than the seat itself. Since you probably don’t want to travel with an extra 10 pounds of car seat base, it won’t do you much good on the road!

Even the US infant car seats that are advertised as offering the “European belt path” (also called “Euro routing”) that loops the shoulder part of the seatbelt behind the seat require either locking the seatbelt or using a locking clip. Sorry! This seems to be a regulation unique to the US, as you won’t find that stipulation listed when you look at the manual for the same car seat in the EU – the Doona is a great example of this difference.

Also note that some (not all) car seats do come with a locking clip! Fewer and fewer every year, though, as locking seatbelts rule the day in the US and now in much of Europe. The super-popular Cosco Scenera Next DOES NOT come with a locking clip. Buy a locking clip before you take that car seat too far from the US and Canada.

You don’t need a locking clip for a booster seat because in that case the seat doesn’t need to be attached to the car.

How to use a locking clip on a car seat?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million in this case. After you’ve received your locking clip, come back to this post and watch this video. It can be tricky to use (especially under the watchful eye of an impatient taxi driver) so be sure to practice a few times at home before your trip.

There are a few requirements for the seatbelt to be usable with a locking clip.

  • It has to be a lap-shoulder belt (not a lap-only seatbelt)
  • The lap and shoulder belt have to be one piece of fabric webbing
  • The “latch plate” (part where the metal buckle tongue is) has to slide freely along the seatbelt

If it’s a lap-only seatbelt, chances are high that it locks on its own anyway!

Do you have any other questions about locking clips? Let us know in the comments!

Read next:
Flying with a car seat
Checking a car seat
Renting a car seat
Lap infant vs seat infant

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6 thoughts on “What is a locking clip? Why you need one and how to use it”

  1. Hello! I am more enlightened, but still a tad confused for my situation. So, we just got the Graco Triogrow Snuglock convertable car seat. Our second car is a 1993 Dodge Ramcharger (does not have seat belt lock) and i would love baby to be able to safely ride in it. I tried pitting the lug-of-a-carseat in the middle seat and it seemed like the seat belt latch was getting in the way of the tightest fit. (It was touching the car seat and hindering the belt from being tightened completely.)
    So, should i use the locking clip? Or does the car seat i have (with the snuglock) have that locking mechanism you were talking about, so i wouldnt need a locking clip?

    Reply
    • Hi Miriam, thanks for stopping by!

      The SnugLock arm is a lock off, so as long as you’re able to get a secure installation with it you don’t need to use a locking clip 🙂 You want to have less than 1” of movement along the belt path when you give it a firm handshake with your “off” hand.

      Since you have a truck… once you’re ready to forward face (ideally not until the limits are outgrown for rear facing) you’ll want to read your car manual to learn how to use the top tether correctly. As my CPST instructor taught us, “trucks are weird”.

      Let me know if you have any other questions!

      Reply
  2. Hi!
    I am installing the Evenflo Maestro Sport as a 5 pt harness in the third row of a Honda Odyssey with the seatbelt. The seatbelt locks, but the manual implies I need a locking clip anyway because the buckle slides freely? But the Maestro doesn’t come with one? I am confused. Do I need to buy one, can I use the blue one from my old Combi Coccoro, or do I not need one?

    Reply
    • Hi Whitney! Thanks for stopping by. As long as the seatbelt locks, there’s no need for a locking clip 😊 If you do need a locking clip in the future (usually just for international travel and/or much older cars) I believe the Maestro has it on the back. If you can’t find it let me know and I’ll take a look at mine!

      Best,
      Melissa

      Reply
  3. Thank you! That’s very helpful. No, I don’t see it on the back- this is a 2020 Maestro Sport and they say to call for one if you need it. We are not planning to travel internationally, just once or twice domestically and I assume that any rental cars they give to a family of 6 will have modern seatbelts!

    Now do you know anything about headrests! 😉

    Reply
    • Oh, I’m sorry! Mine is older and came with one, but there’s definitely a trend to leave them off as they become less and less necessary (many new European cars have locking seat belts now, and they’ve been standard in the US for 30+ years).

      Headrests: Every car manufacturer has their own rules, and sometimes they vary by model year. The current Odyssey says to leave the headrest attached but put it in the uppermost position to route the top tether strap underneath. My ancient CR-V has the same rules, so I think you should be fine, but I recommend checking your manual. It should be after the airbag section.

      Reply

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