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 car seat 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 car seat belt clip, 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 up to ~age 3-4
Graco Tranzitions SnugLock *great for travel with ~ages 3-12
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 how to install car seat without locking the seat belt a few times at home before your trip.

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

  • 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! There are some other seatbelt lock styles you may find like a locking latch plate, and those don’t require a locking clip.

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

Child Car Seat Locking Clip FAQs

Why do seatbelts lock?

Seatbelts lock to keep passengers from flying around in an accident. Under normal, non-emergency conditions we’re used to today’s seatbelts moving

Seatbelts with an Automatic Locking Retractor (which isn’t very common these days) lock whether you want them to or not; think about the old-school lap belt that keeps getting tighter and tighter every time you move. It has just one mode: locked.

Seatbelts with an Emergency Locking Retractor only lock in an emergency and can’t be used on their own to install a car seat, as the car seat won’t stay in place properly while you drive around. These are common in many countries. It has two modes: unlocked for most situations, and locked when you stop short or collide with something.

Most modern seatbelts in the US and some other countries have a switchable retractor. That means it can be unlocked most of the time and locked in an emergency or you can switch it to locked mode to install a car seat using the instructions below.

What is a car seat locking clip?

For a seatbelt that only has an Emergency Locking Retractor, a small metal piece called a locking clip keeps the lap portion of the seatbelt tight in the car seat belt path. It ensures that the car seat is positioned properly in an accident.

How to lock seat belt for car seat installation
If you have determined that the car you’re riding in does have locking seatbelts, you can use this method to install your car seat without a locking clip. You might also want to read these helpful installation tips.

  1. Place the car seat in the vehicle in the correct direction and at roughly the correct angle

    Children should rear-face until at least 2 years old, but preferably until they reach the upper limits of their car seat by weight or height. Look for the “level line” or angle indicator on the side of the car seat.

  2. Locate the correct belt path for the direction in which you’ll install the car seat

    Infant car seat: usually on the sides of the infant car seat, around baby’s knees
    Convertible car seat: under the knees for rear facing, behind the back for forward facing; routed under/behind seat padding
    Harnessed booster seat: behind the back padding

  3. Route the seatbelt through the correct belt path and buckle it as usual

    Try to remove most of the slack in the lap portion of the seatbelt – this is what holds the car seat in place.

  4. Where the top of the shoulder belt attaches to the car frame, slowly pull the seat belt all the way out until you can’t pull anymore, then slowly release the seatbelt and let it feed back into the car frame

    You’ll often hear a soft “click-click-click” as the seat belt retracts. You shouldn’t be able to pull it out any further once it has started retracting.

  5. Put a little pressure into the car seat and pull the shoulder portion of the belt near the buckle to remove extra slack from the lap belt

  6. Check your work

    Use your non-dominant hand to try to move the car seat back and forth along the belt path only to make sure it doesn’t move more than 1″

  7. Attach the top tether for a forward-facing car seat

    If you’re installing a car seat forward facing in a car that has a tether anchor, be sure to attach the top tether and tighten its strap.

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

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8 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
  4. Hi there, this was helpful, thank you!

    I just found out we are going to be driving in a van with lap belts that are fixed with no retracting mechanism. When I looked at the Nuna Rava manual, it recommended getting a locking clip for this, but you mentioned needing to have both a shoulder and lap belt for the locking clip. Is that right for this situation?

    Here are the exact words in the manual:
    *Refer to vehicle owner’s manual to determine if the belts in your vehicle lock by switching the seat belt’s retractor or they have a locking latch plate that locks the vehicle’s seat belts so they will not move freely.

    If the belt cannot be locked using one of these methods, contact Nuna Customer Service for a locking clip.

    (I left them a voicemail, but leave on Sunday so just want to make sure I can get an answer by then!)

    Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Hi Rachel, great question! You definitely can’t use a locking clip with a lap-only belt. A lap belt has to have *some* way to lock. Some automatically retract and lock when they do so.

      More commonly in a transport van you’ll find a lap belt that locks at the latch plate, meaning it has a tail that you pull to tighten like an airplane seatbelt or the ones we sometimes used as kids. Those belts have a bar going across the underside of the latch plate that prevents the belt from tightening/loosening unless the tail is pulled parallel to the main part of the belt (which it isn’t at rest).

      Hope this helps! Let me know if you have more questions 🙂

      Reply

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