This article about using a car seat locking clip is written by certified Child Passenger Safety Technician Melissa Conn and may contain affiliate links.
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?
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 Graco SnugLock and 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:
Graco TrioGrow SnugLock *very light convertible with a lock off, fits ~birth-8
Graco Nautilus SnugLock Grow
Britax Allegiance *lightest convertible with a lock off, fits ~birth-5
Britax Marathon ClickTight
Britax Grow With You ClickTight
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
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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″
- 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.