Do You Need a Locking Clip?
Installing a carseat involves knowing how your seat belt locks. Some seat belts only lock on sudden braking or in a collision, some are locked all the time, and others are locked if the seat belt is at the correct angle against the carseat. This guide will provide you with the basic terminology of seat belts and help you find out if you need a locking clip to correctly secure your child's carseat. If you do need to use a locking clip, step-by-step instructions with pictures follow at the end of the page.
Terms to Know
buckle: the female end of a seat belt with the seat belt release button, usually on a short stalk that can be fabric or plastic-covered metal
latchplate: the male end connector of a seat belt; see picture in step 1 below
locking clip: the metal H-shaped clip that comes with most carseats (see picture above); it is used to keep the lap portion of a lap/shoulder belt tight on the carseat
retractor: the mechanism that provides tension on a lap/shoulder belt and some lap-only belts; it allows the seat belt to retract and pull out and is often hidden inside the panels on the walls of the vehicle or in the vehicle seatback
Types of retractors:
ELR (Emergency Locking Retractor): locks only on sudden stop or collision
ALR (Automatic Locking Retractor): is always locked when pulled out; once it's buckled, it gets tighter and tighter, like an Anaconda snake
switchable: locks on sudden stop or collision, or when pulled out all the way; Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep vehicle owner manuals refer to this retractor mode as "ALR"--because you must change the vehicle belt into locked mode, it is a switchable retractor
A Primer on Latchplates
Some seat belts use the latchplate to lock instead of the retractor.
Lightweight locking (cinching) latchplate: the seat belt will move freely through this type of latchplate when the belt is at a 90 degree angle to the latchplate. When the latchplate lies flat against the seat belt, the lap portion of the seat belt will remain tight and locked. To see if your lightweight locking latchplate holds tight, buckle the seat belt and pull on the lap portion. It should not move. *Note: Chrysler and Dodge cinching latchplates sometimes won't hold a carseat tight and you should flip the latchplate over once so that it is upside down before buckling or use a locking clip with those latchplates. Flipping the latchplate upside down will keep the seat belt from sliding through the latchplate and force the cinching mechanism to hold tight. This should never be done with a latchplate that doesn't lock because the belt webbing will still slide freely through the latchplate.
Locking latchplate: this type of latchplate is typically bulkier than a lightweight locking/cinching latchplate and is often used on lap-only belts; a metal bar holds the seat belt in position. To see if your locking latchplate holds tight, buckle the seat belt and pull on the lap portion. It should not move.
Switchable latchplate: this latchplate has a switch on it to engage the locking mechanism and is commonly found in Volvo cars. Read your vehicle's manual to be certain how to use it.
Sewn-on latchplate: this latchplate is sewn to both the lap belt and the shoulder belt. In this case, focus on the lap belt, since it is separate from the shoulder belt. If this lap belt doesn't lock, you will need to use a belt-shortening clip. Please consult a certified child passenger safety technician who will show you where to purchase this specialized clip and will show you how to safely install this on a seat belt. This type of clip is not for the inexperienced.
Yes, I Need A Locking Clip
My lap/shoulder seat belt doesn't lock automatically.
- Slowly pull the shoulder portion of the belt all the way out from the retractor.
- Slowly let the belt feed back into the retractor about 12".
- Does it make a ratcheting/clicking sound* and NOT let you pull excess belt back out of the retractor?
- Yes? It locks and you do NOT need a locking clip. This type of seat belt has a switchable retractor, because it switches between locking only on sudden braking/impact (ELR) and staying locked. To unlock a switchable retractor, unbuckle it and feed it all the way back into the retractor.
- No? Your seat belt does not lock and you MUST use a locking clip.
*Not all switchable seat belts will make a ratcheting/clicking sound when retracting or you may not hear it.
The locked mode is the seat belt mode you use to install carseats. Be careful not to jerk the seat belt when testing to see if it locks. Some ELRs will lock the seat belt if you yank the belt. This may lead you to believe that your belt automatically locks when, in reality, it doesn't. Read your vehicle's manual or the label on the seat belt to be certain what kind of seat belts you have. Some retractors also have a switch to lock them.
The lap/shoulder belt for the driver has an ELR. You can use this seat belt to test against the rest of the retractors in your vehicle to see if they lock. Remember, yanking on the belt may cause it to lock and confuse you into thinking that the seat belt is locked when it actually is not. The driver's shoulder belt on middle 1970s and newer vehicles should have ELRs.
I have a sliding latchplate on my lap/shoulder belt and my seat belt doesn't lock automatically.
The latchplate is the metal piece (male end) that goes into the buckle (female end). If it slides freely, no matter what angle you pull it at, it is a sliding latchplate. Use the above test to see if your seat belt locks automatically. *Note: some lightweight locking (cinching) latchplates resemble a sliding latchplate. Check your vehicle's manual or the label on the seat belt to verify what kind of seat belt you have.
My lap/shoulder seat belt locks automatically, but pulls a rear-facing carseat up on one side.
This is only a problem with rear-facing seats. The shoulder portion of the belt, when the belt is pulled tight and locked, pulls up on one side of the carseat or infant seat base. To have the carseat or base sit flat on a vehicle's seat, simply don't lock the seat belt and use a locking clip instead. When your child faces forward (after 2 years of age AND 30 lbs. at the very minimum), remove the locking clip and use your seat belt's locking feature.
No, I Don't Need A Locking Clip
I am using a lap-only belt.
NEVER use a locking clip on a lap-only belt. A locking clip is not designed to withstand crash forces and will bend and fly off a lap-only belt in a crash, leaving the lap belt loose on the carseat. The locking clip's job is to hold the lap portion of a lap/shoulder seat belt tight before a crash until the emergency retractor kicks in and locks the belt. Since there's no emergency retractor in a lap-only belt, there's nothing to hold it tight in a crash if the latchplate isn't locking the belt tight. If the lap-only belt does have an emergency retractor (found in a few, older model vehicles), then a special belt-shortening clip is used to avoid any slack at all in the belt during a crash. Please consult a certified child passenger safety technician who will show you where to purchase this specialized clip and will show you how to safely install this on a seat belt. This type of clip is not for the inexperienced.
If your lap-only belt loosens when the carseat is installed, flip the latchplate (male end) over once and buckle. Pull on the belt to make sure it's locked. If you are using a seat belt (most often lap-only) that doesn't lock in any way, you may need to use a belt-shortening clip (sometimes called by its outdated term of heavy duty locking clip). Please consult a certified child passenger safety technician who will show you where to purchase this clip and will show you how to safely install this on a seat belt. This type of clip is not for the inexperienced.
My seat belt locks automatically.
See above to test if your seat belt locks automatically.
I'm using the carseat's LATCH belt.
LATCH belts lock automatically, eliminating the need to use a locking clip. If the LATCH belt isn't staying tight, use the vehicle seat belt instead.
My carseat has built-in lockoffs.
If your carseat has built-in lockoffs, use them instead of a locking clip. The carseat manufacturer designed the carseat to be used with the lockoffs, so using a locking clip may affect its performance in a crash. Be sure to follow manufacturers' instructions closely on which lockoff to use when installing the carseat; some specify using one or both lockoffs during installation. Lockoffs come in a variety of designs from simple slide-ins to clamp-styles.
- Use a lap/shoulder belt, see picture 1.
- Feed the lap/shoulder belt through the appropriate belt path on the carseat (generally, the belt path on a rear-facing seat is under the seating area of the carseat, while the belt path for a forward-facing seat is behind the back of the carseat).
- Buckle the seat belt in and pull the shoulder portion tight. It's easier if you have a helper do this while you press down on the seat with your knee.
- Once the belt is pulled tight, grasp both the lap and shoulder portions of the belt right next to the latchplate and hold on tight.
- Unbuckle the belt while still holding onto the belt next to the latchplate. You may find it easier to mark the seat belt with a piece of chalk or a pen. If you do this, be sure to mark both sides of the belt so you can tell if you've accidentally loosened it.
- Attach the locking clip, making sure that both the lap portion and shoulder portion of the seat belt is threaded through.
The locking clip should go right next to the latchplate, no more than 1" away from the latchplate, see picture 4. An easy way to thread the seat belt through the clip is to fold the seat belt in half lengthwise, see picture 2. Slide one side of the locking clip over the folded portion of the seat belt and let the seat belt lay flat again (be sure not to let go of the seat belt; you don't want to gain any slack in the belt at all). Repeat for the other side of the locking clip, see picture 3. *Note: it's easier if you practice this first on a loose seat belt.
Once the locking clip is securely on the seat belt, buckle the seat belt again. It shouldn't be easy to buckle; if it is, you'll most likely have to tighten the belt again and redo the locking clip. If the carseat gets in the way of the locking clip, you may move the locking clip further away from the latchplate, but it still MUST stay as close as possible to the latchplate. Inspect the locking clip to be sure that all 4 prongs of the locking clip are securely on the seat belt.
You can see videos of how to install a locking clip on rear-facing seats here.
A valuable resource on learning what type of seat belt you have is found in How to Lock in a Child Restraint. It's a great page to bookmark!