If your carseat is installed properly, it should not move more than 1″ in either direction when tugged at the belt-path. In order to achieve this tight fit, your carseat must be locked in by the seat-belt system. Most vehicle seat-belt systems manufactured after 1996 have some sort of locking mechanism as required by the lockability standards. If your seat-belt system does not lock (or hold the seat tight), you will need to use a locking clip. On this page you will find information on seat-belt systems and locking clips – when to use them, when not to use them, and how to use them.
Retractors, Latchplates, and Locking Clips
How to tell what type of retractor you have:
1. A retractor is the mechanism that winds the seat-belt in and out. It is also what locks the seatbelt during a sudden stop or crash. There are 3 types of retractors, which are defined below:
1. Emergency Locking Retrator (ELR) – An ELR allows the free-flowing movement of the seatbelt. It locks up only when the vehicle or passenger moves or stops suddenly. An ELR will not hold a car seat tight in the car by itself, but it will lock in the event of a crash.
2. Automatic Locking Retractor (ALR) – An ALR is a type of retractor that remains locked after it is pulled out. As the seat-belt webbing is winding back into the ALR, it locks and prevents the seatbelt from being pulled back out.
3. Switchable Retractor – A switchable retractor is designed to be used 2 ways – as an ELR for an adult or as an ALR for a child. Most switchable retractors can be turned from ELR to ALR by pulling the seat belt all the way out of the retractor. As the webbing rewinds, it should lock and prevent the seatbelt from being pulled back out.
2. Listed below are very simple tests to determine what type of retractor you have in your vehicle:
A. Testing for an ALR:
1. Slowly pull the seatbelt half-way out of the retractor.
2. Let the seatbelt rewind several inches.
3. Tug on the seatbelt, trying to pull it back out of the retractor. If it holds locked, you have an ALR.
B. Testing for a Switchable Retractor:
1. Slowly pull the seatbelt all the way out of the retractor.
2. Slowly let the seatbelt rewind into the retractor several inches.
3. Tug on the seatbelt, trying to pull it back out of the retractor. If it stays locked and doesn’t rewind, it is a switchable retractor.
C. Testing for an ELR:
1. If both of the above tests fail and you can still freely pull the webbing out of the retractor, you have an ELR.
The different types of latchplates:
A latchplate is the metal part of the seatbelt in which the webbing is threaded through. It contains the metal tongue that snaps into the buckle. There are 4 types of latchplates, which are defined below:
1. Locking Latchplate: The webbing in a locking latchplate threads through an adjuster. There is a metal locking bar inside (can be viewed by looking at the underside) that prevents the webbing from sliding back through the latch plate when it is kept parallel. They are found mostly on lap-belt only seatbelts but can also be found on lap/shoulder belts. To use a locking latchplate, buckle it and tighten it by pulling the excess webbing.
2. Sliding Latchplate: With a sliding latchplate, the webbing is threaded through a hole in the metal part of the latchplate. There is no locking bar, which allows the seat-belt webbing to slide freely. They are found only on lap-belt/shoulder seatbelts.
3. Light-weight Locking Latchplate: A light-weight latchplate looks similar to a sliding latchplate, but it has a plastic locking bar. It cinches the webbing and keeps it from loosening when kept parallel. They are found on lap/shoulder seat-belts and lap only seat-belts.
4. Sewn-on Latchplate: The webbing on a sewn-on latchplate is permanetly attached (sewn) to the metal buckle. It can be found on both lap and lap/shoulder belt systems. When using a sewn-on, the seatbelt cannot be adjusted or tightened at the latchplate.
5. Switchable Latchplate: Switchable latchplates are only found on a handful of vehicles. It is normally a sliding latchplate that can switched from adult mode (free flowing) to child mode (locking) by sliding a button or turning a dial on the underneath of the latchplate. They are found only on lap/shoulder seat-belts.
When to use a locking clip:
A locking clip needs to be used under the following circumstances:
1. You have an ELR and your latchplate does not lock or hold the child restraint tight. Use a locking clip to lock your restraint tight.
2. You have a sliding latchplate and an ELR. Use a locking clip to lock your child restraint tight.
3. The locked retractor causes the shoulder portion of the seat- belt to pull a rear-facing child-restraint’s base up to one side. Use a locking clip so the base of the child-restraint stays flat on the vehicle seat
4. The angle of your child-restraint/seatbelt doesn’t allow your locking latchplate to hold the seat belt tight. If you can pull the seat-belt webbing back through the latchplate once it is buckled, use a locking clip.
When not to use a locking clip:
A locking clip does not need to be used in the following situations:
1. Don’t use a locking clip if your retractor locks.
2. Don’t use a locking clip if your latchplate locks and holds the child restraint tight.
3. Don’t use a locking clip if you are installing your child restraint using LATCH.
4.NEVER use a locking clip with a lap-belt only seatbelt. A locking clip is designed to hold a child-restraint tight during normal use. In a crash, it is designed to pop off the seatbelt as the retractor kicks in. The retractor will then hold the child-restraint tight. A lap-belt does not have a retractor. Therefore, if the restraint is loose without the locking clip, it will be loose in the crash. If your lap-belt has an ELR, use a belt-shortening clip.
How to use a locking clip:
Using both the lap/shoulder belt portions, place seatbelt through the appropriate belt path. Snap latchplate into buckle.
Tighten the seatbelt by pulling on the shoulder portion of the belt, pressing your bodyweight into the car-restraint.
Grasp the seatbelt (holding both the lap and shoulder portions) near the latchplate and unbuckle.
Pinch the webbing to make it easier to attach the locking clip.
Slide the first side of the locking clip onto the seatbelt, making sure to catch both the lap and shoulder portions of the belt.
Slide the second side onto the seatbelt, catching both lap and shoulder portions. Make sure the locking clip is no more than 1″ from the latchplate.
Snap the latchplate back into the buckle. Note that this will probably be difficult. Test the seat. If it is loose (moves more than 1″ when tugged at beltpath), unbuckle and redo the locking clip.
The Finished Product:
Belt Shortening Clips:
A belt shortening clip is a heavy duty locking clip that is used with lap-belts that have an ELR. A belt shortening clip should never be confused with a regular locking clip. A belt shortening clip is “heavy duty” and is designed to stay on the seatbelt in the event of a crash. You can use a belt shortening clip in place of a locking clip, but NEVER use a locking clip in place of a belt shortening clip. Doing so will cause serious, and very likely, fatal injuries to your child. Belt shortening clips must be ordered through the vehicle manufacturer. Never assume that a clip is belt-shortening. It must say so on the clip, or be known by you to be one. A belt-shortening clip should only be installed by a certified child passenger safety technician.