How to Fix Seat Belt (Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Fix Seat Belt

Putting on a seat-belt every time you are in any kind of vehicle is literally a ten-second habit that can save your life. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, between 1975 and 2017, seat belts saved more than 374,196 lives.

But what do you do when these life-saving devices stop working as they are supposed to? – Don’t fret: Repairing your seat belt is easier than one might think – even if you need to replace it, they’re easy to swap out and don’t cost a fortune.

But what are those easy fixes, and how do you replace your seat belt if it stops working? – Keep reading about how to fix seat belt and we’ll break it all down for you.

A Brief History of the Seat Belt

When, the German engineer Karl Benz invented the first automobile back in 1886, it came without a seat-belt. 

The use of a simplified form of a seat belt existed since the mid-19th century, when it was invented by English engineer George Cayley. By the mid-20th century almost every race car included a seat belt.

While several car manufacturers offered seat belt options, including the American Nash (in 1949) and Ford (in 1955)– it wasn’t until 1959 when Volvo released the three-point seatbelt, that the device gained mainstream popularity.

In 1968 seat belts were made mandatory for all new passenger vehicles sold in the United States. Since then, the federal government left it up to the states to make seat belt use mandatory.

As of today, every state but New Hampshire requires adults to wear a seat belt while in a motor vehicle.

Seat Belts 101

If you want to try to replace your seat belt, you’ll need a crash course. So, buckle up as we are going to guide you through the entire process.

The Components

To understand what we’re talking about, you need to know exactly what we’re talking about, meaning you should start from learning the basics. That’s why we broke down all the seat belt components for you, so you know precisely what you’re reading.

The Buckle

The buckle is the part where you fasten the latch of the seat belt. They come with a release button to remove the latch – and once it’s strapped, the buckle is what keeps the seat belt from instantly retracting.

The Latch

The latch is the metal component that you stick into the buckle. It’s attached to the webbing of the belt itself.

The Retractor

Once you unbuckle your seat belt, the retractor is what pulls it tight against the side of your car and enables you to quickly enter and exit your vehicle without tripping over the seat belt. It also keeps the webbing tight against your body when you’re wearing the seat belt.

The Webbing

The webbing is the belt itself. It’s typically made of polyester and is extremely durable – although aging seat belts will have webbing that is starting to fray.

The Pillar Loops

The pillar loops are what direct your seat belt from over your shoulder to across your chest. They aren’t complicated components and are typically nothing more than a reinforced plastic loop mounted above your shoulder against the vehicle’s frame.

How they Work

Seat belt straps against your chest and lap and hold you in place in an unwanted event of an accident. The retractor has a tensioner that grabs if sharp movement is detected, which keeps the entire seat belt in place.

That way, in an accident, you are held against the seat instead of launched through a windshield. The strap pushes against your chest and ribcage, and this is where you’ll feel the majority of the impact. This is the strongest point of your body and the most capable of handling the crash’s impact.

How to Test/Inspect Your Seat Belt

The first thing you need to do is complete a visual inspection of your seat belt. Check the webbing for any fraying or ripping. From there, give the seat belt a quick sharp tug. It should lock into place. Once you release the tension, it should retract back into the retractor.

Finally, buckle the seat belt and make sure that it unbuckles correctly. If you’ve done all these steps and everything is working as it should, then your seat belt is good to go!

Determining if You Need to Repair or Replace Your Seat Belt

As soon as your seat belt starts acting up, you might be tempted to run to the parts store to find a replacement. But you might not need to replace your seat belt to get everything back in working order.

You can repair many seat belt issues, and doing so is easier than you might think!

Common Seat Belt Problems and Fixes

While there are tons of potential issues that can crop up with a seat belt – below are the most common issues and how you can troubleshoot and fix them.

Seat Belt Light Won’t Turn Off

If your seat belt is working fine, but you can’t get the warning light to turn off, that’s because the sensor isn’t working correctly. It’s not a problem that you should ignore – and while you can pop the fuse out to permanently turn off the light, fixing it is usually pretty straightforward.

Common Fixes

One of the most common reasons for a seat belt light to act up is because something has fallen into the seat belt and prevented the latch from contacting the sensor.

Just because the seat belt clicks shut doesn’t mean that it has a stable connection with the sensor. All it takes is something small like a penny to fall in there and keep everything from working correctly. Take a look into the latch and see if you can’t see the obstruction.

If everything looks good to go, you probably need to replace the seat belt sensor.

Do You Need to Replace the Seat Belt?

As long as the sensor isn’t inside the latch – you don’t need to replace the seat belt. If it is and there is no obstruction, you’ll need to replace the buckle.

Seat Belt Won’t Retract Fully

Once you unbuckle your seat belt, it should fully retract into the retractor. This helps protect your webbing and keeps your seat belt out of the way whenever you’re entering or exiting the vehicle.

Common Fixes

Pull the seat belt hard – it should catch if it’s working correctly. Once the retractor has caught the webbing, let it go and see if it will retract. If not, fully extend the seat belt and repeat the process. If it doesn’t fully retract, the only thing you can do is replace the retractor.

Do You Need to Replace the seat belt?

If you can’t get the seat belt to retract enough to sit snug against the user, you should replace the retractor. If it still fits snug against the user – no.

Seat Belt Won’t Release from Buckle

Nothing can be as frustrating as being strapped to your seat and not being able to get out. But that’s precisely what happens if you can’t get the seat belt to release from the buckle.

Common Fixes

Get some WD-40 or another similar degreaser and spray it into the buckle. After soaking it in for a couple of minutes, use a small flathead screwdriver to poke into the buckle. You can use a flathead screwdriver to release the latch and get the seat belt off.

Once it’s off, repeatedly spray inside the buckle with your degreaser or WD-40 and alternate with the screwdriver to dislodge any potential obstructions.

Make sure to hit the seat belt release on and off a bunch to try and free up the inner workings. Finally, connect and disconnect the latch and the buckle to see if it starts to release correctly.

Do You Need to Replace the Seat Belt?

Yes you do need to replace the buckle if the repairs don’t work. God forbid you get in an accident, you need to be able to get out of the car as soon as possible. 

Seat Belt Won’t Connect to Buckle

If you’re trying to get the seat belt to connect, but it keeps popping right back out, you have a problem. Something is jamming up the inner workings of the buckle.

Common Fixes

It’s identical to the way you replace a seat belt that’s stuck. Spray WD-40 or another degreaser into the buckle and try and work the gunk out with a flat head screwdriver. Repeatedly try and latch the seat belt.

Furthermore, press the seat belt release early and often to try and work on anything that might be jammed in there. Make sure to give your degreaser or WD-40 at least 10 minutes to soak into all the nooks and crannies before going in with a screwdriver.

Do You Need to Replace the Seat Belt?

If you can’t repair the seat belt and get it to connect, you will need to replace the buckle.

Ripped or Frayed Webbing

As seat belts age, they start to wear down. One area that you should check is the webbing. This is the actual belt that pulls tight against your chest and lap. If it starts to fray, then you have a problem.

Common Fixes

There is no fix for ripped or frayed webbing. You’ll need to replace the seat belt immediately. Otherwise, it might end up ripping completely when you get into an accident.

Do You Need to Replace the Seat Belt?

Yes. This is an extremely dangerous condition, and you need to replace the belt immediately.

Seat Belt Won’t Lock When Needed

When you pull tight on your seat belt, it should lock into place and keep you from extending it any further. This is how it protects you in an accident. When you stop suddenly, it’ll provide a sharp tug on the seat belt, locking it into place. If it doesn’t lock, it’s like you’re not wearing a seat belt at all!

Common Fixes

You can tear apart the retractor to replace the locking mechanism. However, manufacturers don’t want you tampering with these components, so you’re better off replacing the retractor.

Do You Need to Replace the Seat Belt?

Yes. This is an extremely dangerous condition, and you need to replace the retractor immediately.

Seat Belt Locks Won’t Unlock

If your seat belt is locked and you can’t get it to retract or extend again, this is a serious problem. While you might think it’s fine if you can still get it on and off, it’s not going to work how it should if you get into an accident.

Common Fixes

While you can try and repair the retractor – manufacturers make them tamper-proof. It’s best just to replace the retractor.

Do You Need to Replace the Seat Belt?

Yes. The seat belt is not providing adequate protection.

Step-by-Step on How to Replace Your Seat Belt

If the repairs didn’t help and you still need to replace the seat belt, there’s good news- if you have the right tools, it’s a pretty straightforward process. 

1. Find the Right Buckle and Retractor

Seat belt buckles, latches, and retractors aren’t universal. This means you’ll either need to find the one that matches the one currently in your vehicle or replace the entire set. If you have the OEM seat belt (the one that came from the factory), finding the correct replacement is easy.

Just let the local part store know what you drive, and they’ll find the matching component for you!

2. Locate the Bolts and Remove!

This is the trickiest part. While finding and removing the bolts isn’t hard, sometimes you’ll need to remove other components to get to them. You might need to remove the seat to reach the buckle or the side pillar to get to all the retractor components.

3. Install the New Buckle or Retractor – Make Sure to Torque!

Once you’ve taken the old components out, install the new ones. Make sure that you find the torque specs and torque down your seat belt components. While there are many components that you can skip this step with – the seat belt isn’t one of them.

If you don’t do it right the first time, you take the risk of it shearing off in case in an accident, which can have fatal consequences.

Summary

The seat belt is one of the most significant safety devices on the road. But if they aren’t working correctly, your best safety device turns into your most significant liability. Fortunately, you can often repair seat belts, and even when they can’t, they aren’t extremely expensive.

If you’re looking to cut a few corners to save a dime, you don’t want to do it with your seat belts. When you need them, you want to be sure that everything will work just like it should!