Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Inspecting Your Seat Belts.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 6,756,000 car crashes occurred in 2019, the latest year for which data is available. Out of those, just under 2 million caused any kind of injury or death, less than a third of all crashes. Seat belts are a major reason for the survivability of car crashes. We’ve all heard it before, but it’s true: seat belts save lives.
For this reason, seat belts top our list of road safety tips. However, they can’t keep you safe if they’re not in top condition. Just as it’s important to inspect your car’s brake system, it’s important to inspect your seat belts as well. A damaged seat belt can’t do its job properly, and may not protect you when you need that protection the most. We hope you never need to use them, but here’s how a car seat belt inspection can make sure your seat belts are ready to protect you in case you ever do.
What Is a Seat Belt?
The answer seems obvious – the belt you pull around you and click into place before your drive. While this is true, there’s more to this system than just that.
Webbing: This is what most of us think of as the “belt.” It’s the nylon strap that physically holds you in your seat. During a crash, the webbing is designed to stretch as it’s holding you in place. This decelerates your body more gently than the rest of the car, reducing the forces you must endure and helping to prevent further injury. This is a one-time deal, however. Once the belt is stretched, it’s done and needs to be replaced so that you’ll have protection next time.
Buckle: This is where you clip the seat belt into the side of your seat.
Tongue: This is the piece of metal the webbing goes through, and that clips into the buckle to hold the belt in place.
Retractor: Usually hidden behind trim panels, this is a spring-loaded reel that pulls up and holds any excess webbing. Normally it spins freely to keep the belt out of your way, but under hard braking or in a crash it locks to hold you in place. You can also lock the retractor manually to hold child seats in place, but modern cars now use a separate system for that.
Anchors: These are the bolts that attach the seat belt hardware to the body of the car itself.
When to Do a Car Seat Belt Inspection
Seat belts are not generally listed on the manufacturer-recommended maintenance schedule; however, our recommendation would be to inspect your seat belts once per year. It’s quick and easy.
If you’re involved in a crash – no matter how minor – inspect your seat belts immediately. They saved you this time, but you need to be sure they’re in perfect operating condition in case there’s a next time.
What Are Common Symptoms Indicating You Need to Inspect Your Seat Belts?
If anything is not working perfectly with your seat belts, you need to inspect and repair or replace them immediately. If they are not working as intended, they may not do their job and protect you in a crash. What may look like minor wear and tear on the webbing could actually be a significant weak point that could break precisely when you need it the most.
Can I Do a Car Seat Belt Inspection Myself?
Yes. Seat belts are very simple items. If you find anything about them that is not absolutely perfect, you know you need to repair or replace them. Here’s what to look for.
Pull the webbing all the way out of the retractor. Inspect every inch of the webbing for stretching, fraying, cuts, holes, or any other damage. If you spot any damage, replace the belt.
Tongue and Buckle
Make sure the tongue latches into the buckle easily, and that it unlatches immediately when you press the button. Check both the tongue and the buckle for any cracks, rust, or anything that might affect their strength and performance.
Gently pull out all the webbing, then slowly let it retract. All of the webbing should go in and out smoothly and all the way, with no binding or resistance. Next, pull out some webbing and give it a sudden, hard yank. The retractor should lock when you pull on the webbing hard. This is the same motion that locks the belt and holds you in place during a crash. If any of these functions don’t work properly, you need to replace the retractor, which usually includes a new belt and tongue as well.
You’ll probably need to remove some interior trim pieces to check where the seat belt components attach to the car’s body. All of the bolts and other hardware, such as washers, should be tight. Inspect the bolts for signs of rust, especially if you live in an area that sees a lot of snow and ice in the winter. These bolts sometimes go through the body to the outside, and rust can work its way in along the bolt, leading to a malfunction.
Stay Safe With FIXD
While the FIXD Sensor can’t fix your seat belts, it will help you keep all your car’s other components and safety systems in top shape. Get FIXD and download the free app today to get automated maintenance alerts based on your make, model, and mileage so you’ll know when it’s time for an inspection, new pads and rotors, and much more!
Recovering autocross and track day enthusiast. Once turned a VW Jetta into a pickup truck. Lives in a van down by the river. Dream car: 2001 Subaru WRC rally car.