HOW TO FIX A SLOW RETRACTING CAR SEAT BELT?

Slow retracting seat belt on a car is perhaps one of the most annoying and dangerous car problems you can encounter.

Annoying as you have to retract the seat belt by hand every time you use it.

Dangerous as the belt can’t hold your body in case of an accident.

This should be reason enough to solve this problem as soon as possible.

As you’ll see in this article, it’s a pretty simple fix that you can do on your own (no more complicated than changing a car fuse or a headlight lamp bulb, for instance).

Also, a video tutorial is available lower in article, if you’re not in the mood for reading.

You can also watch it on our YouTube channel where you can find more useful tutorials and tips.


 

MOST COMMON REASONS FOR A SLOW RETRACTING SEAT BELT

1.Seat belt fabric (webbing) gets dirty and rigid over time.

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Dirt and filth on the belt fabric mostly come from the human body and from outside.

Over time, this causes the fabric to become rigid and stiff. The retracting mechanism then has a hard time pulling back the seat belt.

2.Plastic loop jams the belt.

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The plastic loop holds the belt over your shoulder.

Over time, also due to filth, the loop starts jamming the belt thus causing a slow retracting seat belt.

3.Filth in the belt retractor.

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Over time, filth and dust get in to the seat belt retractor too.

The retractor is mostly located under a trim panel (B pillar for front seats) or incorporated in the seat itself (C pillar back seats).

This means that it’s hard to reach thus making it less accessible for cleaning, making it a good collector for filth.

Also, dust and filth are conveyed by the seat belt fabric (webbing).

4.Broken seat belt retractor.

The retractor is actually the part that pulls the belt.

Broken retractors are most rare of all reasons as they are usually built with high quality and made to last a long time.

The retractor is mostly spring driven. Due to material fatigue, the spring can break and the mechanism stops working (this is why this fault happens mostly to older used cars).

It can be fixed, but it’s much better and easier to replace the whole thing.


BEST WAYS TO FIX A SLOW RETRACTING SEAT BELT

Once this problems starts here are some of the best ways to solve this problem:

1.Lubricate the plastic loop through which the seat belt goes through.
2.Clean the seat belt fabric; without dismantling the belt mechanism.
3.Clean the seat belt retractor: in this option you’ll have to dismantle trim panels and clean the retractor
4.Replace the retractor altogether:if the mechanism is totally broken.

HOW DOES THE SEAT BELT MECHANISM WORK?

Before you start the actual repair it would be good to understand how the seat belt mechanism works in order to better comprehend what you’re supposed to do.

Especially if you haven’t done this repair before.

Not necessary, you should be able to do this repair without it.

Nevertheless, if you have the time, click here for a great explanation on Wikipedia.


HOW TO FIX A SLOW RETRACTING SEAT BELT-VIDEO TUTORIAL

 


HOW TO FIX A SEAT BELT LOOP THAT CAUSES A SLOW RETRACTING SEAT BELT?

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The seat belt loops main function is to safely hold the belt over your shoulder. It’s mounted on the B pillar and can be adjusted for height (exception for old vintage cars and old timers).

The slot on the loop (through which the belt moves) is very narrow and tight.

Over time, that slot tends to get filth and dust inside causing a slow retracting seat belt. Combine this with rigid seat belt fabric and you have a problem.

Most drivers and car owners don’t pay much attention to this detail although it’s the solution in many cases.

What you’ll need for this fix is a can of silicone based spray. One that leaves no stains, smears or other kind of filth (so you don’t get your clothes dirty once you’re done).

I used either a cleaning spray for the inside plastic trim or a spray for leather shoes.

Both lubricate properly and leave a silicone film on the loop for a long time. Yes, they do have a scent, but it evaporates over a short period of time.

Here’s the procedure:

1)Retract the seat belt as much as possible (as much as the retractor allows it).

2) Put some spray on the loop, aim at the slit through which the belt goes.Spray both above and under the belt.

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3) Let the belt retract. If it doesn’t, do it by hand.

4) Repeat the retracting procedure (pull by hand and let go) a few times so the loop is lubricated properly.

So, main point, lubricate the loop as much as possible.


You can also use the spray and apply it to the whole seat belt fabric (webbing). Retract the belt as much as you can and give it a rich coating on both sides.

This is also a good method for solving a rigid seat belt fabric (webbing) problem and will help the belt work properly for a long period of time.


 

HOW TO CLEAN THE SEAT BELT FABRIC (WEBBING)?

This is the easiest and fastest way of solving this problem alongside lubricating the plastic loop.

Everything that you’ll need, you can find in your household.

Two ways of cleaning the webbing :

  • Using wet wipes
  • Washing the fabric with warm water and laundry detergent

WASHING WITH WET WIPES.

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This procedure is easier and faster since it doesn’t involve water and drying.

Although, in my experience it’s less efficient. The wipes will clean the filth but the fabric still stays rigid. That’s where the laundry detergent comes in with the other  method.

Use this method if the retracting strength is near OK, just to make an improvement not a fix (this is from my experience).

Here’s the procedure:

1) Put the old towel on the car seat (to protect, just in case, although there’s no water involved).

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2) Retract the seat belt as much as possible (as much as the retractor allows it).

3) Put the laundry pinch in front of the plastic LOOP on the B pillar.

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4) Take the wet wipes and clean the fabric as thorough as you can. Do it on both sides of the fabric.

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5) Take the laundry pinch off.

6) Test to see that it works properly.

Best thing about this method is that you can use the seat belt immediately, no need to dry.

Bad thing: as I’ve mentioned, it’s not always the quality solution.

My advice, it doesn’t hurt to try this method first. If it doesn’t work, you can always wash the seat belt.


WASHING WITH WARM WATER AND LAUNDRY DETERGENT.

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What you’ll need:

  • Washbowl or bucket (don’t use a shallow one, to avoid spilling water around):fill it with warm water and add a soup spoon of laundry detergent.
  • Old towel:for protecting the seat
  • Laundry pinch:for holding the seat belt in place, so it doesn’t retract
  • Hair dryer:if you’re doing this in cold or rainy weather. You don’t have to use it if its summertime.

The whole procedure is done inside the passenger cabin.

Here’s the procedure:

1) Put the old towel on the car seat. Make sure that the seat is well protected so if any water spills around, it doesn’t make any damage.

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2) Retract the seat belt as much as possible (as much as the retractor allows it).

3) Put the laundry pinch in front of the plastic LOOP on the B pillar.

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4) Take seat belt fabric and submerge it in to the washbowl.

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5) Leave it like that for half an hour.

6) Take out the fabric and remove the washbowl carefully to avoid spilling.

7) Dry the seat belt fabric as much as you can by hand.

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8)Additionally dry with a hair dryer or let it dry by itself.

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9)Take off the laundry pinch

10)Test to see that it works properly

If you’re doing this in cold weather, use a hair dryer to finish the job. The outside temperature won’t allow it to dry naturally and you wouldn’t want to get your clothes wet from the seat belt.

If done in summertime, just leave the belt on the towel to dry naturally.


IMPORTANT TIPS BEFORE YOU START TO CLEAN OR REPLACE A SEAT BELT RETRACTOR.

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Just to prepare you, the next two methods involve trim and seat belt mechanism dismantling.

This involves trim tools (in order to avoid damaging the trim) and a basic set of tools.

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If you’re not the DIY type, best go and have a professional do this (in order to avoid damage). Bit straight forward, but better safe than sorry.

If you are DIY oriented, prepare some patience and good will (especially if you haven’t done this before).

Also would be good to inform yourself how the trim and belt mechanism on your car model is held in to place (recommend Google and YouTube tutorials on this topic).

This is because trim panels on most cars are tricky to take off leading to either breaking or damaging the panels.

Taking of the retractor is mostly the same on every car.

IMPORTANT: ONCE YOU TAKE OFF THE TRIM, YOU’LL FIND WIRES AND A CONNECTOR GOING TO THE RETRACTOR.

THESE ARE FOR ACTIVATING PYROTECHNIC CHARGES THAT TIGHTEN THE SEAT BELT MECHANISM AND HOLD YOUR BODY IN CASE OF A CAR ACCIDENT.

ONCE THE TRIM IS OFF, BEFORE STARTING, FIND THE CONNECTOR THE AND DISCONNECT IT.

THIS WAY YOU’LL AVOID ANY ACCIDENTAL TRIGGERING OF THE MECHANISM.

I myself, when doing this job, take one of the battery terminal connectors off, just in case. Not obligatory, your choice.

To see the principle of this mechanism, click here to see an explanation on Wikipedia.


 

HOW TO CLEAN THE SEAT BELT RETRACTING MECHANISM?

This repair does not involve taking the retractor off.

The procedure explained lower in the text is the basic principle.

It all differs from the car type you drive (trim panels, holding points for the seat belt mechanism, tools needed etc.).

Here’s the procedure:

1) Take the proper wrench and take the belt loop of. A screw is often hidden under a small plastic covering on the loop itself.

screw-for-taking-off-loop

2) Take the trim tools and take off the trim. Be careful and take your time as this is a tricky job. If you rush and lose nerves, breaking something is inevitable.b-pillar-trim

3) After the trim is off, you’ll see the retracting mechanism. If this is the problem, you’ll see a lot of dirt and dust. Both on the mechanism and belt.

4) Take a clean cloth, some trim cleaner and thoroughly clean the whole mechanism.

5) Test to see if it works properly.

6) Return the trim back in place

7) Screw the belt loop back in place.

8) Test again that it works properly.

If you can, use compressed air for cleaning the seat belt mechanism. It gets out all of the filth and blows out all the dust.

After that finish it with a cloth and cleaner.


HOW TO REPLACE A SEAT BELT RETRACTOR? 

If all of the previous solutions fail, then you’ll have to replace the seat belt retractor.

The mechanism itself is driven by a leaf spring which is wound up inside the mechanism housing.

Due to material fatigue, it can break or lose its elasticity leading to a slow retracting seat belt.

This is the most common cause for this malfunction.

Same fix as the previous with same tools, only difference is you’re taking of the whole retractor (not cleaning it).

1)Take the proper wrench and take the seat belt loop of. The screw is often hidden under a small plastic covering on the loop itself.

2) Take the trim tools and take off the trim. Be careful and take your time as this is a tricky job. If you rush and lose nerves, breaking something is inevitable.

3) After the trim is off, you’ll see the retractor.

4) Disconnect the wires (connector) that goe to the belt retractor.

5) The mechanism is usually held in place with one bolt. Use the proper wrench and unscrew it.

6) You should be able to take out the whole mechanism and belt including the loop.

7) Remove the trim panel from the old belt (on some car you don’t have to).

8) Make sure that you pull the new the seat belt through the trim panel.

9) Make sure the new one has the same components.

10) Screw the retractor in place. Make sure you tighten firmly.

11) Screw the belt loop back in place.

12) Test that it works properly.

13) Return the trim back in place

14) Test again that it works properly.

When written seems a bit complicated, but if you are DIY oriented, you’ll be able to work it out yourself, trust me.

Just take your time and have patience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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