If you’ve cleaned the seat belt webbing and loop and it still doesn’t retract properly, the next step is to learn how to fix a seat belt retractor.
A very important part regarding safety so its proper functioning is necessary. Having this in mind the repair should be done as soon as possible.
This is definitely a DIY job and worth the try even if you’re not good around cars. It does involve some trim dismantling but with some patience and goodwill, it can be successfully done.
At the end of the article, you can find a video tutorial if you’re not in the mood for reading.
Once more, please make sure that the belt webbing and loop are OK before you start. If not, you can see how to fix this in our other article “How to fix a slow retracting car seat belt” or watch the video on our YouTube channel.
1. TAKE OFF THE TRIM PANEL
Before you start fixing, a safety precaution:
Take off the minus battery terminal on the car. This is to avoid accidental activating of the explosive charge on the seat belt retractor!
You might, while working, accidentally disconnect or damage the electrical connector so better safe than sorry.
If you’re not sure how to take off a battery terminal, click here to read an article on that topic.
Back to the procedure of taking off the trim panel:
This is the trickiest part to remove on most cars. In order to do it you’ll need:
The basic ones will do. If you don’t have a set, best go and buy one. Using a screwdriver or any kind of metal tool will damage the trim panel for sure or leave nasty scratches and bents.
Besides this, you might need a ratchet and matching sockets for additional dismantling (like taking off parts of the seat belt assembly, various holders, or else).
If you’ve never taken off this trim panel before, best Google how to do it exactly for your car. Asking someone or looking in a manual is also a good option. Otherwise, you’ll probably break off a plastic clip or something which will later result in the panel wobbling or rattling after you return it. It may even eventually fall off.
Also, a lot of trimming has an exact dismantling pattern, so using force will only cause damage and possible expense.
If you want to learn how to fix a slow seat belt retractor, then patience is a key factor. Getting nervous or edgy when taking off the trim panels will cause damage for sure.
Using force, ripping panels off, breaking clips and holders, or even breaking the whole panel will result in having to buy a new one or having to return the old one however you can.
I don’t know what’s worse. For some cars, trim panels are pricey and are not that available. On the other hand, when you return it broken, it’s an awful sight and not long-lasting.
So the first thing you do is:
a) Take off the rubber door seal. Peel it off the car body slowly so you don’t damage it. On most cars, it will open a rift between the plastic and metal for inserting the trim tools.
b) Carefully remove the panel. It might put up some resistance duo to holders and clips but take your time.
2. CHECK THAT THE SEAT BELT RETRACTOR IS THE ACTUAL PROBLEM
Once you take off the panel, you’ll see the seat belt retractor. It’s in the lower part of the B pillar.
This is a good time to check and be sure that the retractor is the actual problem. After all, if you want to learn how to fix a seat belt retractor, you have to know that it’s causing the problem not anything else.
I say this as some cars have extra plastic or metal belt guides hidden under other parts of the trim. They may cause the same symptoms like a slow retractor.
So, check again that the belt goes freely through the loop. Then pull the seat belt out and let it go. If the retractor winds slowly, and theres’ no other obstacle, then its’ surely the problem.
3. RETRACT THE SEAT BELT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
Pull the seat belt out as much as it goes.
In the end, you’ll see the point where the fabric is attached to the metal spool.
It may retract better at this point. If this is the case, use a laundry pinch to hold the belt near the seat belt loop.
4. CLEAN THE AREA AROUND THE SEAT BELT RETRACTOR
You may find a lot of dust and wool-like filth on or near the retractor.
Remove it away, best by using a vacuum cleaner or compressed air.
Don’t be surprised if the seat belt retractor starts functioning better after cleaning it. In lots of cases, the filth is the reason for blocking the mechanism so removing it sometimes solves the problem.
5. APPLY WD-40 OR A SILICONE BASED SPRAY TO THE SEAT BELT RETRACTOR
Once everything is clean, you should lubricate the retractor.
The best way is to use WD-40 spray (at least from my own experience). The next best thing is a silicone-based spray.
Apply the spray between the rotating metal spool and the plastic part of the retractor. Use a couple of short bursts, don’t flood it.
If this was causing the problem, you should notice an improvement immediately. The retractor should start pulling the belt back in place with a lot more tension.
For even better results, retract and let the belt go a couple of times while adding some more WD-40 spray. This will help the spray penetrate and lubricate better.
Do this until the seat belt starts retracting properly and with full strength.
Check that everything works before returning the trim panel.
After this, return the trim panel and rubber door seal back in place. Make sure that everything sits in properly.
So, as you’ve probably concluded, a simple lubricating job. The toughest part is getting to the seat belt retractor. If the trim comes off easily, the whole job can be done within half an hour.
However, if you’ve learned how to fix a seat belt retractor and it still doesn’t work, then there’s a good chance that the retractor itself is faulty. It’s not that common but it does happen.
If this is the case, you basically have two options: opening and repairing the mechanism or replacing the whole assembly complete with the loop, buckle, and belt.
The second, replacement option seems better. Even if it’s a used one (of course, one that hasn’t already been in an accident).
I’ve seen people open up and repair retractors (very successfully) but nothing beats a new or good used one.
Whatever the case, do what’s best for your safety and make sure that the whole seat belt mechanism functions properly at all times.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com
HOW TO FIX A SEAT BELT RETRACTOR-YOUTUBE VIDEO