You don’t need PSAs to remind you how important seat belts are for your safety. After all, it’s their job to keep you tight in your seat and prevent serious injuries in case you have an accident. However, seat belts occasionally might get jammed. More than a simple nuisance, a useless seat belt can expose you to danger — and who wants that? That’s why you need to know how to fix a stuck seat belt.
While it’s certainly possible to take your vehicle to a repair shop and have your seat belt unjammed there, you can also take care of it yourself. Here is how.
Scenario 1: Fix a Belt That Is on Auto-Lock
Sometimes the auto-lock function on seat belts might make them stuck. The auto-lock problem is simple, with an equally simple solution. All you need to do is release the seat belt from this position.
To do this, first make sure the seat belt is unfastened and can move freely. Then pull it a little bit so that you’re holding more of the belt. Instead of fastening it, allow it to go back into the retractor.
Note the length of the belt and how it’s hanging. If it snaps back into a normal position, then your problem is solved. However, if you see that it did not retract all the way and is hanging loosely, you might have a more serious problem. In that case, you need to proceed to the next step in this guide.
Scenario 2: The Seat Belt Might be Tangled
1. Get Access to the Whole Seat Belt
If there is a problem that’s out of sight, you need to expose the full length of the belt to find it.
Simply remove the plastic covers where the seat belt retracts. It doesn’t matter what tool you use, as long as it works — try pliers with a flat tip or a screwdriver. You just need to slide the tool underneath the plastic cover and pop it upward.
In case the problem is with a belt on the backseat, you need to inspect the mechanism that’s in the trunk. First, lower the seats, so they’re not in your way. Then look under the trunk floor for the seat belt mechanism.
2. Pull out the Entire Seat Belt
Once you’ve secured access to the seat belt that’s giving you trouble, pull it all the way out. Use a clamp or a big hair clip at the top of the belt to prevent it from retracting. Now you can go through the entire length of the seat belt carefully.
Run the seat belt through your fingers to find any tangled areas. Sometimes small objects might stick to the fabric, so remove those if you find any.
3. Clean the Seat Belt
Occasionally the reason for a jammed seat belt is accumulated dirt. While most responsible car owners remember to clean their vehicles, it’s easy to forget that seat belts need care too.
Just think about all the things a seat belt comes into contact with — clothes (that may not always be clean), skin, sweat, not to mention dead skin cells from your body. All of these tiny bits of trash can latch onto the fabric of the belt and change its texture.
With prolonged use, the fabric can harden, thus becoming less flexible. As a result, the seat belt might have difficulties snapping back into place.
Of course, dirt might not be what’s causing the problem. However, since you already pulled the whole belt out, it’s the perfect opportunity to clean it.
Simply soak the belt in a bucket of warm water with a bit of laundry detergent dissolved. Let it soak for 15 minutes, up to half an hour. Then, place a towel on the seat and move the belt from the bucket onto the towel. Use the towel to dry the belt as best as you can, then let it air dry.
When it’s dry, you should notice the fabric of the belt is smoother and snappier. The seat belt will now move more easily within the mechanism.
Video below offers a nice visual guide on how to clean your seat belt.
4. Test the Seat Belt
Before you start assembling everything back together, make sure you have successfully fixed the problem. Allow the seat belt to retract gently. Then pull it forward again and release it. It should be able to return to its normal position.
If it does — great news, you’ve fixed it! You can now replace the plastic covers. However, if the problem persists, you might have to look into the actual seat belt mechanism.
Scenario 3: The Seat Belt Mechanism Is Jammed
The actual seat belt mechanism is a complex device that allows the belt to move thanks to a spinning gear wheel. The wheel can become stuck, which then causes problems in pulling or retracting the seat belt. Dealing with the mechanism itself takes a bit more work, but it’s still perfectly doable.
1. Clear the Side Panel
Since the mechanism for the seat belt is under the side panel, you need to clear a path to it. In most cars, there should be two side clips holding it down. These are located along the bottom edge of the car. One is to the right, and one is to the left of the B (center) pillar.
You can lift these clips by inserting a flat-headed screwdriver or pliers under a clip and then popping it upward.
Note that the front clip is a bit more challenging to open because it’s attached to the rest of the car with a hidden screw.
Now look for a small locked compartment on the floor of your car, near the center pillar — it’s the one with the button you press to open the trunk.
Use your screwdriver to pop the lid with the lock open. This should reveal a small screw. Remove it with your screwdriver. Now you can safely remove the front clip.
2. Remove the Side Panel
With the clips gone, removing the side panel should be simple enough.
Get in the back seat of the car. If the side panel (the inner part of the B-pillar of your car) seems tightly attached to the car, use a flat screwdriver to separate it. Otherwise, you can also just pull it away with your hands. At this point, the side panel shouldn’t be giving you any trouble, as no screws are attaching it to the car.
3. Take the Seat Belt Mechanism out
The mechanism where the seat belt retracts is tightly secured with bolts. You need keys of the proper size to unscrew them. In most cases, these are 10mm and 14mm.
There is also a clip that connects to the mechanism, so make sure you pull that away. You can use your fingers for this.
Now the seat belt mechanism can be removed from the B-pillar.
4. Open the Mechanism
Turn the device on its side so that you’re looking at a plastic cap. Several small pins are holding it down securely. You can remove them using any method you like. For example, you can take them out with a hex key.
If you turn the mechanism around on its other side, you should see a small box with its own tiny clips. Use something flat to unfasten them.
Once the pins are out, and the box is loose, you can take off the plastic lid.
5. Remove the Smaller Plastic Pieces
Underneath the big cover, you should see two other, smaller plastic pieces. They’re resting on top of the gear, so you need to remove them.
On top of the second piece, there should also be a spring. Take that out as well.
6. Move the Gear Around
Now that you’ve finally reached the gear wheel, use your fingers to rotate it clockwise. This motion will unjam it.
Pull the belt to see if the gear is turning freely. If everything is fine, you just need to reassemble the mechanism by retracing your steps.
7. Put the Mechanism Back
Reattach the smaller plastic pieces and the spring. Then cover them with the big plastic lid. Secure the small box with the clips and put the pins back inside.
Put the seat belt mechanism back on the pillar and fasten the bolts above and below it. Clip the small device back in. Then put all of the panels back where you took them from.
You can also find a visual guide of the full process of fixing a stuck seat belt gear below.
Final Words of Advice
As you can see, there are many causes behind a stuck seat belt. If you’re lucky, all you need to do is resolve the auto-lock with some careful pulling, or perhaps giving your seat belt a light wash.
At other times, you may need to invest a bit more time and effort into fixing the problem. But with a little patience — and the right tools — anyone can fix a stuck seat belt.
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