How to Fix Locked Seat Belt Retractor and a Jammed/Stuck Seat Belt Pretensioner

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Categories: DIY Auto Tips, Seat Belts

Do your seatbelt keeps locking? Have you tried everything and don’t know what else to do? If your answer is yes, then this article is for you.

Seat belts are one of the most important passenger safety devices in your car. Unfortunately, they are also often overlooked by drivers. This article will explore the most common causes of seat belt locking as well as easy DIY solutions you can implement at home.

What causes a seatbelt to lock up?

You have probably wondered more than once why the seat belt keeps locking even when there is no apparent cause for it. The truth is that the seat belt is designed to lock automatically in certain situations thanks to a key component called the retractor.

In theory, the retractor’s internal mechanism should allow the seat belt to extend and retract freely unless it detects whether a sudden change in vehicle speed or a rapid movement in the seat belt. However, other reasons can activate the seat belt’s locking mechanism. 

A car accident. The main purpose of seat belts is to save lives during crashes. That is why the retractor is designed to lock the belt when it detects sudden speed changes. While this may seem obvious to you, many drivers overlook that a retractor that does not lock the belt with such speed changes constitutes a safety hazard. For this reason, it is vital to check seat belts regularly and replace or service them when necessary.

Leaning forward too quickly. Although it may seem annoying, the truth is that seat belts are designed to lock if you lean forward too fast or if you pull it too quickly. So this is not a defect of the device; it is a safety feature. That said, it may be the case that the locking mechanism becomes more sensitive than usual, which would warrant a seat belt inspection at a specialized service center.

Sudden braking. Like the previous point, the seat belt retractor is designed to lock when there is a sudden change in speed, either due to braking or acceleration. In other words, if your driving style is spirited, then you can expect your seat belts to lock continuously.

Descending a steep hill. Most modern seat belts have either mechanical or electronic sensors that detect vehicle inclination. For this reason, when you drive downhill, seat belts may lock as a precautionary measure.

Dirty seat belt webbing. All of the above points mention situations in which it is normal for the seat belt to lock. However, the retractor might start locking as time passes due to excessive dirt and grime on the belt webbing. This soiling slows down the retraction and extraction of the seat belt because it generates more friction on the mechanism than usual. The result is that the retractor locks easily, making it very difficult to put on the seat belt at times.

Debris stuck in the retractor internal mechanism. Rear seat belts are usually prone to jamming due to objects or debris getting stuck in the retractor’s internal mechanism. The source of this debris can be children playing and dropping small objects, work material, dirt and dust in the environment, and more.

Improper installation. A little-known cause of seat belt locking is when the proper installation steps are not followed. This type of locking is commonly referred to as a “reverse lock” because it is caused by the seat belt webbing retracting beyond necessary.

Faulty retractor. Finally, your seat belts may be jamming because they are defective or bad. In that case, you have three options, buy a new seat belt, buy a used one, or recondition your seat belt to its original condition.

Can a seat belt pretensioner be repaired?

The short answer is yes; seat belt pretensioners can be repaired. However, technically it would be more appropriate to say that they “can be reset to factory settings.”

Unlike the seat belt retractor spool mechanism that only prevents movement during sudden speed changes, the pretensioner has the important task of tightening the seat belt during certain types of crashes. To this end, when the pretensioner deploys, it uses a pyrotechnic charge similar to that used by airbags.

For this reason, many people have the idea that after it is deployed, they must purchase a new seat belt assembly. Fortunately, this is not necessary. Certified specialists like those at MyAirbags can reset to factory settings single-stage, dual-stage, and triple-stage seat belt pretensioners using OEM parts, saving you hundreds of dollars in the process. 

If you are interested in learning more about what a seat belt retractor is, what various seat belt pretensioners look like, or the difference between single-stage, dual-stage, and triple-stage seat belt pretensioners, we invite you to read this in-depth article

How do you fix a jammed retractor on a seatbelt?

At this point, you have a better idea of why the seat belts lock. However, the question that prompted you to read this article has not yet been answered yet. How do I get my seat belt unstuck? In this section, we will describe how to solve this annoying problem.

Unlocking the seat belt retractor. Assuming that your seat belt is still installed in your car and you have a common reel lock, just follow the steps listed below.

  1. Slowly allow the belt to reel back into the retractor at least one-half inch.
  2. Once the belt has retracted, slowly pull it out. This should override the retractor spool lock mechanism.
  3. You may need several attempts to unlock the seat belt. If the belt is still locked, proceed to the next procedure described below.

Resetting the seat belt. If you cannot unlock the belt by the method described above, it is possible that the belt webbing has dirt on it or an object is stuck inside the retractor. Likewise, It is also possible that after a minor accident, such as a bump during a parking maneuver, the seat belt may lock and require a reset. Whatever the case, follow the procedure below.

  1. Remove the seat belt retractor covers. You may need an appropriate screwdriver or pry tool to do this.
  2. In the case of rear seats, you will most likely need to remove the seats to expose the seat belt mechanism, which is usually close to the trunk area. 
  3. Once you have visual access to the retractor, slowly and steadily pull the seat belt webbing until it reaches its end stop. Then give it a yank to undo the lock.
  4. Note any tangles, twists, or debris in the belt or at the base of the retractor mechanism—correct any irregularities as necessary.
  5. If you feel that the seat belt webbing is sticky or dirty, then you should use a paper clip or similar tool to hold the webbing out for cleaning.  
  6. Upholstery cleaning products are ideal for this task; however, you can also use hot water and soap for this purpose.
  7. When you are sure that the seat belt straps and retractor mechanism are dry and free of tangles or debris, allow it to retract slowly.
  8. Reinstall/replace all retractor covers and test if the seat belts are stuck. If they are still jammed, then go to the last procedure.
remove seat belt

Reeling in seat belt webbing manually. If all else fails, then you may choose to remove the seat belt from your car to retract it manually. For instructions on removing your seat belt, you can read this article, or even better, watch this detailed step-by-step video.

Once the retractor is out of the car, you can manually spin the spool. This should cause the seat belt straps to retract into the mechanism. However, there is a possibility that this method may also fail, especially if your seat belt has been in service for several years. If that is the case, you will have to decide between replacing or repairing your seat belt, which brings us to the next section.

Can I replace a seat belt retractor?

Yes, you can replace a seat belt retractor. In fact, there are several situations in which you should do so, such as after a car accident or after several years of wear and tear. However, as mentioned in the previous point, you have several options available to you in this regard.

Buying a new seat belt. This is the most expensive option of all. It involves buying a complete set, preferably from a dealership or specialized auto parts shop. The reason for this is to ensure that you are installing an OE seat belt and not a cheap and unreliable replacement. Remember, the seat belt is a life-saving safety device and is on the same level of importance as airbags.

Buying a used seat belt. Purchasing a used seat belt assembly in good condition is often a better option than buying a new assembly. On the one hand, you save on costs, and on the other hand, you are assured of using quality original equipment. The downside is that newer vehicles may use two- or three-stage tensioners that require maintenance and inspection before installation, which generates an additional cost. Moreover, because they are used parts, you have no way of knowing when the retractor mechanism will stop working properly or if it starts to lock up as a result of being stored for a long time.

Restoring your seat belt to factory condition. There is no doubt that this is the most efficient and eco-friendly alternative you have. First of all, you keep your original seat belt while saving a considerable amount of money compared to the two previous options. More importantly, if you restore your seat belt pretensioner or buckle with MyAirbags, you get a wide range of additional benefits.

  • The retractor locking mechanism and pretensioners are restored to their original factory condition using OEM parts, meeting or exceeding the manufacturer’s specifications to ensure the safety of you and your passengers.
  • The entire process is performed by MyAirbag’s certified technicians, who have years of experience in overhauling safety systems.
  • We return your seat belts to you in as little as 24 hours, saving you time and money.
  • Our service comes with a 100% guarantee or your money back.

If you want to learn more about our seat belt and airbag repair service, read this article. Furthermore, if you are determined to replace your seat belt for whatever reason, why not do it in style?

MyAirbags provides you with custom color seat belts proudly made in America that meet all the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) standards. What are you waiting for to order yours?

Conclusion

Regardless of the path you decide to take; the most important thing is to always keep in mind that your safety comes first. Seat belts save lives. This is not just a motto. More than half of the people killed in traffic crashes in 2018 in the United States were not buckled up at the time of the crash

Why is this figure relevant? Simple. If your seat belt is not working properly, it makes little difference whether you have it buckled up or not.

Make the right decision today, and replace or restore your seat belt. You won’t regret it.