seat belt problem

Seat Belt Won't Retract, Stuck

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Updated 1 year 2 months ago

Problem

Seat belt won't retract or retracting very slow are a common problem car owners face. In this article, we will cover common seat belt problems and solutions. Some of the most common reaons why the seat belt won't retract could be due to:

  • Weakened retractor spring
  • Seat belt locked after an accident, blown pre-tensioner
  • Twisted seat belt cable. 
  • Old worn seat belt.

We will also go over the procedure required to replace the seat belt retractor.

Common Causes
  1. Worn seat belt due to age
    Remove the seat belt and replace the belt. You can mail your seat belt to a company that provides Seat Belt Replacement Service.
  2. Defective seat belt retractor
    Retractor will need to be replaced. It is a lot cheaper to simply replace the retractor than trying to repair it. If you try to repair the retractor but the repair isn't done correctly, your seat belt may not protect you in the case of an accident. 
  3. Previous accident
    When the car is involved in an accident the pre-tensioner will blow and it locks the seat belt. You can either replace the seat belt pre-tensioner or if you are looking for a cheaper alternative to fix this problem use a Seat Belt Pretension Rebuild Service that will fix your existing unit. 
     
Solution

SOLUTION 1: STUCK SEAT BELT

Check to make sure that the seat belt is not twisted. When this happens it adds resistance and makes it hard for the retractor to pull the seat belt all the way back.upper seat belt bracket

The seat belt may have twisted behind the plastic panel/trim and you won't be able to see the belt until you remove the panel. This is the panel that covers the pillar between the front and rear door referred to as the B-pillar. 

To remove the panel you first need to pull out the weather strip. Next, pull out the B-pillar panel. The panel is often held in place with clips and no screws and it is pushed in. Check your car as some Honda / Toyota models may have screws that keep the panel in place.b pillar door weather strip

If you notice the belt is twisted you should be able to twist the belt to its normal position. Reinstall the trim and check to see if the seat belt problem is fixed. remove b pillar trim panel to get to seat belt

SOLUTION 2: STIFF SEAT BELT

Due to the age of the car, the seat belt itself may get stiff due to dirt and grime. In turn, the belt is a lot harder to be retracted back by the retractor. To fix this problem you need to wash the seat belt. Yes, you can wash the seat belt but use common sense. seat belt

  • Get a bucket of water and add dish soap. If you don't like this method you can use Tuff Stuff Foam Cleaner for Deep Cleaning which works great for this purpose. 
  • Pull the seatbelt all the way out. Secure it so it does roll back. Use a clip to stop the seat belt from rolling back.
  • Insert the seat belt in the bucket and let it sit in the solution for a couple of hours. 
  • Get the seat belt out of the bucket and use a brush to clean all the dirt off. 
  • Let the seat belt dry out. Don't allow the seat belt to retract until it is completely dry.

    SOLUTION 3: TIGHTEN SEAT BELT RETRACTOR SPRING

    One of the most common causes of seat belt problems is that over time the seat belt retractor spring weakens. Once the spring inside the retractor weakens the belt will won't go all the way back. To fix this problem you can remove the seat belt completely from the retractor and manually rotate the retractor to tighten the spring. Next reinstall the seat belt back on the retractor. 

    This method may be too much work for most car owners and may not always work. It is worth trying if you can't find a replacement seat belt. seat belt won't retract problem due to weak spring

    SOLUTION 4: REPLACE RETRACTOR

    The seat belt retractor may be broken and needs to be replaced. The seat belt retractor is the part where the seat belt rolls in. This is what pulls the seat belt back. The proper way to fix a broken seat belt retractor is to replace the retractor and belt with a new set. seat belt retractor removed

How to replace a seat belt retractor


Follow these steps to replace your seat belt retractor.

Step 1: Disconnect battery

Start by disconnecting the negative battery terminal. This is important because in some cars the retractor is connected to the airbag system. Disconnecting wires with the battery connected is a bad idea as this can cause electrical problems or the airbag light to turn on. 

Remove the seat belt lower bolt. 

Step 2: Remove the B-pillar trim 

Use a socket and ratchet to remove top seat belt bracket bolt. upper bracket

Disconnect the electrical connector connected to the retractor. This step applies only to cars that have a pre-tensioner integrated into the seat belt retractor. 

Remove weather strip trim. 

remove weather strip to access seat belt

Remove B-pillar cover. seat belt retractor location

Remove the bolt that holds the retractor in place. 

Remove pre-tensioer or lower bolt. 

seat belt pre tensioner location

Step 3: Reinstall the seat belt into the retractor

When you reinstall the seat belt, you can twist the retractor spring three to four times more than what it was. This will allow the seat belt spring to pull the seat belt back with more force. seat belt retractor removed

If you think opening up and repairing a seat belt retractor is too much work, don't worry. You can easily find replacement seat belts for any car online and they don't cost very much. 

If your car is an older model, you may be able to go for a universal seat belt retractor. They typically sell for around $20. If you have a new car you should install an original seat belt and retractor. A new seat belt and retractor at car dealerships can cost from $200-$450 depending on the make, but original replacement seat belts and retractors cost under when purchased online. Here is one place where you can buy cheap seat belts and retractors. 

Step 4: Install the seat belt and retractor

Installing a seat belt retractor is very easy. old vs new seat belt car

Install the retractor belt.

Install the top bracket bolt.

Install the bottom seat belt strip bolt.

Make sure to tighten all the bolts adequately. Pay attention so that the seat belt isn't twisted. Before you put together the panels, make sure the belt moves back and forth freely. seat belt mecanism

Step 5: Reconnect the battery

Once you are finished with putting together the seat belt and reconnecting any wires that you disconnected now you can connect the car battery. Start the car and make sure that you didn't trigger any warning lights such as Airbag or SRS. If any of these lights are on, disconnect the negative battery terminal again and inspect the wires by the seat belt.

Videos: How to fix seat belt won't retract


Watch the following video on how to remove, adjust and reinstall a seat belt that won't retract. 

Frequently Asked Questions


  • Seat belt won't pull out. 

This can be due to a damaged seat belt mechanism. As you can see from the picture, inside the rectracor is a steel ball and a cup which together help lock up the belt during accident or sudden stop. If your belt is not coming out this part could be the problem.  When the ball rolls out of the center, it latches the mechanism via the lever attached to it. This mechanism can get damaged or stuck. In some cases, this system can stop working due to dirt collected over the years. insde a car seat belt

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