/ Motoring

Have you been affected by this VW seatbelt fault?

VW Group has finally issued the recall of 75,000 VW and Seat cars affected by a potentially lethal car seat belt fault. But what took them so long?

On Saturday we revealed Volkswagen Group presented a plastic cable tie as a permanent fix to a potentially lethal car seat belt fault, despite the cable tie not actually fixing the problem.

It’s good news that VW is taking action and issuing a full recall, but the whole saga has highlighted a flawed recall process that has put the safety of drivers at risk.

Seat belt safety

The seat belt issue was first discovered back in May by Finnish magazine, Tekniikan Maailma, which found the rear-left seat belt in the Volkswagen Polo, Seat Ibiza and Seat Arona was at risk of coming undone.

The belt can come undone when both the middle and rear-left seats are occupied if the car is being driven at speed and makes an abrupt lane change.

VW acted, recalling 12,000 VW Polos and thousands of Seat Aronas and Ibizas, fitting the cars with an ‘interim’ cable tie fix.

This didn’t fix the issue, however, and VW owners were told not to use the middle-rear seat until a permanent solution could be implemented at a later date.

VW also issued a warning sticker to all owners from late August onward:

Permanent fix?

We discovered that Volkswagen had attempted to get the cable tie authorised as a permanent fix to the problem, despite it not actually eliminating the risk of the seat belt coming undone.

VW presented the cable tie as a permanent fix to the safety authority responsible for car safety and recalls, the DVSA – but the DVSA rejected it. Instead, it was approved as a temporary measure.

Crucially, at the same time, VW decided to continue selling the affected cars following the discovery of the fault.

That means after six months of sales since the fault was discovered, that number has now risen to 75,000 affected cars.

What should happen now

VW must make every effort to communicate the recall to the owners of all affected cars.

Owners of affected cars should wait to be contacted by VW or Seat and follow the instructions given. If you do not hear from them shortly, you should pro-actively contact the manufacturer.

We will be closely monitoring the handling of the recall, but the DVSA must also step in and investigate VW’s handling of the whole situation.

Have you been affected by the VW seatbelt fault? Does this latest episode knock your trust in the brand?

Comments

youtube.com/fYQRGIfUxqc

“The problem with the rear centre seat belt, which has been known since June 2018, has led manufacturers to recall their cars. In total, this concerns some 191 000 Seat Arona and Ibiza as well as 219 000 Volkswagen Polo in the world. In fact, when two passengers are seated side by side in the centre seat and the left side seat, the central seat belt latch can press its neighbour’s latch. In this case, her seat belt comes off, putting her at risk in the event of an accident. In a video made on the circuit, Finnish colleagues from the magazine Tekniikan Maailma (TM) show very well the phenomenon on the three models : in a tight right turn, the tilt of the passenger installed in the center causes the locking box of the passenger belt installed on his left to open. His belt is then instantly released, at the same time sounding the alarm on the dashboard.”

Apparently Sixt have returned all their rental Polo’s to Germany. You can understand that the liability in an accident would be considerable.

Would this be a good time for
A] Which? to have a recall database for every model and manufacturer
B] Press for the DVSA to be more “for the consumer” rather than agreeing so much with the car makers.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

A person in a car that crashes into an immoveable object or oncoming vehicle continues travelling at the driven speed until restrained by a seat belt. Cars have crumple zones to absorb the energy of an impact but the effect is not instantaneous and might not always be in the right position relative to the impact. Properly functioning seat belts are therefore vital.

The passenger in the middle rear seat is the most vulnerable person in the event of an impact whether at the front or from the rear. The driver and front passenger are protected by airbags that deploy virtually instantaneously. The passengers either side in the back have some protection from the seat-backs and head restraints of the front seats. The person in the middle rear seat will shoot or somersault forward [at 70 mph possibly] and collide with the shoulders of the front seats, the roof, the gear lever and other objects between the front seats, and then with the dashboard and the windscreen. They could then recoil backwards and sustain more impacts. Getting the design and functionality of the middle seat belt wrong could be interpreted as criminal negligence.

Using the seat belts is a mandatory requirement. Continuing to use one knowing that it might not function correctly in an emergency is very risky, but people in cars neglect to adjust the head restraints properly or take other precautions so people don’t take their own safety seriously and then expect to claim compensation if they are injured.

I am glad the DVSA rejected the cable tie as a suitable modification; even the strongest type might fail because retention is provided by hundreds of tiny ridges on the strap part reacting against similar opposed ridges in the socket part. It would take some force to break one but such a force is present in a high speed impact and the whole fitting could come apart or split. Such items are also too prone to incorrect or slack fitting. That VW should even think that would do says it all.

The problem with the seat belts was discovered about six months ago, so the VW Group has had plenty of time to find and implement an effective solution, but the company is still selling cars with the fault. This –reminds me of when Whirlpool discovered that Hotpoint, Indesit and other of their brands of tumble driers accumulated lint and needed modification to reduce the risk of causing a fire, but until action was taken, the company said that machines could continue in use until modified – a highly questionable decision that was challenged by Which?

I have no wish to interfere with companies that behave responsibly but if they fail to take timely action in event of a fault, our government should ensure that action is taken to protect the citizens of this country.

Knowing a friend who purchased a VW Polo in the past year, I have sent an email with a link to the Which? page mentioned in Neena’s introduction.

The Consumers’ Association campaigned for the fitting of seat belts to all cars and I hope that Which? will take action to sort out this mess.