Beware of used seatbelts
In my view, the MoT Test has got it right, when it comes to conducting a brief, visual inspection of seatbelt conditions. Webbings and buckles are checked closely for wear, as are the belt locking and retraction mechanisms and the mounting areas on the bodywork are verified as being free of corrosion, so that the seatbelt mechanisms do not become detached under the high forces generated by an impact. Being a quick visual inspection, however, it is not possible for the MoT to spot all damage.
Physically, the seatbelt’s fabric is designed to stretch slightly during a crash. This helps to reduce the forces inflicted on the occupant’s chest, as it is thrown forward. This can happen only once; the material is not elasticated and does not return back to its original length. If stretched, the seatbelt cannot work as intended originally and must be discarded, even though, visibly, the webbing might appear to be in good order and not frayed.
Yet, when seatbelts fail the MoT on their condition, which tends to be caused by accidental damage, such as being chewed by an animal left within the car, the temptation is to fit a complete second-hand belt assembly from either a breakers’ yard, or an online auction site, to save costs on a new replacement.
Buy with care
While GEM does not endorse the fitting of second-hand seatbelts, should there be no other option, ensure that you have seen the vehicle from which they have been taken. Ask why the car in question has been scrapped – if it is due to an impact, it is possible that the safety properties of the seatbelt have been destroyed. Also, if you are able to inspect the car personally, look for any evidence of past accident repairs; ill-fitting body panels, mismatching paint and overspray are obvious clues of possible impact damage. If any such defects are found, reject the replacement belt.