Shouldn't the manufacturer pay to replace a defective seatbelt?
I have a 1994 Saturn SL1 with 38,000 miles. I recently needed the passenger lap
belt replaced due to faulty stitching near the buckle. The dealer charged me for
this repair. I was under the impression that seat belts were covered by the
Federal Government under a five-year/50,000-mile safety warranty. Am I
misinformed? -- Barbara
TOM: Somewhat. When there is a bona fide "safety defect," one that the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has recognized with the issuance of
a recall, then the manufacturer is obligated to fix the item for free for up to
RAY: The problem is that NHTSA has never declared Saturn safety belts defective.
And as of right now, there are not even any official complaints on the books
about defective seat-belt stitching on your car, Barbara.
TOM: So there are several possibilities. One is that the seat belts are, in fact,
defective, and you're the first one to complain. In which case, you should be
sure to register a complaint with NHTSA. You can do that by calling (800) 424-
9393, or you can do it online through our Web site, the Car Talk section of
cars.com (go to the "Got a Car" section).
RAY: If NHTSA gets enough complaints about the same safety problem, it'll open an
investigation, which could lead to a recall.
TOM: Another possibility is that this was simply a one-time manufacturing defect.
Maybe the robot that stitched the seat belt was running on Windows 98 and froze
up while it was finishing your particular belt. In that case, the manufacturer's
warranty applies, and Saturn or your dealer would decide whether to charge you or
RAY: The final possibility is that there is no defect, and that you were in some
way responsible for the damage to the belt. Maybe your dog chewed on it to get to
the remainder of some spilled cream cheese, or maybe that Black Sabbath
bellybutton ring your husband wears is rubbing against it and causing the belt to
fray? In that case, the dealer was correct to charge you.
TOM: So if you believe it was a manufacturing defect, then by all means let NHTSA
know. But whatever the cause, you did the right thing by having it fixed right
away and not taking any chances with your own safety, or that of your passengers.
Wait! Before you buy your next car, make sure you read Tom and Ray?EUR(TM)s guide, "How
to Buy a Great Used Car: Things Detroit and Tokyo Don?EUR(TM)t Want You to Know." Send
$3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed, No. 10 envelope to Used Car, PO Box
6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.