Volkswagen is set to formally recall around 75,000 cars as a temporary fix for a seatbelt issue has been replaced by a permanent solution.
Consumer group Which? condemned VW for initially only offering an “informal recall” and temporary fix for what it described as a “potentially lethal fault” where the centre-rear seatbelt could fail and unfasten itself if the car turned or changed lanes at high speed.
The organisation estimates that Volkswagen Group (VWG) has sold around 55,000 cars with the problem since being made aware of it a few months ago.
The temporary fix involved the use of cable ties to secure the faulty seatbelt – a solution which the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) rejected. VW still advised drivers not to use the centre-rear seat even with the temporary fix.
Which? has been contacted by Polo owners who said they were only notified of the fault four week after purchasing the car after receiving a letter from VW.
A permanent solution is now being rolled out, but Which? managing director of home products and services Alex Neill described VW’s handling of the issue as being “completely unsatisfactory” and called for DVSA to investigate.
In a statement, a VWG spokesperson said “Volkswagen Group’s top priority is its customers’ safety,” and said both VW and Seat are taking “a number of steps to ensure their customers’ safety in the context of the seatbelt issue”.
The company says it has written to all registered keepers of the affect vehicles to inform them of the fault, provided them with dashboard stickers to shown the rear-centre seatbelt must not be used and informed them when they came to the dealer to receive the temporary cable tie fix that the issue was still present and that the dashboard sticker was necessary.
It added that its communication with the DVSA over the issue had been “open, regular and transparent”.
Volkswagen and SEAT continue to sell cars with seatbelt fault
The issue was identified in May and affects 2018 examples of the VW Polo, SEAT Ibiza and SEAT Arona. If three people are in the rear seats of either car, during a high-speed lane change the middle socket seatbelt socket can push down on the rear-left seatbelt socket’s release button, unlatching the seatbelt.
But affected cars are still being sold to customers with a temporary fix in place, rather than a permanent one. The temporary patch involves simply securing the central and back-left seatbelts together, changing their heights relative to each other, and minimising the chances of the buckle being inadvertently released.
A permanent fix involving a redesigned seatbelt lock has been designed, but is not due to be rolled out until November, and cars are still being sold with the temporary patch in place. New customers are asked to sign a disclaimer when buying the affected cars, warning them not to carry three rear passengers, and are also provided with a warning sticker for their cars.
A joint statement by VW and SEAT said the two companies “have confirmed a technical issue on the new Polo, Ibiza and Arona (model year 2018)”. Because of this, “the brands advise their customers not to use the middle seat of affected vehicles until they are equipped with the redesigned belt lock fixture.”
VW and SEAT have stressed the circumstances in which the rear seatbelt could unlatch represented an “extremely low risk” which could occur during “exceptionally specific and rare driving conditions.”
They also emphasised that safety remains a “top priority”, and that “the Volkswagen Polo, SEAT Ibiza and SEAT Arona are legally homologated and safe to drive.
When the issue was discovered, Caroline Hicks from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), the government organisation responsible for administering recalls, said the DVSA was “is in discussion with VW Group over the seatbelt defect and a full recall will be made when a suitable fix is agreed.”
Road testers from Finish auto magazine Tekniikan Maailma first noticed the issue when group testing the Arona SUV, and subsequently replicated it in the SEAT Ibiza and VW Polo, all of which are based on MQB A0 Volkswagen Group architecture and are fitted with seatbelts made by Takata.
Tekniikan Maailma was unable to replicate the fault in the VW T-Roc, which has a similar rear buckle arrangement, but features seatbelts made by a different company. As a result of this, the magazine concluded: “The reason for unlatching is a combination of buckle layout and too sensitive release buttons in the buckles manufactured by Takata.”
Having investigated the issue, SEAT later admitted the Finnish publication was right. A company statement at the time read: “SEAT has confirmed a technical issue on the new Ibiza (2017 and 2018 models) and Arona (2018 model year): there is the possibility that in rare situations (e.g. sudden quick lane changes with five passengers on board) and when the rear center seat and the rear left seat are occupied at the same time, the left seat belt could be unintentionally released.
“At SEAT safety remains a main priority and the brand has already identified a technical solution which will prevent this from happening.”
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