Car Care: Belt up and listen here
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Cars hitting the market now are packed full of advanced safety systems designed to protect everyone in the car, but some motorists aren’t even using the most basic of safety features available in nearly every car on the road — seatbelts.
Statistics published in the winter edition of AA Directions highlighted that, of the 242 vehicle occupants who died as a result of a car crash in 2016, 100 of them (42 per cent) were not wearing seatbelts.
While airbags cushion upon impact and head restraints support the neck, seatbelts keep you from being thrown from a vehicle into harmful objects, contorting your body into damaging positions.
And for them to be able to do the job that they’re designed to do, they need to be kept in good condition.
This is why they’re a fundamental part of your vehicle’s Warrant of Fitness.
With any vehicle manufactured after 2000 now only requiring an annual WoF inspection, more emphasis is placed upon the owner to ensure they’re running due diligence checks on their vehicle as part of their regular maintenance cycle.
So, while your mechanic or technician should check your safety devices and systems at least once per year, don’t wait to get your car checked by a professional if there are signs that your belts, or any other safety systems, are in need of repair.
One of the main things to look out for is the webbing of the belt fabric. The belts’ webbing is elasticated which allows it to “give” during a crash to better cushion the passenger.
The materials used to make seatbelts are more durable and resistant to our harsh ultraviolet rays now, but if this webbing is cut, torn, frayed or stretched, the belts in your car are less likely to work when required.
Signs of damage will count towards a WoF failure so, if you carry pets in the backseat, it’s worth checking they’ve not compromised your seatbelt’s safety by chewing the belts.
Similarly, if you need to wash down the car’s cabin, make sure that the belts don’t come in to contact with bleach or any other solvent or chemical-based liquids. Use gentle, water-based cleaners instead.
Another fundamental element of a seatbelt is the pre-tensioner which removes slack from a safety belt before it is loaded with the force of your weight during a crash.
The force on seatbelts in a collision can be up to as much as 20 times that of a passenger’s weight — this is how hard you’d hit the inside of your vehicle without restraint.
Speak to your technician or garage when you’re getting your regular service and they will check the tension and advise whether it’s in line with safety standards.
Adaptive restraints and adjustable straps allow the seatbelts to operate efficiently, depending on the height of the passenger, and this also covers capsule restraints which are designed to support baby carriers. Keep an eye on your straps to make sure they can be adjusted and travel easily.
If you’re having baby carrier belts fitted, make sure this is done by a specialist.
Inflatable seatbelts, introduced in 2010, aren’t yet commonplace but they are emerging in new car models coming through to New Zealand.
The airbag-loaded belts are designed to help spread the crash force over the human body and minimise injuries to the head, neck and chest.
We recommend that if your car is fitted with these kinds of advanced safety systems you get these regularly checked by your vehicle dealership. A faulty seatbelt can be just as dangerous as not wearing one at all.
If your belt is frayed or the buckle isn’t working, the only option is to buy a new replacement from your vehicle repairer, rather than trying to fix it.