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Saga of the Unsafe Seatbelt – Part 1

Posted January 24, 2011 8:00 AM by WadeAbbott

For at least the past two years, my wife and I risked our lives. Every time one of us sat in the driver's seat of our 2006 Saturn Relay, we trusted the seat belt. It's a trust that's been shattered. Unfortunately, General Motors hasn't done anything to rebuild our confidence in their product.

On Monday, Oct. 11th, my wife was traveling in the minivan with her sister and our two boys to an orchard for a day of apple picking. While driving, she heard a "click" and felt her seat belt loosen. Initially, she thought it had come unlatched. Instead, she was stunned to find the entire anchor plate had popped out from under her seat. She went from feeling securely protected by airbags and a taut seat belt to feeling intense unease.

She was uneasy. After receiving a phone call from her, I was downright paranoid. Why? Well, my wife and I were in a nasty car accident during the summer of 2006. The accident broke her back, which fortunately healed well. I was bruised and in shock. Our first son, then an infant, was thoroughly protected in his car seat. Ultimately, our 2004 Saturn VUE was totaled. But it saved our lives. It made me a big believer in the life-saving capability of working seat belts. At the same time, losing my wife or kids in a car accident became my worst fear.

So, when it came time to purchase a new vehicle, we bought our Relay. It had improved protection: side impact airbags, reduced-force front airbags, and electronic stability control. We bought it primarily for its safety features. I thought I had done enough research. I thought I could rely on the Saturn brand. I invested in the vehicle because I was a loyal Saturn owner. For example, I still drive a 1996 Saturn SL2. It's still going strong with over 193,000 miles on the odometer.

The Saturn Relay was the most expensive vehicle I ever purchased. It became my worst investment.

Since then we've had numerous problems. After reading a number of posts on Edmunds.com, I gather that other Relay owners share my experiences. Incidentally, the Relay is the same vehicle sold as a Chevrolet Uplander, a Buick Terraza or a Pontiac Montana SV6. Here's my list of complaints:

  • Our Relay was in the shop three times to fix a leak that caused a wiring connector to short out. That, in turn, caused the vehicle to stall periodically.
  • There have been numerous electrical annoyances including flickering headlights and warning messages that appear/disappear at random.
  • The automatic sliding doors periodically refuse to close. On other occasions they close, but a warning message and chime indicate the door is not secure after we start driving.
  • A few months ago I was using the cruise control, and the vehicle started to rev oddly. It automatically kicked the vehicle out of cruise control.

But nothing was more egregious than the seat belt problem. Fortunately, my brother-in-law was available to help my wife. He diagnosed the problem, took some pictures, and bolted the seat belt bracket into its proper place.

It appears that the seat belt anchor bracket and seat itself share a bolt. In this case, the bolt was not threaded through the anchor bracket, only through the seat bracket. The only thing securing the seat belt was the force of the seat weighing down on the anchor bracket.

My guess is that in a serious accident, perhaps even in a minor one, the anchor bracket would have worked loose. I can just envision it whipping around the passenger cabin. I don't want to think about what would happen to the driver, most likely my wife, without the protection of a seat belt.

Editor's Note: Read more in Part 2 of this three-part series tomorrow on CR4.

Photo courtesy of Hans Drews, used with permission.

This post is a consolidation of various posts found on the author's personal blog at thisordinarycitizen.wordpress.com. The author is grateful to CR4 for graciously providing the opportunity to share this story on their website.

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#1

Re: Saga of the Unsafe Seatbelt – Part 1

01/24/2011 11:20 PM

i am not joking. sue them.

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#3
In reply to #1

Re: Saga of the Unsafe Seatbelt – Part 1

01/25/2011 12:43 AM

Suing will be of no value. There appear to be no quantifiable damages to the OP.

Still the OP's experience is really inexcusable. Small wonder GM had to be put through a ringer to be straightened out as a car maker.

But really you and everybody else have to ask themselves if they really need all these "Gee Whiz" gadgets in their automobiles and the reliability problems that all the complexity produces.

The fundamental purpose of a car is to get you from point A to point B reliably and not leave you sitting by the side of the road. It's nice if this is accomplished in a reasonable amount of time and without unnecessary physical discomfort.

When I was a kid in the 1950's the 1936-51 V-8 Flathead Fords I owned did just that, got 20-25 mpg at 50-55 mph and were comfortable in winter and summer even without air conditioning because of the ventilation windows were designed for optimum airflow for warming and cooling the driver and passengers in all weather. (Still the windshield defrosting system needed improvement that came later with the switch to 12 volt electrical systems).

When Ford introduced seat belts as an option in 1956 the auto parts stores were soon to stock them for aftermarket installation in all cars. In 1957 I installed them in my old Ford and did the same in the next three flathead Fords I drove. I always used them because all the drag racers knew that they worked. It was easy to do. You simply drilled four 1/2" diameter holes in the right places through the steel floor pan and bolted the belt mounts in place with large diameter washers on the bottom side. The diameter and thickness of the washers (around 3") was large enough that the breaking strength of the belt was not enough load to shear the floor pan metal at factory thickness. Simple?

13 years I got around just fine in these old Fords without a moving violation or serious accident (There was a badly wrinkled front fender on the 48 from hitting a badly placed utility pole in the entrance to an unfamiliar gas station in a whiteout snow storm. Hence my comment about defrosters. Also a loud muffler ticket on the 36). I courted one young lady and lost her. Courted another and we're still married 50 years later. My cars were never a problem. Matter of fact they had some advantages that present day automobiles lacked. Won a few drag races, some legal others not. Lost even more. Typical teenager stuff. I seemed to be able to get down the road without running into things and with two exceptions due to imprudent overloading of the fragile Ford flathead drive trains generally not needing to get home "on the hook".

Why are automobiles such a problem today? What has changed? ( know why, but I like rhetorical questions.)

Ed Weldon

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#8
In reply to #3

Re: Saga of the Unsafe Seatbelt – Part 1

01/25/2011 9:18 PM

Ed & guds777... I certainly don't have much basis to sue GM (or the former local dealership) since nobody was hurt. And I'm not much for lawsuits anyway. That being said, a lawsuit would've been much more likely had the seatbelt failed in an accident. (And I think that it wouldn't have taken much for it to fail.) And Ed, I love your comment that a car should get you from "point A to point B reliably." That's why I love my '96 Saturn SL2. Nothing fancy about that car, but I can certainly rely on it. It starts, even in frigid cold, and it plods along just fine. Wish I could say the same thing about the '06.

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#10
In reply to #8

Re: Saga of the Unsafe Seatbelt – Part 1

01/25/2011 9:47 PM

Thanks, Wade. ............. Ed Weldon

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#2

Re: Saga of the Unsafe Seatbelt – Part 1

01/25/2011 12:00 AM

You are probably the only person on the universe buying Saturn.

Loyal customer to Saturn 8)

It's a fricking Saturn! HELLO ... No quality piece of junk Made in the U.S. of A.

YOU should be sued, not them!

From now on, no more Saturn dissatisfied loyal customer post allowed on CR4.

I said here and it will be done.

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#6
In reply to #2

Re: Saga of the Unsafe Seatbelt – Part 1

01/25/2011 9:23 AM

Lots of people have bought Saturn's. I you had read it properly it was a 2006 model.

Yes it has a design flaw and now that GM has dumped the line they do not care. They should if they want to improve their sorry image.

All manufacturers of cars have and will have its problems.

At present Honda and Toyota have more recalls than the big three. The German manufactures are also having quality problems.

What you said about the OP was unfounded.

Guest posters, who slag real posters should not be allowed on CR4.

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#9
In reply to #6

Re: Saga of the Unsafe Seatbelt – Part 1

01/25/2011 9:23 PM

Icarus... wholeheartedly agree. Seems like GM doesn't want to have anything more to do with their former Saturn line. I'd say that they missed an opportunity here. It just baffles me.

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#4

Re: Saga of the Unsafe Seatbelt – Part 1

01/25/2011 6:32 AM

From looking at the picture and seeing the wear on your seatbelt bracket it certainly looks like it was installed correctly at some point. There is a wear pattern in a perfect circle around the bolt hole which leads to me to this conclusion. I wonder if maybe the service shop had your seat out looking at your problem wiring and put it back together wrong. Totally inexcuseable either way but perhaps its only been that way a short time and not the entire life of the car and is more a reflection of the service shop then of Saturns manufacturing. I'm glad that it was not discovered when you needed it a most.

Shawn

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: Saga of the Unsafe Seatbelt – Part 1

01/25/2011 8:49 AM

1. As it was mentioned in the post I'm responding to, it seems that the thing might have been installed correctly at one point.

2. You (OP) mentioned in the followup to this blog entry that there is a recall on Chevrolet seat belt mountings. Perhaps there is some pattern, perhaps not. I would be careful assuming that this is the case until you develop hard evidence that is the case.

3. I would see who owns the assets of the defunct Saturn dealership you had the work done at, if possible. Records may exist somewhere indicating what was done. Investigate.

4. This has nothing to do with the issue, but most of the Saturns I have seen are POS.

Hope you get something worked out to resolve the issue one way or another.

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#11
In reply to #5

Re: Saga of the Unsafe Seatbelt – Part 1

01/25/2011 9:59 PM

Shawn and CrimeCrusher... You guys are right on the mark. I think it was the dealership's fault that the seat belt bracket was improperly installed (based on the wear marks). I would have gone back to the dealership, but it was gone by then. (I might have to take CC's advice and try to find out where those repair records ended up.) Thanks for the comments!

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#7

Re: Saga of the Unsafe Seatbelt – Part 1

01/25/2011 11:28 AM

My sister and law was driving and my brother was in the passenger seat. They took a curve a little fast and my sister in law applied the brakes. The brakes had been serviced by Walmarts automotive within that very same week. The brakes locked up on them and caused the car to roll. My brothers seat belt worked but my sister in laws failed and it stretched like a plastic bag. It broke her back and is paralized from the waist down. My brother got out of the car with no injuries.

The car was a Subaru GL Stationwagon.

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#12
In reply to #7

Re: Saga of the Unsafe Seatbelt – Part 1

01/25/2011 10:11 PM

Wow, I can't imagine how difficult that is for your brother and sister-in-law. It's truly scary to read about a seat belt failure like that. Has Subaru said anything about the reason for the failure?

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#13
In reply to #12

Re: Saga of the Unsafe Seatbelt – Part 1

01/26/2011 11:10 AM

They won an out of court lawsuit settlement from it. Subaru carried the full weight of it, even though the cause of the accident was a break failure by Walmart's service technician, the courts excused them.

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Users who posted comments:

Anonymous Poster (1); CrimeCrusher (1); Ed Weldon (2); guds777 (1); Icarus (1); Janissaries (2); Shawn33 (1); WadeAbbott (4)

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