Volkswagen and SEAT continue to sell cars with seatbelt fault

Polo and Ibiza superminis, plus Arona SUV still in showrooms with temporary fix on rear seatbelt buckle fault

SEAT and Volkswagen are continuing to sell cars with a potentially dangerous seatbelt fault, despite a recall being in place.

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.

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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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