2001 Camry seat belts locking at wrong times, occasionally

This is an issue for which I have attempted to call the show, but alas, have not yet been able to get through:

Four or five years ago, our 2001 Toyota Camry (and my wife and I) had the misfortune of being in a T-bone accident when someone unexpectedly pulled a left turn in front of us and gave us no time to stop. We had the car front-end repaired at a collision repair center, and we were good to go, I thought. As I drove away, I noticed the newly replaced seat belts seemed to “lock” in place at times. They did lock at a sudden stop, as expected, but when entering the car and attempting to put on the seat belts, they would sometimes lock and release, causing me a repeated tug-of-war as I attempted to get enough slack to fasten the belt. This occured on both the driver and passenger front belts.

Needless to say, I returned the car to the shop, and they cheerfully replaced the belts a second time. When I picked up the car, I first tested the belts, which seemed to perform flawlessly, so I drove home. My joy was short-lived, however, because on the way home, the locking problem returned. I returned to the collision repair shop yet again, and they replaced the belts a third time. The shop foreman personally tested the belts to make sure they worked, and he watched as I did the same. However, yet again, on the way home, the belts would lock unexpectedly.

Through much experimentation, I finally realized that if the car was facing any degree of a downward angle, I could pull the belts very easily and smoothly, yet they locked if I jerked the belts hard. This was as expected. If the car was level or facing an upward angle, however, pulling smoothly on the belt would result in them locking.

This seemed very odd to me, and I mentioned it to the collision foreman. He immediately called Toyota to ask about it, and they had never heard of such a symptom.

So, for the past five years, I have been enduring the craziness of getting in my car and doing a repeated pull “negotiation” with the seat belt. I have also noticed that when I begin driving forward, if I will apply the brakes gently, both myself and any passenger can then easily pull the belts and fasten them while the gradual braking is occuring. It doesn’t seem to be a safety issue because they do lock on a sudden hard stop, but it is counter-intuitive to me that a gradual braking allows the belts to move freely.

Is it possible they could have installed the belts upside down or backwards, or something?
Does anyone out there have any experience with this, or any ideas or suggestions?

I think this is “show-worthy”, but can never seem to get a call to go through.

Any ideas would be welcome.

-AllThumbs in Georgia-

Don’t even try to call the radio show. You have a better chance with a lottery. The prize is a lot better too. The seat belts can’t be in… Oops! I think they can be installed on the wrong side unless they’re identical units. Maybe swapping them will be the last resort. We hope it’s the last resort anyway.