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Civic seat belts grab and won't let go

The rear seat belts in my wife’s 2001 Civic EX are annoying, but I don’t know if this is abnormal, and can be fixed, or just something we have to live with. Basically, the seat belts frequently grab you and won’t let go, so you can’t lean forward, for instance. You have to unlatch them and start over.

When I test the belts without latching them, I pull them out a long way and let them retract over and over, and then at some point they grab and I can’t pull them out again without letting them retract all the way back to the beginning. I can hear that the ratchet is engaged when this is happening.

During the time when they do pull out and retract with no problem, if I give a sharp tug, they grab, like they’re designed to do, and then let go.

Anyone know if this is “normal”, or, if not, anything I can do about it?


I had the exact same experience recently when my neighbor (and friend) gave me a ride in his new Civic. Apparently that’s the way Honda’s supplier makes them.

On most cars when you pull a passenger seat belt out all the way it goes into “child seat mode”. It becomes a one way mechanism to hold a child seat and give no free travel. Allowing the seat belt to fully retract will return it to normal.

I had a similar problem w/my VW Rabbit from the 70’s. To fix it, I had to take apart the inertia detection mechanism in the retractor. I discovered a spring over time had become too loose, so I shortened it, increasing it’s springyness, and that fixed the problem. If this is the reason for your problem, you may be required by law to replace the retractor mechanism rather than repair it.

The way it works by the way – at least on that VW – if you are interested, is like this: Imagine if you tied a key to a string, then hung the string from your rear view mirror. While driving around normally, the key would more or less hang straight down. It might swing to and fro slightly, but more or less it would hang straight down. But if you hit the brakes really hard, or ran into something, the momentum of the key would cause it to swing forward and hit the windshield. Right? That’s the effect VW used to cause the seatbelt to lock up in an accident, but behave itself under normal driving conditions.

Best of luck, I expect this should prove easy to fix.

Most seatbelt retractors have an inertia device to lock the belt when it senses sudden deceleration. It’s been a mainstay in cars for decades. The ‘child seat mode’ is also standard for most seatbelt retractors other than the driver’s seatbelt. My '88 Toyota has the back seats in a permanent ‘child seat mode’. My 2000 Explorer has the center belt in back in a permanent ‘child seat mode’, but the outer back belts and the front passenger belt need to be pulled all the way out to set the ‘child seat mode’. Letting them retract all the way resets them to normal (loose) operation.

@PhilaCarBoy for what it’s worth I wouldn’t attempt any repairs/modifications because your car might have an ETR electronic tensioning retractor built into the inertia reel mechanism
They aren’t meant to be messed around with
They either work and you don’t mess with them . . .
Or they don’t work and you replace them

When my 2001 Honda civic Ex Coupe did that a couple years ago, i got a letter JUST as the problem began. It was a free fix at the honda dealer, the belt keeps the Supplemental Restraint light on as well right? At anyrate, i bet you can look up the TSB or recall in ALLDATA like i did , and confirm its a free fix at the dealer.

@PhilaCarBoy Slade had a great idea

Why don’t you just call or visit the dealer and ask if they’ll fix your problem for free?

I agree with Slade.
When I owned my 2002 Accord, there was a recall related to the lock-up mechanism on the rear shoulder harness retractors. The mechanism is likely to be similar–if not identical–on a Civic of the same era.

The OP should phone the service department of a Honda dealership, give them the VIN, and ask if there are any open recalls on that car. Recalls do not expire, and there may be a free fix.

I vaguely recall that Honda will repair seat belts even when the rest of the warranty is up. As others have said, check in with the dealer first.

Honda seat belts have a life time warranty on internal failure, meaning if they break, they are free, but if something external has damaged them, no warranty. The dealer can show you how they work, maybe you are engaging the locking mechanism by pulling them out too far, all Honda belts have this feature for child seats. If not, and they can duplicate your complaint, they will be free. A good, competent service adviser should be able to answer all your questions.

Folks, based on my personal experience, the OP’s wife’s seatbelts are not broken. That’s the way the Civiic belts work.

With every movement, they get a tiny bit tighter, until they completely restrict movement. It drove me nuts in my neighbor’s car.