Volkswagen is set to issue a recall of around 75,000 cars after it was revealed that it had been fixing ‘potentially lethal’ seatbelt faults with plastic cable ties.
Consumer group Which? said owners of affected VW Polo, Seat Arona and Ibiza models had notified it of the ‘interim’ remedy installed as part of an informal recall to prevent rear seatbelts from unbuckling themselves, which could jeopardise the safety of passengers, usually children, sat in the second row.
Volkswagen had contacted owners of around 12,000 registered keepers of at-risk models when the issue was brought to light in May, but has since sold another 55,000 vehicles with the same problem to new customers.
No seatbelt-fault solution: It has been revealed that VW models – including the Polo pictured – recalled for a seatbelt issue were temporarily fixed with plastic cable tie – though they still didn’t prevent belts from unbuckling themselves
Finnish motoring magazine Tekniikan Maailma found that seatbelts in the second row could become unbuckled if there were three passengers in the back
Finnish motoring magazine Tekniikan Maailma originally identified the issue while road testing the three VW Group models earlier this year.
It found that the left rear buckle in the three could release when the car was travelling with three in the back and there were sudden changes of direction.
A VW spokesman said at the time that it had been notified of the problem and it would ‘provide a technical solution’ and ‘recall the vehicles concerned’.
However, a Which? investigation found that this technical solution wasn’t up to standard.
The ‘informal recall’ issued by the car maker involved the use of cable ties to secure the faulty seatbelt – a solution that was originally rejected by the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency).
VW initially advised drivers not to use the centre-rear seat, and continue to reiterate that warning even for those with vehicles that had been recalled.
In letters sent to owners, the car maker stated: ‘Please note that this campaign is only an interim solution and cannot guarantee safety on a permanent basis.
The Seat Arona – a compact family SUV – is one of the three models affected by the seatbelt issue
The third impacted car is the Seat Ibiza, which is very similar mechanically to the VW Polo
‘We would therefore ask you to refrain from using the rear middle seat until the new (permanent) campaign 69X5 has been carried out.’
That means owners of these three popular vehicles haven’t been able to carry three second-row passengers for the last six months.
Supplying a warning sticker is a startlingly inadequate response to a fault which is putting lives at risk.
Which? has been contacted by Polo owners who said they were only notified of the fault four week after purchasing the car after receiving a letter from VW.
A permanent solution has been promised to be rolled out by the German car-making giant, but Which? managing director of home products and services Alex Neill described VW’s actions as ‘completely unsatisfactory’ and called on the DVSA to investigate and issue a more binding safety recall.
The company says it has written to owners of affected VW Polos, Seat Aronas and Ibizas to warn them of the problem and provided them with dashboard stickers to shown the rear-centre seatbelt must not be used.
The ‘informal recall’ issued by the car maker involved the use of cable ties like these to secure the faulty seatbelt – a solution that was originally rejected by the DVSA
‘It’s shocking that VW and Seat are selling thousands of cars that they know have a serious safety issue but don’t yet have a proper fix for,’ Neill commented earlier this year.
‘Volkswagen Group should not be selling these potentially dangerous vehicles at all.
‘Supplying a warning sticker is a startlingly inadequate response to a fault which is putting lives at risk.
‘It’s another example of how the current car recall system is failing to protect people.
‘The DVSA must be given the powers it needs to hold manufacturers to account.’
In a statement, a VWG spokesperson told the BBC: ‘These specific communications – both of the issue and the relevant steps to take – with all of our affected customers were felt to be more effective than a statement on a website..
‘Given the limited circumstances in which the seatbelt can (in the test conditions) come unbuckled, and the employment of the interim fix and further still the specific warnings provided to users, there is no materially increased risk. It is on that basis that sales continued.’
Which? estimated that around 1,500 of the 75,000 affected models will never be fixed ‘as a direct result of VW continuing to sell cars that have to be recalled at a later point.’
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