My grandchildren won’t be going places in this Toyota Rav 4. The reason? Two of the three rear seatbelts have failed. So naturally, I’m lacking confidence in the remaining one.Two of the three rear seatbelts have failed. So naturally, I'm lacking confidence in the remaining one. Click To Tweet
Pictures Don’t Lie
I bought my 2015 Rav 4 brand new in December of 2015 – the end of the model year. In the fall of 2017 (car not yet 2 years old,) I noticed the severed middle seatbelt – detached from its anchor on the ceiling – laying on the rear seat. Clearly, something had been sawing on it. See for yourself.
The picture on the left shows the piece found laying on the seat. It shows two points where the “sawing” took place. One partially through the belt and the other completely sawed through. The picture on the right is what was left at the ceiling anchor. It shows another point of sawing through the belt.
Honestly, I didn’t suspect a systemic issue with the seatbelts at first. I didn’t look at it closely and figured a broken seatbelt was nothing more than my bad luck. And life is busy. It wasn’t until 5 months later, when I noticed a second rear seatbelt in the process of being sawed in half, that I began to suspect this was more than my bad luck. Here are pictures of that belt.
This is the rear driver’s side seatbelt. It’s been sawn about a third of the way through. And here’s what’s interesting about these pics. When the seatbelt material frays, it creates thick, fluffy ends both above the pinch point you can see and below where you can’t. This thickness essentially locks the buckle in place so the buckle cannot slide up or down. Therefore, the obvious place the sawing takes place is at the pinch point within the buckle itself.
When I examined the first seatbelt that failed, I discovered it failed at exactly the same place – where it would be in use at the pinch point inside the buckle.
My Experience Trying To Tell Toyota There’s A Problem
Of course, none of us buy our Toyota vehicles from corporate headquarters. We buy them from local, privately-owned dealerships. My local dealership is Oxmore Toyota in Louisville, KY. So that’s where I went with my seatbelt failure problem and my suspicion the buckle was the cause.
A service tech listened to my story (and suggested perhaps a dog was eating through the belts in straight lines) and took pictures. He promised to forward them to his Service Manager who would, in turn, contact Toyota. Then they’d get back to me.
Four days later I received a call from the Service Manager at Oxmore Toyota. He told me Toyota declined to fix my seatbelts which would cost $300 each. Furthermore, he told me “it’s not possible for this to happen” because he’s never seen it happen in all his years in the car business.
Well, Mr. Service Manager at Oxmore Toyota, there’s a first time for everything. No one had ever seen airbags spew shrapnel either. Until they did.
I can think of two scenarios that might make it possible for the buckle to be the culprit. Either the molding process of the plastic has created a burr inside the buckle or the seatbelt material is defective. Perhaps the laboratory resources of Toyota could identify others. If they were willing to look.
The Big Picture Here
I understand large automobile manufacturers get twitchy when advised of potential defects. Why admit there’s a problem that could possibly initiate an expensive recall when you don’t have to? Yet, anyway. Maybe people have to die first. I don’t know.
But I think local dealerships (who positively badger their customers for glowing survey evaluations when a sale is made) share some ethical responsibility when they discover a customer has a serious safety issue. In light of compelling evidence to the contrary, “it’s not possible for this to happen” is neither a logical nor responsible response.In light of compelling evidence to the contrary, “it’s not possible for this to happen” is neither a logical nor responsible response. Click To Tweet
Oxmore Toyota of Louisville, as well as your local Toyota dealership, should think about taking the bold step of standing behind their product even when corporate won’t. Now that would build customer loyalty. It wouldn’t cost much if they believe the failure is truly a fluke and not a widespread problem. And, of course, customer reviews on social media outlets might have a more positive message to convey.
As it stands, neither Toyota nor Oxmore Toyota of Louisville is willing to acknowledge there’s a safety problem. It’s “impossible.” So I’d like to ask them:
Which one of these sweet grandchildren do you suggest I strap into the remaining rear seatbelt in my Rav4?
Parents, check the rear seatbelts of your Toyota vehicles. As for these children, they won’t be going places in this Toyota.
UPDATE: Three months after I posted this, we decided to sell the vehicle. Had to fix those belts first though. After the Oxmoor service dept. ordered the wrong parts – twice – the dealership manager got involved and sent my photos to Toyota. Toyota finally agreed to replace the belts at no charge.
We sold the Rav4 and bought a new Ford F150.