Thousands of owners of recent Volkswagen and Seat models are currently driving their cars with a known seatbelt fault that could be dangerous for passengers sitting in the back.
Last year, the VW Group was forced to recall more than 76,000 vehicles after an investigation found that a rear seatbelt could unbuckle itself in some scenarios – affecting the Volkswagen Polo and Seat Ibiza and Arona.
More than a year and a half after the issue was identified, a new investigation has revealed that there are 6,600 of these faults cars on the road – some of which are being sold second-hand without any mention of there being a potentially life-threatening problem.
Not a total recall: VW still hasn’t repaired over 6,000 cars that have a seatbelt issue that poses a potential safety risk. A report found last May that the left rear buckle can release when the car was travelling with three in the back and there were sudden changes of direction
The problem with the rear seatbelts in these three models was first reported back in May 2018.
Finnish motoring magazine Tekniikan Maailma originally identified the issue while road testing the cars earlier that 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’.
Volkswagen had contacted owners of around 12,000 registered keepers of at-risk models when the issue was brought to light 19 months ago.
However, it then sold another 55,000 vehicles with the same problem to new customers in the UK without the issue being rectified.
At the time, Which? criticised VW’s decision to continue selling cars with a known seatbelt fault as it meant more cars could be left unfixed as a result.
It said that if the German automotive giant had stopped selling these cars after the fault was discovered, only 20,000 would needed to have been recalled, significantly reducing the number of faulty cars that were on the road.
The issue hit headlines again in November 2018 when VW was found to be conducting ‘informal recalls’ of some of the models, providing a temporary solution using plastic cable ties to secure the faulty seatbelt.
However, this solution had already originally been rejected by the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) as not up to standard.
The issue impacts 76,484 VW Group cars, of which 6,612 are known to have not been repaired. One of the models affected is the VW Polo supermini (pictured)
Knowing that the issue existing, VW in 2018 sold around 55,000 new cars with the problem not having been resolved
In November, safety groups blasted the German car maker for conducting temporary repairs using plastic zip ties (like those pictured)
The UK consumer campaigning group has since performed a follow-up investigation and found that just 91.4 per cent of affected VW and Seat models have had the issue remedied.
Just over nine in ten impacted cars have sufficiently fixed, meaning there are 6,612 with the problem still unresolved.
The DVSA has previously stated that safety recalls it issues on cars results in 98 per cent of them being fixed.
The remaining 2 per cent are outliers due to owners being difficult to contact due to the vehicle being sold on repeatedly, or the car in question already being written off.
If VW manages to match this recall success rate it would mean that 1,529 of the 76,484 impacted cars could still be in use.
Natalie Hitchins from Which? branded VW’s handling of the seatbelt recall as ‘appalling’ and the decision to not suspend sales had ‘put substantially more people at risk’.
She added: ‘While most of the affected cars have since been successfully recalled, there are still thousands of vehicles on the road with a potentially dangerous fault that need to be fixed.
‘Worryingly, these could be resold to new owners with no declaration that the car has been recalled for a safety issue.’
Three models of VW Group cars are affected by the problem. This includes the Seat Ibiza (pictured), which is the sister car to the VW Polo
The Seat Arona compact SUV (pictured) is the third model in the list that has been found to have the rear seatbelt fault
And Which? has found a handful of examples for sale on the second-hand market, with no upfront information in private adverts that they have an outstanding recall.
For motor dealers, it’s illegal for them to sell any car with an outstanding safety recall notice, which needs to be fixed before a new owner is found.
‘When buying a used car, we’d always advise customers to use the DVSA recall tool to check whether it has any outstanding recalls – and don’t hand over any money until it’s been fixed,’ Hitchins explained.
Volkswagen has responded to Which?’s latest investigation.
A spokesperson on behalf of the brand said: ‘Affected cars are relatively new and within warranty period. Therefore, customers will bring these cars into official Volkswagen/Seat Retailers for a service (it would be highly unusual for them not to).’
Adding: ‘We make every effort to encourage customers to have a recall carried out at their earliest convenience. Furthermore, any cars that are serviced or sold in our network are checked and if necessary rectified for any outstanding recalls or technical updates.’
VW also said that if incorrect details are registered at the DVLA, then the notification letter will not be delivered.
That the completion rate will continue to rise to closer to the DVSA’s average completion rate over the coming months, and that some customers may be waiting for their next service to get the fix, rather than bring in their car especially – for example, if they don’t use the rear seats.
VW Group also confirmed there have been no recorded incidents in relation to this fault, either in the UK or globally.
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