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DIY: Do It Yourself
Post here to share or improve your wrench turning skills! All BMW E46 DIY tips, tales, and projects discussed inside. Learn to work on your car and know the right BMW parts you will need!

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Old 03-19-2011, 06:17 PM   #1
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Join Date: May 2010
Location: New Zealand
Posts: 27
My Ride: 2002 M3
Seat Belt Tension, Slow to Retract, Sticking....A possible fix!!

So your seat belt seems to be retracting very slowly. You have looked on the forums for a solution. There’s talk about getting a new belt which is only sold as an entire mechanism. No one seems to know if you can tighten the tension in the retractor. And there’s often confusion about the explosive tensioner (where the belt clicks in) and the retractor (the spring loaded belt winder).

I came across a few discussions about the belt itself being dirty and providing friction as it travels over and through the guides. One guy took his to the dealer and the service report mentioned cleaning the belt. He seemed to be happy with it. And other have also hinted at dirty belts.

I have an E46 M3 with the belt guides built into the headrest. My driver’s side belt would hardly retract when I got out of the car and had to be hand fed in order to get it to retract. I took the back off the seat to see if it was rubbing on anything but it seemed fine. In fact the tension on the retractor was pretty good. Running my fingers over the underside of the belt it became obvious that it was almost sticky in places, especially the where is runs over your shoulder.

So I decided to give cleaning a go. And it had a great result. It now retracts by itself. It doesn’t exact fly back but it is a significant improvement. So here is what I did:
You will need: boiling hot water, a pot, laundry detergent (powder), some dry towels, clamp or vice grip, a stick or something to stir, and a box about ¾ the height of the seat back.

1) There is no need to disassemble anything. I pulled the back off my seat to check for rubbing but this is not necessary.
2) Check the mechanism is working fine by checking the tension on the belt before it runs over and through the guides. Both sides felt pretty good and retracted easily.
3) Boil a jug (kettle) of hot water.
4) Use a clamp or vice grip to hold the belt fully extended beyond the guides. This stops the belt retracting while working on it.
5) Put 1 teaspoon of laundry detergent in the pot and fill ¾ will boiling water.
6) Position the box on the seat and make sure it won’t fall over. I used some rags to pack it against the seat.
7) Place the pot with boiling laundry solution on the box.
8) ‘Feed’ as much of the belt as you can into the hot solution.
9) Let it soak for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.
10) Pull the belt out and feed through dry towel to soak up the water. You will notice how much grime ends up on the towels.
11) Repeat the soaking 2 or 3 times with clean solution.
12) Finally soak in fresh hot water only (no detergent) for a while and dry.
13) Hang the belt over the sun visor to dry.
I was amazed at the colour of the solution each time I soaked it. Obviously lots of grease, dirt, perspiration and oil in the belt. No wonder there was so much friction.

Anyway, it made a huge difference for me. This may not fix everyones problem though but I hope it works for you guys too.

Pictures attached below (vice grip on belt, box and pot, colour of solution, testing tension on retractor).

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Old 03-19-2011, 07:00 PM   #2
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Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Portlandia
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My Ride: 2004 330ci ZHP
Nice write up. My passenger side has the problem. Man that water looks gross.
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Old 03-19-2011, 08:55 PM   #3
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Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: CT
Posts: 2,132
My Ride: 2001 325i
Good idea ... thanks for posting. Mine has been becoming more sluggish, this cleanup is doable!
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Old 03-19-2011, 09:36 PM   #4
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Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: South Australia
Posts: 3,306
My Ride: E46 325Ci
Thanks for sharing MartyM3, did the same with my coupe last year and it made a huge difference.
An extra tip, I wiped the cleaned seatbelts with Aerospace 303 Protectant which added to the smooth retraction even more.
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Old 03-20-2011, 06:07 AM   #5
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Location: New Zealand
Posts: 27
My Ride: 2002 M3
The 303 is a good idea Darkoz. I'll give that a go too. Cheers.
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Old 04-23-2015, 08:59 AM   #6
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An old post, but it's worth posting this. I had the same sticking problem and my mechanic told me to pull the belt out as far as it can go and spray the belt with silicon spray (obviously protect other parts of your car maybe with old sheets, I used old wallpaper). I pulled the belt outside of the car and jammed it in place by closing the door on it.

I then sprayed both sides of the belt. I allowed the spray to sink in a short while then used a clean, unfluffy cotton cloth and wiped up and down the whole length that I had sprayed and dried off as much as I could. The belt now recoils fine.

I have a photo of how I secured the belt outside of the car. If anyone wants to see it, just ask (posting this in a hurry, so no time at the moment).
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