Emergency replacement of your jammed seat belt – Subaru Outback

Written by Gary on March 13th, 2019

While I was holidaying in a wilderness area recently, my driver’s side seat belt mechanism in my 2006 Subaru Outback suddenly jammed and nothing I could do would un-jam it.

This is extremely problematic as not only is is dangerous to drive the car without a seatbelt (in fact, probably more dangerous in a car fitted with air bags as the airbags are then likely to cause a hangman’s fracture of your neck from hitting your head too low and hyper-extending your neck), but it is illegal in Australia and your car would be made un-roadworthy.

I spoke to the local mechanics who said there was nothing one could do to repair it and it would need a new unit.

Fortunately, I had access to the internet and by extensive Googling found that this indeed was probably the case, although some had managed to disassemble the mechanism (see videos at bottom of this blog) and un-jam the ball that causes the belt to lock – unfortunately, this did not appear to be a feasible option on this seat belt – and it did have prominent warnings not to try as it may explode!

I contacted my local mechanic who called Subaru and he informed me that not only would a new seat belt cost $AU1850 but that it would take at least 3 weeks to get from overseas.

Not happy at all!

I thus resorted to emergency measures and purchased a used one online from a car in which the air bags had not been deployed – and hopefully the seat belt explosive pretensioner device had also not been deployed and made arrangements for it to be shipped to me – having my car towed home on a 8 hour trip was not a preferred option!

I managed to successfully replace my seat belt with this emergency second hand one and although there were many steps which had to be considered, I managed to get it all done in an hour or so.

DISCLAIMER: the manufacturer clearly states on the seat belt that it should NOT be used in a different car – so following these instructions is at your OWN risk and for emergency use only until you can have your mechanic install a new replacement.

Here is what you will need:

  • a replacement seat belt mechanism which has not had it’s pretensioner deployed (check inside the tube to ensure the piston is in the same position as your one) and is not jammed (it needs to be held upright for the belt to be able to be pulled out)
  • 14mm socket
  • 10mm socket
  • socket extension head for the top panel bolt
  • socket wrench (you may need a longer than usual handle to undo firmly held bolts)
  • small screwdriver to disconnect the airbag sensor clips
  • Philips head screwdriver to disconnect the lower panel spring clip

Steps required to replace the driver’s side seat belt mechanism

  1. Move the driver’s seat forward as far as possible
  2. Disconnect the car battery to avoid accidental deployment of the air bags
  3. Remove the rear plastic cover of the driver’s seat right track rail
  4. Remove the rear door rubber seal (at least the front and bottom parts)
  5. Remove the plastic lower wall panel by pulling it at the top and bottom rear and then sliding it out of its front bottom catch mechanism, then disconnect from the rear bottom safety spring using the screwdriver to undo the screw holding the safety spring onto the panel.
  6. Remove the top wall panel by pulling out the small rectangular “Airbag” labelled segment at the top which will expose a bolt that will need to be removed using the extension attachment for your socket wrench.
  7. Remove the large black metal protector over the belt using the 10mm sockets to undo the bolts.
  8. Lift up the driver’s side of the rear seat (or fully remove the rear seat but this is not really needed), to allow you to free up the plastic protector panel that lies under the carpet – you will need to create enough room to give you access to the 14mm bottom bolt that holds the pretensioner into the car wall.
  9. Disconnect the two air bag sensors by using the small screwdriver to gently flip up their top plastic square which will allow the connector to disengage.
  10. Unscrew the plastic cap near the rear of the pretensioner device to allow it to be freed from the floor connection.
  11. Remove the 14mm bolt holding the pretensioner onto the car wall.
  12. Carefully remove the 14mm bolt holding the seat belt onto the car wall avoiding stripping the bolt edges – you may need a long wrench for this one as it is held very tightly).
  13. Remove the top panel from the seat belt by passing the pretensioner through the panels’ belt gap (you will need to play with the panel mechanism to achieve this).
  14. Put the replacement seatbelt in by reversing all of the above steps – check that the belt is coming out freely once it has been mounted, and note the final attachment of the upper panel needs to be positioned so that the up-down slider position corresponds with the up-down slider of the upper panel.

Hope this helps someone get out of a predicament – I presume the general principles will apply to most modern cars.

But what if you can’t get a replacement unit?

I have not tried this on my jammed unit, but you may wish to consider following these Youtube videos on how to dismantle your seat belt mechanism (against manufacturer’s advice) by removing the 3 plastic lugs holding the Do NOT REMOVE plastic covers on:

These are not Subaru models but you get the idea

If you are lucky you may be able to fix the jam by tapping the mechanism as shown in this video with the aim of freeing the stuck gravity ball which is the culprit (I tried this and it didn’t work on mine):


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