VOLKSWAGEN Group has sold an estimated 55,000 vehicles since being made aware of a fault with seat belts six months ago, a consumer group has claimed.
After the fault was discovered in May by Finnish motoring magazine Tekniikan Maailma, Volkswagen Group recalled thousands of new VW Polos and thousands more Seat Ibizas and Seat Aronas.
When all three rear seat belts are in use in affected cars driven at high speed, the rear left passenger side can become unbuckled.
Which? says it has concerns about how the car manufacturer has handled the issue and it has spoken to motorists who said they were not told of an ongoing seat belt issue when they picked up their cars in the summer. They had been using all three rear seats.
Which? believes that an interim fix involving the faulty seat belt block being temporarily secured with a plastic cable tie minimises but does not stop the chance of the seat belt coming undone.
A permanent fix, involving a spacer being fitted to the seat belt mechanism, is being introduced on Monday. Drivers will have to take their cars to a garage to get fixed.
Customers are being contacted in order to arrange a visit and the fix will be free of charge, Volkswagen Group said.
Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said: “VW’s handling of this potentially lethal safety issue has been completely unsatisfactory. It’s shocking that they proposed a permanent fix that doesn’t even properly solve the problem, and we’re concerned that customers might not always be getting the right information at the point of sale.
“The decision not to suspend sales when the problem was discovered has now put substantially more drivers, as well as their passengers, at risk. The DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) must investigate VW’s handling of the whole situation.”
A Volkswagen Group spokesman said that customer safety was its top priority and it had been in contact with the DVSA and kept customers informed.
He said customers had been advised not to use the middle seat until they had the buckle modified.
He said: “It is important to note that there have been no known cases worldwide of any seat belts being released in this manner, other than in the highly specific and exceptional circumstances demonstrated in the test by a Finnish car magazine. We think it is important to emphasise that the issue arises only in exceptional circumstances which are accounted for in the steps taken by us to respond to the issue concluding in the release of the permanent solution.
“Given the limited circumstances in which the seat belt 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.”