Can I soften my seatbelts?

March 1, 2010 | By Richard Prince


The seatbelts on my 1969 cutlass are very stiff, especially the back, making them hard to adjust. This is likely a common problem with vintage cars. I want to keep the original belts since I am a purist. Do you know of anything that will safely soften up the webbing? Many readers would likely appreciate advice.


I would begin by removing the belts from the car and thoroughly scrubbing the webbing with moderately hot water, a mild detergent, and a soft bristle scrub brush. This may help make the belts more compliant because the stiffness can be due, at least in part, to dirt and mold growing in the webbing.

If cleaning doesn’t help, I don’t have another solution other than restoring the belts with new webbing.

Aside from the cost, which is normally quite substantial, there is no real downside to properly replacing the webbing with identical new webbing.

There are several companies that specialize in this, including Ssnake-Oyl Products ( and Sharon’s Web, Inc. ( They can use your original buckles, hardwareand labels, and duplicate the original factory stitching patterns to restore you seatbelts to like-new condition.

Some might recommend lubricating your original belts to help loosen them up but this is not prudent.

Most lubricants will get on your clothing when you wear the belts, some lubricating products actually support the growth of mold, and most importantly, some lubricants will reduce the strength of the webbing, thereby posing a serious safety hazard.


It’s a rare instance that anything in Auto Restorer gets my goat.

Well, the Mechanic On Duty in the August 2009 issue must have been asleep behind the wheel. Butch Sprague wrote about some vacuum problems he was

having. In his writings he mentioned he has a vacuum pump installed and explained what he was experiencing. The solution to the problem is to add a vacuum pump.

Did you, Mr. Mechanic, read this man’s letter? A pump to pump the pump.


Yes, Mr. Mechanic did read the letter you reference, but did you read the answer?

I first recommended that Mr. Sprague evaluate whether there are any malfunctions that would diminish his engine’s ability to produce sufficient vacuum to satisfy the vehicle’s needs. If the engine is making as much vacuum as it can then, said I, he has several choices. He could make various changes to the engine to enable it to produce more manifold vacuum. He could convert from power to manual brakes, thus eliminating part of the need for vacuum.

I also said, “If you don’t want to make changes to the engine you can add a supplemental, electric vacuum pump to your truck.” The key word there, Mr. Kreider, is “supplemental.” So yes, if the problem is insufficient vacuum and Mr. Sprague doesn’t have a malfunction in the engine, doesn’t want to take steps to diminish the need for vacuum, and doesn’t want to make changes to the engine to allow it to make more vacuum, he may, in fact, solve his problem by adding a supplemental vacuum supplement the existing vacuum pump.