Seatbelt Installations in Camper vans
We’ve just finished replacing the seat and seatbelts in an old camper for a customer and the upshot is that we would urge everyone who is looking at buying a campervan to have any travelling seats and seatbelt installations checked before using the seats.
The customer approached us with a used camper van they had purchased (a 2002 T4). He was concerned about travelling with his kids on the rear seat bed as although it had 3 point seatbelts installed as part of the conversion, he didn’t think they were very secure.
The camper was built by one of the largest converters in the country (who will remain nameless) and hence he assumed it would’ve been done a high standard – but we were truly shocked at what this converter classed as a seatbelt installation in this camper – even for 15 years ago!
The folding seat bed was bolted down with 8 x M8 set screws – no spreader plates or washers even. I could physically bend the brackets with my thumbs.
However, what was most alarming was the seatbelt installation, the two seat belts reels were fastened through the thin sheet floor with what’s shown below:
Yes, the seat belt was bolted through the thin sheet metal floor using only one M10 bolt and nut and two M6 screws and nuts through the wooden floor. No washers, no spreader plates, no crossmember, no bracing to the chassis – no nothing!
In an accident, decelerations can be in the order of 20g – this install therefore could ‘pull’ in the order of 4 tonnes! You don’t need to be an engineer to work out that this would never have held in an accident.
I honestly think that if I’d have pulled hard on the shoulder anchorages of the belts in this conversion that I could have ripped this seat and belt out of the floor with my bare hands.
I know we now have type approval and some certification on seats and that a new vehicle should have a certified install. But this was an aftermarket conversion rather than a new build and the seat and seatbelt install technically only had to meet MOT standards (which it actually didn’t meet – but it hadn’t been ‘failed’ in 11 MOT’s to date!).
However, as this conversion was performed by one of the largest converters in the country, there should still have been a duty of care to adopt ‘best practice’ with a retrofit seat install in my opinion. After all, seat belt legislation has existed since 1976, so a conversion performed in 2004 should have taken account of the requirements of the Directive and followed ‘best practice’ even for a retrofit.
We couldn’t provide the customer with a certified solution in this instance as the base vehicle – a 15 year old Volkswagen T4 – was out of production.
What we did provide was a certified seat and an installation that meets ‘best practice’ and reflects what may be necessary to meet the requirements of Directive 74/408/EEC and Directive 76/115/EEC.
We ended up installing a RIB seat and bed combination, a seat certified for M1 use. We made and installed a crossmember that braced between the chassis legs for underneath the seat belt anchorage plane and then made and fitted brackets that picked up on chassis box section outriggers for 3 of the 5 other fixings. Here’s a photograph of the seat belt install kit we made – you can see the original kit to the left by comparison.
The seat and seat belt anchorages are now secured by 7 x M10 High Tensile bolts, through a crossmember with a modulus to take over 6 tonnes that is braced back to the chassis. Spreader plates have been fitted throughout and reinforced high tensile chassis sections used as mounting points wherever possible rather than just the sheet metal floor.
We’re as certain as we can be now that this seat and seat belt installation will remain intact in the event of an accident. All the hard work is out of sight of the end user so is unlikely to ever be seen or appreciated again – I guess looking on the bright side the customer has a terrific looking seat in their campervan now too!
There can be a great deal of satisfaction to be had from building campers for people. We get to share in their enthusiasm and know that we supply a product that our customers will get a great deal of enjoyment from.
This little job although not our core market gives us a great deal of satisfaction too, knowing that we may have helped prevent a tragedy. Full credit must go to the owners of this van for having the vehicle checked and for spending a relatively large amount of money (in comparison to the van’s value) on a replacement for something that wasn’t even ‘broke’. In this instance, the picture in my head of two growing children going on holiday sitting in the back of mum and dad’s campervan is now one that doesn’t give me cold sweats. On this occasion we get just as much job satisfaction as we do supplying new campers, although hopefully our ‘work’ here will never be tested.