dbdave26

Seatbelts and old cars

Recommended Posts

My wife and I are planning to go on the Glidden Tour  this fall. I was told she would feel much safer if I installed seatbelts in our 1931 Buick Sport coupe.  I have concerns with fastening them to the wood frame under the seat. There is not a good place on the frame to attach them. I have looked at lots of videos and it looks like most are just fastened to the floor pans with big washers in later cars. I am looking for thoughts for guidance, or if this is even a good idea.

Thanks Dave

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Have personally worn seat belts since the early 60s mainly to keep myself in place if sudden manoever is needed (and the passenger out of my lap). Big washers are good for bracing but man purpose is to stay behind the wheel during an incident.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There is a lot of engineering that goes in to safety systems to actually lower chance of injury.   Belts installed in a car that wasn't designed for them is probably of limited benefit and potentially negative benefit. 

  • Like 7

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Doing a search for "seatbelts" on this site will get you 22 pages of discussion.  I am sure some of the previous posters and new ones will reply here but it would be good to skim the previous threads.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Placing seatbelts on a wooden coach built car is of no value, and probably a detriment. In a serious crash, the body will separate from the frame........attach the belts to the frame.......your dead in a very ugly manner. Attached to the wood.........you may or may not stay with the splinters and tin tossing down the street. Your better off with nothing and taking you chances of being thrown clear. Better yet......avoid all risks that you can, drive defensively, use your head. Much better and safer than belts in an old car.

Edited by edinmass (see edit history)
  • Like 14

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey Dave,

Clearly there are two camps on this issue.

I believe, with the early cars, that if one were in a high speed head on collision, chances of the driver being impaled on the steering column and the passenger exiting through the windshield are pretty high.

However if the accident were at a lower speed and/or not head on (as is usually the case), there is a very high probability of one (or both) of the doors popping open on cars from the 1930's/40's. This is when people tend to fall out of the earlier cars and get seriously injured.

The safety "double grip" door latches common today, weren't introduced until 1955, by Ford as part of their Lifeguard Safety package. They spent a couple million to determine that most major injuries/deaths occurred from people being ejected from the car on impact because of the poor door latch design.

I'm afraid being thrown clear, without major injury, would be stressing providence to the limit.

Consider this, all of the modern safety systems are designed to keep the occupants inside the vehicle during a crash for the highest chance of survival. Even Aston Martin has opted to use 8 airbags and a pretensioner seatbelt system to restrain passengers inside their cars, when obviously they could have plagiarized MI-5's ejection seats to expel occupants into the surrounding environment in hopes of maybe landing in the back of an open bed truck hauling a new load of Sealy Posturepedics. I would think, while anything is possible, the chances of this actually happening are less than stellar.

I say find a way to anchor to the frame and install the seatbelts.

Good luck whatever you decide.

Greg

mattress.png

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, GregLaR said:

I say find a way to anchor to the frame and install the seatbelts.

 

That's what scared us most when we discussed seat belts in the 1929 Cadillac when our boys were very little--the steel chassis is really the only secure place to anchor a seat belt in a wood-framed car. In a crash hard enough to make seat belts something you might need, I would also worry that a few of the eight or ten bolts holding the body to the frame would let go. Maybe the body doesn't come off the frame, but it will probably move. If you're in the body but you're belted to the frame, well, I'll let you imagine what happens next...

 

The best way to be safe in a car of this vintage is to drive smart, make sure your suspension, brakes, and steering are fit, your tires are recent, and treat everyone else on the road like they're intentionally trying to kill you. We came to the realization that if that Cadillac is in a wreck hard enough for us to wish for seat belts, we're already dead anyway because it's going to come apart in absolutely spectacular fashion.

 

Sadly, there's also the consideration of liability. If you install seat belts and then sell the car to someone who dies using them, guess who will have to hire a lawyer to defend against it? We are frequently asked to install seat belts in old cars that we sell. My answer? No f*cking way.

 

Truthfully, do what makes you and your wife feel safest. If belts do that, then use them and secure them any way you can. Serious crashes in old cars are very, very rare and there isn't much data on what happens to the bodies inside, so most of this is speculation. There are terrible stories and slightly less terrible stories with survivors left to tell them. No guarantees either way. Use your best judgement and be smart on the road.

 

 

Edited by Matt Harwood (see edit history)
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am very much so in the camp of not adding seatbelts in a vehicle not designed to have them. 
 

Most arguments you hear either way are completely situational... you do not know what kind of accident you may have. You do know that massive teams of engineers with degrees in multiple disciplines design safety systems because you could just as easily create something that adds danger rather than removing it. 
 

I have installed belts in the rear of nearly everything, for the purpose of attaching a child’s car seat... I attach the child to the car seat and the car seat to the car. 
 

If you install them anyways... to the body near the seat. To the frame sounds like a horrible plan that wouldn’t take much of an accident to kill you. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, gossp said:

I am very much so in the camp of not adding seatbelts in a vehicle not designed to have them. 

 

I would tend to agree with this statement.  At some point I read the viewpoint of an automotive engineer on retrofit of seatbelts, and he basically said the same thing, if the car isn't designed for them then they may do more harm than good.

 

I can see the argument of staying in place for control during a minor collision.  In that case, I'd want a seat belt minimally attached to the car, so that if the seat broke loose so would the belt.

 

As to liability, I've had people ask me to cut and resew retrofitted seat belts, so that they weren't too long for their car.  Answer is always no, and it's all about liability.....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was going to add my opinion on the subject saying that everyone's opinion on the subject is just uninformed opinion. Then I realized that my opinion was just uninformed opinion so I won't comment...........Bob

  • Like 3
  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So if you add seat belts to a wood bodies car then a large flat washer on the bottom to add holding strength and a large flat washer on top to clamp the body to the frame ?

As mentioned I have always felt seat belts to be as important for accident avoidance as restraint in an accident. When racing/autocrossing I preferred a five point harness pulled as tight as it would go.

And airbags: they are most effective for people who refuse to wear seat belts.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm kind of with padgett and Greg. I put seat belts in my old cars mostly for the benefit of my small children so they wouldn't go bouncing around the interior in case of impact/rollover. (In the case of kids, there may be a legal requirement, too. I'm not sure.)

But I have metal pans on my cars and they're from the 50's and 60's. They're only lap belts, so not as  safe as three point belts, but as Greg implies, while they may not help in devastating catastrophic accidents, they may provide protection at lower speeds.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Only way seat belts are completely safe in an older car never intended for them is if you properly install a roll bar and mount the seat belt to the roll bar.

Besides that, a roll bar is the only way you're going to properly secure a 5-point harness, anyway.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

‘53 Chrysler over here. Body is bolted to frame. I installed 4 lap belts. Drilled thru body and used large washers on the back side. Rarely does the car go above 40mph. Probably 95% of my driving is in town on small roads. The lap belts, I gotta believe, offer some type of additional support.

 

They might keep the steering wheel out of my teeth. My wife’s face out of the glove box. The back passengers don’t need their eyeballs inside the ashtray that is mounted in the back of the front seat.  I can’t quite grasp why the seatbelts would not help me and my passengers. If the body comes off the frame, we’re all going with it. Head-on collision at 40 mph with another car going 40? I’d be inclined to take the seat belt every time over nothing. 

Edited by keithb7 (see edit history)
  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A quick look under the body and under the carpet of some of these cars would tell the story.

 

A 53 Chrysler is a steel body with a steel floor. That is an entirely different situation than a wooden framed body built on sills. The Chrysler, with some gusseting to spread the load out, would probably keep the belts attached to the floor. The body probably won't come off of the frame.

 

The wood body probably has a piece of "floorpan", about as thick as the top of a tin can, nailed from the top into some 80 or 90 year old sticks. The body is probably attached to the frame with about 6 or 8 little carriage bolts through that same old wood.

 

This is shaping up to be like one of those threads where someone has a problem with a car title, and it garners responses from several States, Provinces, and Countries, all of which have different title law.

 

 

 

Edited by Bloo (see edit history)
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, Matt Harwood said:

I would also worry that a few of the eight or ten bolts holding the body to the frame would let go.

Matt,

Your point is taken in this instance. If the car is hit hard enough to break the body free from the frame the seat belts could prove to be a detriment. However an impact of that magnitude, in a car with a steel dashboard and non-collapsing column would probably be unsurvivable for most occupants with or without belts. 

 

The best way to be safe in a car of this vintage is to drive smart, make sure your suspension, brakes, and steering are fit, your tires are recent, and treat everyone else on the road like they're intentionally trying to kill you. 

In the best of all possible worlds this would be the answer. I find almost every vintage car owner/driver I know is cautious and courteous on the road.  But wish as we might, this will not protect us from the fast and furious, inexperienced driver, street racing or texting in his 10 year old Toyota. 

 

Again, at a lower speed impact, which is more likely, the addition of belts could save, at minimum, some nasty facial injuries to driver, passenger and certainly smaller children bouncing around in there. 

Of course this is just my opinion and it holds no more weight than any others here.

Cheers

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What wood-framed cars crashing might look like. Note that neither body is still in place on its frame but the sheetmetal isn't seriously bent, particularly the roofs. I would guess that this crash took place at less than 30 MPH given the city environment and relatively unbent bodywork.

1e7a-20131016-Crash-Lead.jpg-resize_then

 

I also don't understand how lap belts will keep your face off the dashboard or the steering column out of your chest, even assuming the belts stay attached wherever they've been anchored. You will note that this photo shows a vehicle with professionally engineered OEM-grade seat belts,a dummy the size and weight of a child not an adult, and happened at less than 30 MPH:

still_clip.gif

 

There's no debate here. You should do whatever makes you feel safest because there's no right or wrong answer. There's not enough evidence in any direction to draw any conclusions of any kind. There are logical arguments to be made for all of the things we're discussing and nobody is wrong. The good news is that severe accidents in old cars don't happen often enough for us to draw conclusions and we should all be very happy about that.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Bloo said:

This is shaping up to be like one of those threads where someone has a problem with a car title, and it garners responses from several States, Provinces, and Countries, all of which have different title law.

 

 

 


Not sure if this is pointed at me. If people generalized their comments less and offered more details the thread could stay on point. Which is exactly why I specifically stated my car’s year and make.  
 

General statements made about seat belts causing more harm than good covers pretty broad range of cars built over a 70 year span. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

On a different note entirely, the picture you posted Matt is very interesting. The more I examined it the stranger it seemed. The background appears to be a painted montage while the observers are all in a relatively neat line, almost as casual spectators, some with arms folded. There doesn't seem to be any alarm registered. The car's impact is so fresh the smoke and steam hasn't cleared, yet both cars look to have no occupants. I'm wondering if this was some type of staged incident, perhaps by an auto manufacturer, tire company, or...?

It's intriguing, do you happen to know the source of this pic?

 

20131016-Crash-Lead.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Staged head-ons were common in the early 20th century.

GettyImages-640467641.jpg

  • Like 1
  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, keithb7 said:

Not sure if this is pointed at me.

 

It's not pointed at anyone, least of all you. It's just an observation about how some threads around here go in circles with no clear answer. Best regards..

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Most old wood bodied GM cars are fastened with 7/16x14 carriage bolts. My Olds has 10 of them with the front cowl a standard hex head bolt. Today, they use 7/16x14 bolts, yup, same size.  Well maybe not the brand new cars but even in the 90’s that’s what they used.  My 83’ Blazer has 8 or10 of them also. Running the belts to the main sill and a good cross sill or even a doubler on a cross sill will hold you and your children in your seat on a low speed hit. In a high speed hit, if the body were to come off, you would go with it. I looked at old car accident photos and didn’t see many bodies detached from the chassis including cars flipped right over, t boned, etc. Now, there’s a big difference in a restored, fully re-wooded bodied and an original wood body too. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, GregLaR said:

On a different note entirely, the picture you posted Matt is very interesting. The more I examined it the stranger it seemed. The background appears to be a painted montage while the observers are all in a relatively neat line, almost as casual spectators, some with arms folded. There doesn't seem to be any alarm registered. The car's impact is so fresh the smoke and steam hasn't cleared, yet both cars look to have no occupants. I'm wondering if this was some type of staged incident, perhaps by an auto manufacturer, tire company, or...?

It's intriguing, do you happen to know the source of this pic?

 

 

My Canadian wife recognizes it as the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) grounds in Toronto because some of those unusual murals are still there. You can also see tents in the background like at a fair. It kind of looks like someone climbing in or out (or being pulled out) of the driver's seat of the car on the left, but it's hard to be sure. I think this is some time after the crash, since there's sand on the ground which was probably to smother any flames and to absorb/cover spilled fluids. The radiators would probably steam for a good long time, especially if it was only a smallish leak. Or maybe it's smoke from a smoldering fire that's been doused. Hard to say. Are they the same make and model of car? The wheels and belt moldings are very similar--if so, that might suggest this wasn't an average accident and perhaps staged.

 

I just thought it was a good example of how the bodies on old cars can come off the frame in even low-speed accidents that don't show a lot of other trauma like badly wrinkled bodywork. I'm pretty sure that car on the right is exactly what my 1929 Cadillac would look like in an accident with a modern car of any kind at any speed above a walking pace, and like the car on the left at any speed above 30 MPH.

 

There's no right or wrong when it comes to safety in old cars; everyone should just do what makes them feel comfortable. We agonized over this decision for a long, long time with young children and ultimately decided that if worse came to worst, untethered gave them the best shot. Who knows if we're right and I hope we never find out.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now