Whitesburg KY
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There might be help for a gummed-up seat belt latch

Dear Car Talk:

Our kids admitted that they spilled soda on the passenger-side belt buckle of the car they use. Now it doesn’t latch in cold weather — not a good thing in Minnesota. My son’s solution is to pour water on it and park it in the garage until it dries out. Not only would that make a mess, but one guess whose car would sit outside in the meantime? I’m also concerned that that would screw up whatever electrical sensors tell the car that the belt is buckled. My husband says to spray it with WD-40. I know from working with locks that that will eventually gum up the works. I’d wager that the graphite I would use on a lock would mix with the pop and gum things up, too. Given that it’s essential safety equipment and I don’t want the kids to die, I think it should go to the dealer to be fixed. Any support for any of our solutions? — Lisa

Hm, what dissolves sugar? I know! Hot coffee!

No, don’t pour black coffee on it, Lisa. What you need is a solvent — something to dissolve the sugar that’s gumming up the latch mechanism. And you have little to lose by trying to fix this yourself. If it doesn’t work, the worst that’ll happen is that you’ll then have to take the car to the dealer and have the seat belt latch replaced.

Car Talk

So my suggestion would be to try a product called Contact Cleaner, made by CRC. That’s a fast-evaporating spray-on solvent that’s designed to be used on sensitive electronics. So it’s very unlikely to damage anything.

Since you don’t want the kids to die, I’d have your husband apply this stuff, since it might dissolve brain cells, too. And since he’s obviously already lost most of his already, let him take the risk. The kids might still need theirs.

I would get a few rags and cover up the surrounding area, because gunk might drip out. Then spray Contact Cleaner liberally inside the latching mechanism. Then work it — latch and unlatch the seat belt a number of times. If it seems to be helping at all, keep doing it. I’d do it in the garage and leave the car’s windows open.

If it doesn’t work, you can try a stronger solvent — something like Brakleen, which dissolves even more stuff, including more brain cells.

And if nothing works, then you’ll need to put yourself at the mercy of the dealer, and deduct the cost from the kids’ soda allowance. Good luck, Lisa.

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