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Seat Belt Fires Prompt Chevrolet Silverado Recall

The Chevrolet Silverado’s going through a bit of a rollercoaster-ride recently. On the one hand, there’s a new limited-edition trim out, and it beat the industry average for resale value. However, recent reviews of both the 2020 model and the latest GMC Sierra both found areas for improvement. And now, there’s news of Silverado seat belt fires prompting a recall of both the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. Here’s what we know, and what to expect soon.

What caused the Silverado seat belt fires?

Seat belts may, at first glance, seem a strange place for a fire. Somewhere like an airbag, or around electrical wires, yes, but seat belts? It turns out, as Jalopnik reports, it requires a specific set of circumstances.

In a crash, your seat belts tighten via pretensioners to keep you from rocketing out of your seat. These are attached to the B-pillar with special brackets. And it’s the bracket that’s causing the fires.

According to the NHTSA recall documents, the brackets come with a small opening. This was intended for use by the factory to help assemble the bracket in place but was never used as such. And it wasn’t designed to benefit the pretensioner system in any way. Nevertheless, it’s there. Normally, it’s just a hole—where’s the problem, you’re probably asking. It wouldn’t be a problem if the seat belt pretensioners didn’t go off.

Why would seat belt pretensioners ‘go off’?

Yanking on your reluctantly-moving seat-belt, you might think that pretensioners are just ratcheted mechanisms or something. They’re actually, as YouTube’s Slow Mo Guys and Jalopnik have shown, explosive. So, when someone hits your truck, to keep you in place, tiny explosives go off. And there’s an exit hole right nearby.

As the NHTSA report details, owners were noticing smoke and “a burning odor” from the base of the B-pillar after crashes. The pretensioner’s hot exhaust was coming out of the hole and setting the carpet on fire.

Which Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra models are being recalled?

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD Custom
2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD Custom | Chevrolet

GM first received news of a fire like this in July. After an internal review with fire experts, the company decided to open an investigation in September. Following that, GM notified the NHTSA to open a recall. No one was injured because of the fires, according to the reports.

The 2020 GMC Sierra AT4 off-roading
The 2020 GMC Sierra AT4 off-roading | GMC

In total, GM is recalling 556,399 Chevrolet Silverados and GMC Sierras. On the affected model list are ‘certain’ 2019 Silverado 1500 and Sierra 1500 models, as well as 2020 Silverado and Sierra 2500s and 3500s.

Next steps for owners

Nearly 560,000 trucks are not an insignificant amount. However, the report estimates that only about 1% of the trucks being recalled actually have the defect. Dealers were notified about the defect on November 14th, one week after the NHTSA. The solution will be to close off the hole and prevent the exhaust gases from contacting the carpet.

Owners should be receiving letters about the recall soon, although an exact date isn’t given. But, if you own a truck that may be affected, the NHTSA has an online VIN-lookup tool to check if your truck is being recalled.

Comparing IIHS side-impact test deformation between the barrier (white) and the SUV (yellow)
Comparing IIHS side-impact test deformation between the barrier (white) and the SUV (yellow) | IIHS

It is interesting to note the location of the issue. The B-pillar’s involvement in crashes, particularly side-impact ones, is one of the things prompting the IIHS to up its crash test severity. Perhaps defects like this may be spotted more easily in future crash tests and rectified sooner.