Seat Belts

Page Revised: 10 May 2019


Article by
Eric Dess

Among the most annoying problems that tend to occur with these cars is the dreaded broken seat belt latch or cracked plastic belt sleeves. Seat belts, in general, are not fun to deal with in an older vehicle, but these cars can be particularly ornery. However, with a little luck and ingenuity—and of course, money—there are some decent alternatives to getting your seat belts looking and operating properly.


Belt won't retract

  • Replace belt mechanism assembly (disassembly of unit is NOT recommended unless you are a professional)

Latch won't work properly

  • Bend metal catch inside female receptacle
  • If that does not work, replace receptacle with known good unit

Cracked plastic sleeve

  • Replace with new sleeve (see below)

Worn/cut/frayed belt webbing

  • Replace belt assembly IMMEDIATELY! Any imperfections can cause severe structural integrity issues and possibly cause the belts to fail.

Part I: Removal

We imagine that most of you dread removing your seat belts, especially if you've never done it before. And that's partially justified because it is definitely not the most fun thing to do...but it's also not horrible if things go correctly. Here's a quick guide to removing all of your seat belts from the car.


Unlike the Mustang, our cars have seat belt receptacles bolted to the seat frame (the 'Stang had theirs bolted to the driveshaft tunnel). You must therefore remove the seat, or at least get it tipped over, in order to get to the receptacle.

1983-88 Cougar Front Seat Belt Receptacle

A top view of the front driver's seat belt receptacle bolted to the seat frame.

1983-88 Cougar Front Seat Bolt Covers

After removing any plastic caps from the seat frame with Philips screws, a combination of metric bolts and nuts hold the seat to the floor. Here is a view of the front passenger seat, front view.

1983-88 Cougar Front Seat Bolt Covers

The rear seat bolt covers, passenger side.

1983-88 Cougar Front Seat Bolt Covers

The seat bolt covers removed, exposing the bolts or nuts holding the seat to the floor. There are 4 total, 2 front, 2 rear.

With all of the bolts and nuts removed, the seat can be pulled off the floorpan and flipped down or removed completely from the vehicle (note: if you have a power seat track, power lumbar, or both, you will need to disconnect the wiring harnesses for those if you want to completely remove the seat from the car). On the bottom of the receptacle there is one T-50 Torx bolt holding it to the seat frame; remove that and it's free. On the driver's side there is an additional harness that must be removed—that is the seat belt reminder chime wire.


The belt mechanism for the front occupants is tucked away inside the rear lower trim panel of the car. To get to it, you need to remove the seat belt components in this order:

1983-88 Cougar Front Seat Belt Removal

First remove the colored cap from the top of the belt holder in the B-pillar area.

1983-88 Cougar Front Seat Belt Removal

Remove the single T-50 Torx bolt.

1983-88 Cougar Front Seat Belt Removal

Then remove the single T-50 Torx bolt from the rear sill area. This loosens the belt from usage.

1983-88 Cougar Front Seat Belt Retainer Trim

Remove the plastic colored seat belt retainer ring from the top of the panel (it is slotted so you can slip it over the belt). After it's removed, you can slip the end of the belt through the slot so you can completely remove the sail panel.

Next, remove all Philips screws from the upper sail panel, including the coat hook and the panel over the door opening. The sail panel should be freed up; remove it from the car carefully, taking caution not to scratch any seating or gouge the headliner. Then remove the rear seat bottom cushion (see below). Proceed to remove the Philips screws from the rear lower trim panel. Once removed, you will see the seat belt mechanism bolted to a mounting bracket. Remove the single T-50 Torx bolt and the mechanism is free.

Incidentally, it is not really possible to use a Fox Mustang front seat belt mechanism in our cars due to that mounting bracket. The belts must be from a Cougar, Thunderbird or Mark VII.


Remove the rear seat cushion by pushing in on the front face, while simultaneously pulling up on the back part. It's tricky but be patient. Once the seat cusion is out you will see the belts bolted to the underseat floorpan, including the center receptacles. Two of the bolts will also hold the top of the rear seat down. The bolts, again, are T-50 Torx. The trickiest part is if these bolts were never removed...they will require patience, probably an impact driver, and lots of T-50 bits. Since the bolts go through the floorpan, they are exposed on the underside and are succeptable to corrosion, road salt, water, etc. and have a strong tendency to rust themselves into the floorpan. Sometimes a good overnight soaking with penetrating oil will help.

If all else fails, you will need to heat up the bolts from the underside of the car with an acetylene torch (a common propane torch won't generate enough heat). Please BE CAREFUL as fuel lines run right by the passenger side seat bolts. It's easier to have someone heat the bolts up as you are in the car turning the bolts. Be sure to have a fire extinguisher and a bucket of water handy, in case any of the insulation catches fire.

Once the bolts are removed, be sure to coat them heavily with anti-seize compound before reinstallation.

Part II: Appearance

Your seat belts might function just fine but just need a good cleaning. We've found that removing the belts and soaking them overnight in a solution of Simple Green and water does a fantastic job. You will need to extend out the belts, hang them up on something (wire hanger on a garage door track is good), and use a stiff bristle brush to work out the dirt and grime. Let them air dry, preferably in the sun, and you're good to go. Repeat if necessary. Of course, if the color has faded, a cleaning won't help much, but you can paint them (see this section for more information).

Seat Belt Buckle Plastic Cover

Also, if you need the various plastic or metal covers associated with the seat belts, such as the seat belt bucket plastic cover, they are the same parts used in other Ford vehicles from the era, including Fox Mustangs. You can obtain those parts from Late Model Restoration or Fox Mustang Restoration. You may need to paint the parts to match your interior—again see this section for painting tips.

Part III: Cracked Sleeves

While there are no known Cougar/Thunderbird specific seat belt replacement sleeves, it is perfectly fine to use Fox Mustang sleeves which are so common in the Mustang aftermarket. We have also heard that you can use Crown Victoria/Grand Marquis sleeves.

Mustang vs. Cougar Seat Belt Receptacles

Shown here are a mid-1980s Fox Mustang seat belt receptacle (left side, blue), and the correct 1987-88 Cougar/Thunderbird receptacle (right side, grey) for comparison. The bottom mounting holes are aligned to show differences in height. It is possible to use the Mustang receptacle in a Cougar/T-Bird if you use a longer sleeve cover, such as the ones depicted below.

Fox Mustang Seat Belt Sleeves

These sleeve covers are commonly available in the Fox Mustang world and will work great on your stock belt receptacles. They are molding in common colors (including some found in our cars) but can be painted to match. The textured finish holds paint just great. Note that in kits such as the one shown here, you also get sleeves for the back part of the belt that attaches to the rear sill area. These sleeves are not 100% correct for our cars but if that doesn't matter, they are perfect (and inexpensive) solutions.

1983-86 vs. 1987-88 Cougar Seat Tracks

Be aware that there are two different seat tracks for our cars. The earlier track, shown here at the top, was found in 1983-85 cars, and most 1986 vehicles. Note the single bolt hole. The later track, bottom, was found in 1987-88 cars and features a slot underneath the bolt hole.

1983-86 vs. 1987-88 Cougar Seat Tracks

A closer look at both seat tracks. The receptacles for 1987-88 cars had an extra metal tang that fit into the seat track slot. This was to keep the belts from rotating, an issue sometimes found on the earlier seat belt receptacles. You can use a belt without a tang on these later tracks should you need to; simply tighten down the bolt a bit more (use anti-seize compound on the bolt though). Likewise, you can use a later belt receptacle on an earlier seat track by simply bending down the tang.

Part IV: Total Belt Restoration

There are several companies that can restore your old belts or even sell you new belts. Keep in mind that this is very expensive. However, it is as accurate as possible, even with some of the oddball colors our interiors had, with all correct reproduction parts used.

We've seen the belts offered by Ssnake-Oyl in person, and they are 100% correct for our cars. While there are others in the business that we're sure are just fine, the quality of Ssnake-Oyl's products speak for themselves. They're one of the biggest companies doing this, and for good reason. Again, it's not going to be cheap but it will be correct.