In a crash, the sudden change in speed and/or direction of travel can impart massive force upon the driver’s body, causing injury. The role of a harness in a crash is to prevent the mass of your body from moving within the car and to transfer the momentum of your body to the chassis of the car. The wide straps of a racing harness spread the force of this change in momentum across the driver’s hips, shoulders and chest, some of the strongest parts of the body. Because of the amount of force that can be involved in a racing collision, it is very important that you have the right equipment and that you install and use it correctly.
1. Do I need a harness?
This will depend primarily on what you will be using the car for and what other safety equipment you will be using. If the car is a dedicated race/track car with a fixed-back (non-adjustable) racing seat and a roll bar or roll cage, a harness is the logical answer for safety. Harnesses are designed for use with fixed-back seats, so if the car has reclining factory seats you should stick with the factory seat belts. Rollover protection is vital when considering the use of harnesses, as a racing seats & harness combination will keep you rigidly in place and upright, placing the entire weight of the car on your spine should the roof come down in a rollover situation.
If your car is still a daily driver or will see any street use, consider also that none of these racing belts are US D.O.T. tested or certified. This means that if you install these in place of your factory belts, your car will likely not pass state safety inspections (if your state required those) and you could be ticketed for driving without seat belts if you are spotted by an unsympathetic police officer. Generally speaking, racing harnesses belong in race cars. If it’s still what most people would call a street car, it probably shouldn’t have harnesses.
2. What kind of harness do I need?
To answer this question, check the requirements of your sanctioning body. Going through the rules of your sanctioning body will tell you the required width of the belts, how many mounting points the harnesses need to have, and the rating required.
3. How do I get these in the car?
Proper installation is critical, since improperly installed harnesses will not function the way that they are meant to and can cause you serious injury or death. We recommend first reading through the manufacturer’s installation instructions to see how the racing harnesses are supposed to be installed. If you aren’t certain you can do it correctly yourself, find a qualified race shop to do the installation for you. There are worse things than paying someone to install your safety gear correctly; for example, having your safety gear fail and leave you permanently injured or death.
4. How do I adjust and wear these?
Harnesses should always be worn as tightly as possible. In a frontal impact, any significant slack in your harnesses will allow your body to be thrust forward from your racing seat. This will accelerate you forward from your seat, while the car and the belts are decelerating. The belts themselves can hurt you when you reach the limits of that slack, and the rebound of your body from the belts can slam you back into your seat, injuring you further.
Now that you know what your sanctioning body requires and have an understanding of the importance of proper installation and use, you can begin to consider which features you want. Here are 6 things you need to consider before purchasing harnesses:
Harnesses are rated either by the SFI Foundation or the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). The two most commonly used ratings in road racing are:
• SFI 16.1
• FIA D 280. T
SFI rated harnesses typically require replacement after 2 years, while FIA rated harnesses are typically allowed for up to 5 years. There are two very important notes here:
A. How long your harnesses are valid for use is determined solely by your sanctioning body.
B. The listed amount of time until re-certification is a maximum. Stress due to minor and major crashes, dirt exposure, and even sunlight exposure can lead to degradation of the harnesses’ integrity. Make sure to regularly check your belts for signs of wear and tear.
If you’re trying to figure out which of the two certifications is superior in safety, unfortunately you won’t be able to. In this case, it really is an issue of what your sanctioning body allows and how long you want your harnesses to be valid for use.
(2) Hardware When you’re installing lap and sub belts you have two options: you can use snap-in fittings or you can use bolt-in plates. This is an important decision. The snap-in plates snap into eyebolts that are firmly attached to the vehicle chassis. Eyebolts come in 7/16” x 20, which is a common thread size that can often screw right into OEM holes already being used for 3-point belt mounts. There are situations when a bolt-in arrangement might be ideal though, so have a general idea of how you’re going to install your harnesses before you rush out and buy a set.
Have an idea on how you want to install your harnesses before you buy a set. You don’t want to pay for a set of harnesses that you can’t install properly.
FIA belts are required to have snap-in plates permanently sewn into the lap and sub belts. Other harnesses that are not FIA rated may also have the installation hardware sewn-in as well. Cutting out a sewn-in piece of hardware not only ruins the harnesses, but it is also extremely difficult, so once they’re sewn-in, the hardware can’t be changed. Make sure you know what hardware you need, and what hardware comes with the harnesses you are considering.
(3) Pull-up VS Pull-down When shopping for harnesses, you may see them identified as either pull-up or pull-down. This refers to the way that you tighten the lap belts. The lap belts of a pull-down harness are tightened by pulling the ends down towards the floor of the vehicle. The adjuster of a pull-down harness will be close to the buckle and will move closer to the lap belt’s mounting point on the floor as you tighten it.
For a pull-up harness, the lap belts are tightened by pulling the ends up, towards the roof of the car. The adjuster of a pull-up harness will start closer to the lap belt’s mounting point and will move closer to the buckle as it is tightened. Depending on how you install your harnesses, a pull-up adjuster may interact with the harness holes on the sides of the seat. This sometimes causes an issue, but it all depends on how your harnesses are mounted. You are more likely to encounter this problem the farther you mount the lap belts away from the sides of the seat.
Besides that one potential problem, the choice of pull-up or pull-down is one of personal preference. We asked a few of our sales staff members who have been racing for a while and found fans of both. We recommend trying both configurations next time that you’re walking the paddock, to see what is most comfortable for you.
(4) 4-point VS 5-point VS 6-point The choice between 5-point and 6-point harnesses comes down to 4 factors:
2. Requirements of your sanctioning body
3. What will fit in the car
4. Personal preference
As far as safety is concerned, 6-point harnesses are safer. As discussed before, in a crash, the job of the harness is to help transfer and dissipate the kinetic energy of the car stopping. 6-point harnesses do a better job of holding your pelvis in place, as the additional anti-sub belt helps prevent the pelvis from moving. For the safest setup, we recommend using 6-point harnesses.
Depending on your car, there may be limitations that determine whether you can use 5-point or 6-point harnesses. You might find that the anti-sub hole of your seat, your available mounting points or other factors limit you to a 5-point belt. Some people prefer one configuration over the other as well. If it’s possible, go to an event and try some different configurations. It’s always better to try before you buy.
A note about 4-point harnesses:
People sometimes request 4-point harnesses because they cannot use a 5 or 6-point belt with their seats. While we do stock them for the tuner and show car market, we do not recommend using 4-point harnesses on the street or track. 4-point harnesses are insufficient for track use because they can actually be more dangerous than the factory belts in a crash. This is due to an effect called “submarining” in which the waist of the user starts to move underneath the belts and towards their feet. This motion positions the buckle of a four point harness right over the soft vital organs, which can lead to devastating results when your body lunges forward during a crash. Some models claim to have “anti-submarining” features built in, but until we see solid test results (which you rarely do), we don’t recommend any 4-point harnesses.
(5) Belt width 3-inch shoulder harnesses are the ideal width to have. Since the harness’ job is to dissipate energy, more material means the energy can be spread out more.
(6) Cam lock vs. Latch and link For some uses, you won’t have a choice between a latch and link or a camlock buckle, because the rules will specify using one or the other. Most dirt tracks won’t allow cam locks because the dirt can get inside them and jam them up. Conversely, FIA events require the use of a camlock. Otherwise, the difference between latch and link and cam lock is one of budget and personal preference.
The choice between a cam lock or latch & link is mainly one of personal preference.
Latch and link harnesses are substantially less expensive than camlock harnesses, and some users find them easier to sort out and easier to unbuckle in a hurry. Camlock advocates appreciate the simplicity of the familiar seatbelt-like ends.
Those are the 6 major considerations you need to make when choosing a set of harnesses. After figuring out what your sanctioning body requires, we recommend trying some of the different features at the next event you attend (if possible). Many of these decisions are one of personal preference, and you may very well find that you prefer something that is different than what your track buddy recommends. Taking the time to figure out what you like means you won’t have to change things up in the near future.