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Airbag Issues in Cars: Signs You Might Not Be Properly Protected in an Accident

Airbag issues in cars are something to be taken seriously. While airbags are your third line of defence in a crash — after your windshield and seat belts — they are an important mechanism to protect vehicle occupants at high speeds.

Has your airbag warning light (SRS for supplemental restraint system) recently illuminated on your instrument panel? Do you suspect you might have problems with your airbags? Keep reading to learn more about how airbags function, what causes them to fail, and what to do when your airbag light shows on your dash.

 by Dietmar Janssen on Pexels

How Do Airbags Work?

There are different types of airbags today. Front airbags are the ones most familiar to drivers. But there are also knee airbags, foot airbags, and side or curtain airbags.

They work by employing sensors that detect when the car has had an impact exceeding a certain threshold. The sensors trigger the SRS module, which then instantaneously activates the inflator system in the airbags themselves. In order to make an airbag deploy in a split second, the system uses volatile chemicals like ammonium nitrate (found in fertilizer) or sodium azide (used in rocket fuel).

Airbag Problems: Common Causes

Of course, a significant crash will cause at least one airbag in your vehicle to deploy. That usually means the SRS warning light will need to be reset, assuming the car or truck is drivable after repairs. But what else makes that red SRS light shine on your dash?

Seatbelt Not Fastened Properly

This is an easy fix. In virtually all vehicles, the SRS light will appear if your seatbelts are not fully fastened.

If you need to put heavy items on the front passenger seat, like a bag of groceries, fasten the seatbelt and the light should go out.

Loose Connections

Loose wires in any part of the airbag system can cause the warning light to illuminate. What causes these electrical connections to become fragile?

  • General wear and tear
  • Corrosion due to weather and salt air
  • Driving on rough, bumpy terrain
  • Rodents chewing on wires
  • Parts knocked loose during vehicle repair

Airbag Deactivated on Passenger Side

Most vehicles allow you to turn the front passenger seat airbag off at will. This is so you can place a child or infant in a carrier in that seat if necessary. The airbag would need to be deactivated in that instance.

Have you purchased a used vehicle with the SRS light on? It’s possible the previous owners had young children or grandchildren and they deactivated the airbag.

Wet or Corroded Airbag Module

The airbag module is normally positioned beneath the driver’s or front passenger’s seat. However, in some models, it’s behind the steering wheel or radio unit.

No matter where it’s located, if it gets moist or wet, it could stop working. In most instances, it will need to be replaced by your mechanic.

Worn Airbag Clock Spring

The clock spring inside your steering wheel lets the wheel turn without affecting wiring in that area for parts of your airbag system. But if the clock spring becomes worn, your driver’s side airbag could become inadvertently disconnected.

Faulty Sensors

There are several sensors involved in airbag deployment. If any of them are bad or damaged, the airbag system will alert you of this.

Airbag Not Working Sign After a Jump Start or Battery Replacement

There’s another cause of airbag warning light illumination that’s so common it’s worth its own category. The SRS light will usually come on if your battery has been severely drained or has died. Typically, this is a flashing light indicating that the airbag battery isn’t getting enough power from the main battery.

So, if you got a jump start recently, you may notice the alert on your dash. Usually, once you restore power to the battery, the warning light will go out. You do have to be careful if you’re driving your vehicle to charge up the battery, though. Your airbags may not deploy if you have an accident during that time.

Another scenario where the SRS light will often illuminate is after a faulty or dead battery replacement. Sometimes the airbags are fine and it’s simply a matter of your mechanic resetting the code using their computer system.

But in other cases, you will want to be sure there’s no loose connection that must be reattached after having mechanical work completed. Having your garage double-check is how to know if the airbags are working.

Airbag problems and solutions can be tricky. This is not a place where you want to attempt DIY solutions. You could accidentally deploy your airbags and get injured or cause them to not function at all. Always leave airbag work to your trusted Langley, BC mechanic for your safety and that of other vehicle occupants.

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