You find airbags in all newer cars. Let me explain to you exactly what they do, how they work, where they are, and much more.
Let’s dive in!
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How do Airbags Work?
An airbag is designed to inflate at lightning speed and then quickly deflate upon impact to cushion you during a crash.
When a car collides with something, it decelerates rapidly. An accelerometer in your vehicle detects the change in speed, and if the force is significant enough, it triggers the airbag circuit. This electrical circuit passes a current through a solid propellant, causing it to burn extremely fast and produce a large volume of gas.
This gas inflates the airbag, which can burst out of its storage at speeds up to 200 mph.
That’s faster than the blink of an eye!
Airbags are considered passive restraints because they activate automatically during a collision. Unlike seatbelts which require you to buckle up, airbags are designed to work precisely when needed, whether or not you’ve taken the extra safety measure of wearing a seatbelt. (However, it’s still crucial to wear your seatbelt as both systems work together to maximize your protection during an accident!).
What Do Airbags Look Like?
The basic airbag design consists of three primary parts:
- impact sensors,
- an inflation module,
- and the airbag itself.
When there’s an impact, sensors detect it and determine which airbags need to be deployed. The inflation module is then activated, inflating the fabric bags.
Now, when it comes to appearance, airbags are typically hidden behind panels in your car’s interior. They’re often concealed in places like the steering wheel, dashboard, and side doors. Here’s a more comprehensive list of where airbags are located. The fabric bag itself is usually made of nylon or polyester.
Since airbags are hidden from sight when not in use, you might be surprised by their size when fully inflated. Front airbags can be as large as 60 liters in volume, while side airbags are smaller, around 20 liters.
Do All Cars Have Airbags?
Most cars manufactured after the late 1990s are equipped with airbags as standard. In fact, many countries have made it a legal requirement for passenger vehicles to have at least two frontal airbags – one for the driver and one for the front-seat passenger. Nevertheless, older cars produced before airbag regulations might not.
If you own an older car or plan to buy one from an earlier era, you can check for airbags presence or consult a mechanic for guidance.
Now, just because newer cars have airbags, doesn’t mean they’re all the same. Modern vehicles often come with more advanced airbag systems, featuring multiple bags placed around the car. These bags may include side-impact, head-curtain, knee, and even seat-mounted airbags to offer greater protection.
Where Are Airbags Located?
There are various types of airbags in a vehicle which include the driver airbag, passenger airbag, seat-mounted airbags, and roof rail airbags. The driver airbag is typically located in the steering wheel, while the passenger airbag is placed in the dashboard.
Seat-mounted airbags can be found on the outboard side of the seats for the driver, front passenger, and sometimes the rear passenger side as well. Roof rail airbags are installed behind the trim covering the roof rails on both sides of the vehicle.
Finding these airbags might not be too difficult, as they are intentionally designed to be visible indicators of safety features. However, accessing them for maintenance or replacement can be more challenging. You may need to remove other components or covers to reach the airbags, depending on their location and your car’s design.
It’s important to remember that working with airbags should be left to professionals, as they are dangerous to handle if you’re not experienced in this area.
If you suspect there’s an issue with any of your airbags, consult with a technician or take your car to a qualified mechanic to assess and address the problem safely.
How Do You Know If an Airbag Works Properly?
Here are a few steps to help you check on the status of your car’s airbag system:
- Keep an eye on the airbag warning light: In most cars, there is an airbag warning light on your dashboard. This light should illuminate briefly when you start your car, and then go off. If the light stays on or comes on while driving, there might be an issue with your airbag or airbag sensor.
- Perform an airbag diagnostic test: Most modern cars have the ability to perform an airbag diagnostic test. This test checks if all the sensors and circuits of the airbag system are functioning correctly. A mechanic with the right tools and equipment can run this test for you, helping you confirm if your airbag is in good shape.
- Regularly inspect your car for recalls: Car manufacturers may issue recalls for airbag issues. Be vigilant and stay updated on any recalls related to your vehicle’s airbag system. You can do this by visiting your car manufacturer’s website or signing up for notifications about recalls.
It’s important to prioritize airbag maintenance to ensure your safety in case of an accident. By following these tips, you’ll have better peace of mind, knowing that your airbag system is working correctly and ready to protect you.
How Long Do Airbags Last?
Airbags are designed to last the life of your vehicle. You don’t need to worry about them wearing out or requiring replacement, no matter how long you own your car. In the past, some automakers placed labels in vehicles suggesting airbags needed to be replaced after 10 or 15 years, but that’s not the case anymore.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can neglect your airbags completely! It’s still a good idea to keep an eye on any dashboard warning lights that might indicate an issue with your airbag system. If you notice any unusual behavior, it’s best to take your car to a professional for a check-up.
How Much Do Airbags Cost?
When considering the cost of airbags, it’s important to understand that these prices can vary significantly depending on the type of airbag you need.
If you’re looking to replace an airbag, here’s a ballpark range of what you might expect to spend:
- Driver-side airbags: $250 to $800
- Passenger-side, knee, and side-curtain airbags: $400 to $1,500
Keep in mind that you can’t simply install used airbags from a scrapyard because, according to most state laws, airbags need to be factory-new for safety reasons. This means that you’ll have to factor in the cost of purchasing a new airbag when calculating the total expense.
While it might be tempting to cut corners by using a used airbag, it’s crucial to prioritize safety and adhere to state laws by opting for a new one.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace Airbags?
Replacing a single airbag, which includes both parts and labor, usually costs between $1,000 and $2,000. Keep in mind that the actual cost depends on the specific airbag and your vehicle’s make and model. In some unfortunate cases, the price tag might even go higher.
Now, when it comes to replacing multiple airbags, you should expect the costs to add up. For example, if you need to replace two airbags, it could cost anywhere between $2,000 and $4,000.
As you can see, replacing airbags isn’t exactly cheap. However, it’s essential to prioritize safety and ensure your airbags are functional in case of an accident.
Can You Replace Airbags Yourself?
You should never attempt to replace or install airbags yourself.
They need to be installed by certified personnel. Airbags are central to the safety of the passenger and therefore not something you can do yourself. It’s better left to professionals.