OhAirbags are designed to inflate within a fraction of a second of impact to provide a cushion between occupants and hard surfaces during a crash.
The airbags themselves are part of the Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) which uses signals from sensors that help detect the moment of a collision.
If there’s a problem with any part of the system, your car will warn you with a dashboard warning light or a graphic of a person sitting with a giant ball on their lap, or simply ‘AIRBAG’ or ‘ SRS’ says.
What is the airbag warning light actually telling me?
Most SRS systems use sensors attached to seat belts and seats that detect the immediacy of a collision and tell the SRS which airbags to deploy.
Seat belt sensors detect hard and sudden belt tension that occurs with rapid deceleration, and will typically distinguish between hard braking and impact forces.
Meanwhile, sensors under the seats tell the car which seats are empty, to avoid unnecessarily deploying any airbags to protect absent passengers.
If there is a problem with any of these sensors, wiring or the actual airbag unit, the airbag light will stay on or flash after you start the car to indicate that there is a problem and the SRS. Not working.
An airbag warning may also indicate that the SRS has been disabled until the fault is corrected, which means that if you have an accident, an airbag may deploy. Will not be posted.
It’s worth noting that your airbag warning light will not come on if you have a faulty Takata airbag, so make sure your vehicle is affected if you haven’t already.
What to do when the airbag light comes on
A flashing airbag warning light indicates a significant problem with the SRS system which means you should take it to a repairer immediately.
If the light stays on, you should take it to a repairer, however, there are a few things you can try first that may fix the problem.
Start by checking the seat belt buckle to see if there is anything obstructing the seat belt sensor, such as dirt or anything else that may have fallen there.
If that doesn’t work, make sure the seat belts aren’t stuck or tangled and try to pull them fast so they’re under tension. This can help reset any problems with the tension sensor.
The seat and seat belt sensor wiring is usually attached under the seats, so grab a flashlight and try to do a quick visual check to see if any wires or connectors are broken.
Another possible cause is a bad steering wheel clock spring. In addition to flicking the steering wheel back to center after you turn, the clock spring provides an electrical connection between the steering wheel and the dashboard for things like the horn, audio and cruise control switches, and airbags.
If the clock spring is slightly worn it can temporarily open the circuit between the airbag and the sensor, causing the warning light to come on. In some cases this can be fixed by simply turning the steering wheel to full lock in each direction, while stationary, to re-establish the connection.
One thing you should never do is inspect or disassemble the airbag unit, as it contains an explosive charge that could kill you.
What if the light stays on?
Take the vehicle to a repairer as soon as possible because if you are involved in a serious collision you will not be protected by your airbags, and your insurance company may refuse to pay.
The first thing a mechanic or auto electrician will do is plug a diagnostic reader into a socket in your vehicle’s dashboard to locate the exact fault.
Hopefully this will be a simple problem and they will have more success with the above checks resulting in a quick and inexpensive fix.
Alternatively, the problem may require a more expensive repair or replacement of faulty components such as the SRS sensor, clock spring, or airbag module. Yet it’s a small price to pay for you and your passengers to be protected by SRS, a proven lifesaver.