Car Care: Don’t take airbags for granted
Fitting the correct seat covers critical for safety
Safety in automobiles is something often taken for granted these days. Take airbags for example. There would not be many owners/drivers I suspect, who would know off-hand, just how many there are or where they were positioned in their vehicle.
The front driver and passenger airbag location is the easiest to pinpoint. Drivers only need to look at the steering wheel centre to find the letters SRS AIRBAG or similar, while the same goes for the front passenger dash panel on most vehicles.
In case you’re wondering, SRS stands for Supplemental Restraint System and relates to the airbag(s) being used as extra protection (supplementing) for occupants who are already restrained by wearing a seat belt in the event of an accident.
In addition to the front SRS protectors, side and curtain airbags have become standard safety features on pretty much all passenger vehicles in recent times, which is great news for many late-model used car buyers and those lucky enough to purchase new.
Some vehicles even have knee airbags, while one of the latest innovations is the inflatable rear seat belt which Ford is fitting to their new flagship model Mondeo.
So, just where are these airbags hidden, and how important is it that owners actually know their location?
Curtain airbags are designed to protect the occupants head and neck area, and as the name suggests deploy from the vehicles roofline. Think of a vehicle sliding sideways into a pole and you will quickly understand the benefits.
Not all side airbags run the full length of a vehicle, particularly those fitted with an extra row of seats. Once again, that SRS AIRBAG wording should be found somewhere below the edges of the roof line to identify fitment.
The knee airbag, if fitted, is housed under the front dashboard and designed to protect the knees against hitting hard surfaces in the event of a high speed frontal collision, and is pretty much out-of-sight-out-of-mind to occupants. A technician with their head in that area would be able to identify a knee airbag was fitted as a precautionary matter.
Side airbags are the ones we need to be a little more aware of. They are usually tucked away in the side of the front seats and are designed to protect the pelvic and lower abdomen areas.
To enable any airbag to deploy quickly when required, manufacturers will build fault lines or weak points into trims and coverings to allow the airbag to “burst” through without any restrictions. The side airbag is no exception. The seat trim, whether it be cloth or leather, will be designed to allow for the airbag deployment and the exact directional path it will take. Normally there is a tag sown onto the seat trim identifying the seat as being fitted with a side airbag.
So what can go wrong with a side airbag that we should be aware of?
Fitting front seat covers to help protect the fabric against damage or general wear and tear used to be a fairly straightforward procedure. Most vehicle accessory outlets or even franchise Dealers had an almost one-size fits all cover that came in a variety of colours and makeup. And often a favourite seat cover would be removed when a vehicle was sold and reused on the replacement vehicle.
But times have changed. Seat covers must now be able to allow for the side airbag to deploy properly if required, while any repairs or cloth to leather conversions are best left to the experts.
If you are looking to cover your seats or modify them in any way, look for that SRS tag first. Side airbag friendly covers are available from selected motoring accessory outlets, but it would pay to check very carefully thatthey do fit correctly and even seek advice from your local franchise dealer.
One company based in Auckland specialising in cloth to leather conversions is Retro Vehicle Enhancement Ltd. They have more than 40 years of experience in the automotive industry and claim to be the only auto-trimming supplier in Australasia recognised by Land Transport New Zealand to sew and certify side impact upholstery airbag seams. For additional information check out www.rve.co.nz
Finally and for the DIY owners out there, please take extra caution when working around vehicles fitted with airbags. Removing steering wheels or fiddling with any under dash wiring should be avoided.
And if you notice the SRS dash warning light remaining on, do something about it. The warning light is there to alert drivers of a fault in the SRS system and until corrected, none of the airbags will deploy if called upon to do so.