Car Care: Airbag — is it still alive?
UNTIL THE SYSTEM IS CHECKED AND FAULTS RECTIFIED, THE SRS WILL SHUT DOWN COMPLETELY WHICH MEANS NO AIRBAG DEPLOYMENT
I was asked recently by the owner of an older vehicle what the life of an airbag was.
It’s a good question. How do owners know whether their airbags will still deploy as intended after years of sitting idle?
There’s limited information on this subject, to be honest, but in general there is no industry standard that stipulates the lifespan of an airbag.
Some individual manufacturers may have a recommended replacement time frame, but I suspect they have alternative reasons for taking this stand rather than the airbag itself simply reaching a pre-set end of life expiry date.
When you think about it, what is there to wear out?
The airbag is not a moving part and is not required to do anything apart from sitting quietly tucked away just waiting for the call-up to burst into action.
I’m told by reliable sources that testing has been done (mainly in the US) where vehicles up to 30 years of age were crash tested, and the airbags still deployed as they were originally intended.
But there is a lot more to a Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) than just an airbag and here we should be a bit more cautious. The wording SRS itself can be a little confusing. In brief, it means an airbag system that is designed to help protect occupants in the event of an accident, where injury may occur, and when working in partnership with the fitment and wearing of seat belts.
Airbag deployment is only as good as the information being received by various sensors placed around the vehicle, the condition of the wiring system and the main electronic control module which has the final say on whether to fire the airbag or not.
Repairs should never be carried out on damaged SRS wiring looms without the approval of the vehicle manufacturer (good luck there), while the use of second-hand parts is deeply frowned upon by most of the new vehicle distributors from my past experience.
Removal of the steering wheel which houses the driver’s airbag should also be avoided or left to the experts.
When the vehicle ignition is initially turned on, the SRS system will carry out a self-check test. If the SRS light remains on at all times, then it’s telling the driver there is a problem in the system. Until the system is checked and faults rectified, the SRS will shut down completely which means no airbag deployment if the vehicle was involved in an accident and occupants were deemed to be at risk of injury.
So if the self-checks do not indicate a problem and the system has not been tampered with in any way, then you should have little to worry about.
It’s also a Warrant of Fitness requirement for the SRS warning light system to be checked.
But this story does have a twist. The New Zealand Transport Agency’s website notes the following: If your car crashes and the airbag inflates, legally you must replace the airbag if the car is less than 14 years of age.
This means a vehicle that is 14 years old or older that has been involved in an accident where the airbags have deployed, can be repaired and legally driven on the road with the airbags removed.
It’s not quite that straightforward or simple,however.The owner must apply for and be granted a Low Volume Vehicle Certificate from the government approved agency Low Volume Vehicle Technical Association (www.lvvta.org.nz ).
Other reasons for legally removing an airbag (provided a Low Volume Certification is granted) is when a vehicle has been adapted for a person with a disability, or has been extensively modified for motorsport use.