Getting to know airbags


In this week’s “Getting to Know” guide, we turn our attention to what an airbag is, and how it is today, such a vital component of vehicle occupant safety.


What is the function of an airbag?


Airbags, which are sometimes referred to as Supplementary Restraint Systems (SRS), are designed to enhance the protection provided by seatbelts, rather than being a replacement for them. Airbags ultimately provide a degree of cushioning when occupants are forced against hard band unpadded parts of the car interior’s in the event of a collision, such as the steering wheel and the dashboard.


What are the two main types of airbag?


Vehicles can be equipped with both front and side air bags (SABs). Driver and passenger airbags are designed to inflate in a severe frontal collision, whereas side airbags (SABs) are located in either the side structure of the car or in the seats themselves. Their job is to protect the driver and passengers from injury in the event of a side impact.


How does an airbag work?


Crash sensors detect a sudden reduction in speed and send a signal to the airbag inflator which fills the bag with a gas. The bag will then start to deflate instantly, in a controlled manner, in order to lessen the impact for the vehicle occupants.


Can the inflation of airbags cause injuries?


As airbags inflate quickly, and with considerable force, minor injuries, such as abrasions and slight burns, may occur to the driver and passengers. Serious harm can be caused if an occupant is sitting too close to an airbag when it inflates.


What does it mean if my airbag warning light is showing on the dashboard?


If the airbag light illuminates on the dashboard, it could signal three issues:


  • That there’s a faulty seat belt switch;
  • That the clock spring is damaged (this is a cable which can be found between the steering wheel and the steering column); or
  • The crash sensor is defective or needs to be reset.


If the light is on, you will not be able to turn it off yourself. Therefore, it is advisable to take the vehicle as soon as possible to an independent garage or franchised dealer to be rectified (please see below). It will not stop you driving the car, but the airbags may not inflate in the event of an accident.


What happens if my vehicle is recalled because of potentially faulty airbags?


Airbag recalls have been widely publicised in the media due to potential manufacturing defects. Therefore, if you have received a notification, such as a letter, from the manufacturer of your vehicle or dealership where you purchased the car from, you should arrange an appointment with them to have the necessary rectification work carried out as soon as possible. This should be at no cost to yourself.


The online GOV.UK MOT history checker also has a useful section where you can view any recalls on a vehicle as per the registration entered.


What should I consider when getting any part of the airbag system replaced?


If any part of the airbag system requires replacement, only components approved by the vehicle manufacturer should be used, and should equally be installed according to their guidance and specification.


Where can I find a business to have my airbag replaced?


To find an independent garage or franchised car dealership which is accredited to The Motor Ombudsman’s Motor Industry Code of Practice for Service and Repair, visit The Motor Ombudsman’s online Garage Finder.


For further guidance on vehicle safety, visit the ROSPA here.


Image courtesy of WhichCar.