How Long Do Airbags Last? Do They Expire?
Car airbags are so strange—they stay hidden until when we need them the most, then spring into action and die out a split second later. But what’s the guarantee that they actually work, especially in old vehicles? Do they stand the test of time?
Whereas each part of your vehicle may break down or wear off at one point, we dive deeper into this blog post to see if airbags are any different. Keep reading.
Do Airbags Expire?
Modern airbags don’t expire and can last the vehicle’s lifetime because their actual components are extremely durable. However, some automakers recommend their consumers replace them after set time limits, as was the case in the early years of airbag technology.
Let’s travel back in time a little.
Airbags have been around since the 1970s. Being a new technology back then, several automakers couldn’t estimate its lifespan. Owner manuals recommended dealer inspection after every 10, 15, or 20 years, depending on the automaker.
Fast forward to 1990, airbag technology had become so advanced that most automakers figured that replacement wasn’t necessary. The key component that changed the narrative is the type of seal used to house the airbag igniters, also called the squib.
While earlier models used plastic-to-metal seals, modern-day airbags use a glass-to-metal sealing to house the igniter. Modern squibs are more robust than originally expected and can last for as long as the car does.
If you own a vehicle manufactured before the year 2000, it’s advisable to ensure your airbags are inspected and replaced. Your owner’s manual should provide recommendations on how to go about it.
How Do Airbags Work?
Within the split second that airbags deploy after an accident, a chain of scientific processes happens. In fact, about four processes take place within 0.002 seconds, which is about 20 times faster than your eye blinking.
- Upon an accident, a sensor inside the airbag detects the impact and notifies the airbag control unit using an electronic signal.
- The control unit activates a small chemical reaction. It heats sodium azide (NaN3) to produce the nitrogen gas that inflates the airbag quickly.
- As it inflates, the airbag forces the dashboard or steering wheel away from the passenger or driver.
- After it inflates to its full size, the airbag quickly deflates to allow the driver or passenger to see out.
How to Monitor Your Car’s Airbag
The National Highway Traffic Administration estimates that, since 1990, airbags have saved more than 50,000 American lives. It’s been proven that they reduce the mortality of drivers and front passengers by 29% and 32% respectively. It is such a crucial feature in every car.
The good thing is that you don’t have to manually check whether your car’s airbag system still functions perfectly.
All modern vehicles are equipped with self-diagnostic systems (SRS) that automatically scan the vehicle for safety issues upon powering on. You should see the airbag symbol light up and then turn off immediately when you ignite the car.
If the airbag light fails to come on at all or it doesn’t disappear after the auto-checking is done, it means something’s wrong with your airbag. You should have it checked by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible.
Can You Replace an Airbag After an Accident?
Yes, airbags can be replaced after an accident. In fact, they should be replaced.
In the process of saving our lives, the sensors and airbag unit may get damaged. To ensure the airbag will be up to its life-saving task in the future, deployed airbags need to be checked and replaced.
If you shove them back in their compartments, they may not redeploy properly in the occurrence of another accident, therefore posing an incredibly dangerous risk.
While the technology in older cars allowed airbags to be reused, modern airbag technology doesn’t because the airbag unit utilizes all the chemical compounds required to inflate the airbags.
Do Airbags Have a Lifetime Warranty?
Car airbags are only covered by warranties limited to new cars. These warranties typically expire after 3 years. Any defective airbag after the period will not be covered by the manufacturer under the vehicle service contract, also commonly known as an extended warranty.
There are some vehicle insurance policies, however, that may include airbag replacement in their coverage.
What Is the Cost of Airbag Replacement?
Replacing an entire airbag system after a crash can be costly, sometimes going upwards of $3,000. This is because the process involves a surprising amount of labor work and repairs:
- It may be necessary to replace the airbag control module that contains irreplaceable impact sensors.
- The airbags need to be replaced.
- The wiring and connectors must be checked and replaced if they are damaged.
- Seatbelt buckles and retractors are changed. In some modern vehicles, the seatbelt buckles are equipped with pretensioners that tighten before airbags deploy, therefore improving user safety.
If you are going to replace the airbag alone, auto repair companies may charge approximately $1,500.
Without a doubt, airbags are a crucial safety element in every vehicle. While they don’t expire, they also aren’t reusable once they have been deployed during an accident. In that case, it’s necessary to replace them as soon as possible.
You can fix a damaged airbag by yourself but it’s more reasonable to seek a replacement from an authorized body shop. There, the mechanics will inspect the airbag system, the seat belts that might have been triggered by the airbag deploying, child safety seats, and other safety features that work together with airbags.
We hope you enjoyed our article and stay safe while driving!
Featured Image Credit: Maksim Vivtsaruk, Shutterstock