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Why Is My Airbag Light On? 5 Reasons

Airbag light indicator

Your vehicle’s airbag is one of the most important safety features it has. Besides the seatbelt, there’s no safety device on your vehicle as responsible for saving so many lives.

That’s why you need to take the airbag light extremely seriously. If this light is on, your vehicle doesn’t have a functional airbag in place, which is a big problem if you get into an accident.

To fix the problem, you need to know why the light is on in the first place. Here are five of the most common reasons that a vehicle’s airbag light turns on.

car and road divider

The 5 Reasons Your Airbag Light Is On

1. Broken Clock Spring

If you recently had someone complete work on your vehicle and they took off the steering wheel, you probably have a broken clock spring. The clock spring sits inside your vehicle’s steering wheel and is the component that enables all the wiring to rotate completely without breaking when you turn the steering wheel.

If someone installs the clock spring incorrectly, when the steering wheel turns past a certain point, it will break the clock spring. Instead of having the airbag blow up in your face when this happens, it deactivates the airbag and sends a code to the ECM that lights up your dash with the airbag code.

2. Faulty Sensor

airbag light
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The airbag system in your vehicle uses a few different sensors to activate the airbag. An accident needs to crush at least two sensors throughout your vehicle to activate the airbag system.

But if any of these sensors short out or present a different problem, the ECM can generate an error code. This is better than trying to figure out whether the airbag should deploy when it’s using faulty data.

3. Faulty Airbag

While airbags tend to last a while, they can eventually fail. When an airbag fails, it sends a code to the ECM that deactivates the airbag and triggers the light.

It’s not the most likely reason, but if the airbag got wet or underwent some sort of impact, it’s certainly possible.

4. Drained Backup Airbag Battery

You don’t need to have your car on for the airbag to deploy when you’re in an accident. This is a safety feature that protects you when your vehicle is parked and somebody hits you.

The system works because there’s a backup airbag battery that supplies power to the airbag system even when the vehicle is off. But if the battery on the vehicle dies, it’s only a matter of time until the backup airbag battery dies too.

When this happens, you’ll get an airbag light. The good news is that once you get a fully charged battery and let the vehicle run for a bit with a working alternator, the backup airbag battery will recharge, and the light should turn off.

5. Recent Accident

Photo Credit: Pixel-mixer, Pixabay

If you were just in an accident and the airbag went off, you’re going to have an airbag light when you start up the car. There’s also a chance that the airbag didn’t go off, but you now have an airbag light.

An airbag needs two crushed sensors to go off, so a single crushed sensor won’t set off the airbag, but it will set off the light. If the airbag light came on after an accident, there’s a good chance that there’s a connection between the two events.

car and road divider

Troubleshooting an Airbag Light

Now that you know a few potential reasons that your vehicle might have an airbag light, it’s time to do a little troubleshooting to determine what the cause might be.

The easiest thing that you can do is take your vehicle to a shop like AutoZone or Advanced AutoParts. Typically, the staff will read the code for you for free, and depending on the code, it can help you narrow down the cause of the problem.

You also need to consider your vehicle’s recent history when you’re trying to diagnose the issue. Recent work on the steering column indicates a broken clock spring, while any kind of water or wetness in the system could short-circuit electrical components.

When in doubt, reach out to a certified mechanic. They can troubleshoot the problem for you and help you get your vehicle’s airbag system back in working order.

airbag light
Photo Credit: zkolra, Shutterstock

Is an Airbag Light Serious?

Yes. While an airbag light won’t keep you from using your vehicle, you’ll be driving without one of its most important safety devices.

When your vehicle’s system turns on the airbag light, it automatically turns off the airbag system as a precaution. So, while you won’t have to worry about the airbag suddenly going off on you while you’re driving down the road, it won’t go off when you get into an accident either.

If you get into a serious enough accident, the airbag not going off when it should can have fatal consequences.

car and road divider


Now that you know why your vehicle’s airbag light might be on, it’s up to you to fix it. If you can’t figure it out, take it to a mechanic who can. While it might not be a bill that you want to pay, it’s far better than getting into an accident without a functioning airbag.

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Featured Image Credit: Bjoern Wylezich, Shutterstock


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