Airbags History and Maintenance

Airbags are safety devices that are installed in vehicles to protect the occupants from severe injuries in case of a collision or accident. Airbags are designed to inflate rapidly and cushion the impact of the occupant’s head and chest with the steering wheel, dashboard, or other parts of the vehicle. Airbags are usually triggered by sensors that detect sudden deceleration or changes in pressure. Airbags can reduce the risk of death or serious injury by up to 50% in frontal crashes, according to some studies.

History of Airbags

The concept of airbags can be traced back to the early 1950s, but the first practical design was patented in 1953 by American inventors John W. Hetrick and Leonard De Nezza. Their design used compressed air to inflate a bag from the dashboard in the event of a collision, providing cushioning for the vehicle’s occupants. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that airbags began to be incorporated into commercial automobiles.

In 1971,General Motors (GM) introduced the first production airbag system as an option on some of its luxury models. Throughout the 1980s, various automakers began to offer airbags as optional or standard features in their vehicles. However, it was not until the 1990s that regulations were put in place to mandate airbags in all new passenger vehicles in the United States and many other countries, significantly increasing their prevalence and effectiveness in enhancing occupant safety.

Airbags History and Maintenance​

Airbags and Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings and functions. Airbags are devices that inflate rapidly in the event of a collision, to cushion the impact and prevent injuries to the occupants of the vehicle. SRS is a broader term that encompasses all the components and features that work together to protect the occupants in a crash, such as seat belts, pretensioners, load limiters, sensors, and airbags. Therefore, airbags are a part of the SRS, but not the only one. It is important to understand the difference between airbags and SRS, because they have different maintenance and operation requirements. For example, airbags need to be replaced after deployment, while other SRS components may need periodic inspection and testing.

How Airbags Work:
Airbags are part of a vehicle’s supplemental restraint system (SRS) and are designed to deploy rapidly in the event of a collision, providing a cushioning effect to reduce the impact forces experienced by the vehicle’s occupants. Here’s a basic overview of how airbags work:

Crash Detection:

When a collision occurs, various sensors in the vehicle detect the impact and send signals to the airbag control unit (ACU).

Signal Processing:

The ACU analyzes the signals received from the sensors to determine the severity and type of crash.

Airbag Deployment:

If the crash is severe enough and meets the criteria for airbag deployment, the ACU triggers an igniter. This igniter causes a chemical reaction that produces a rapid release of gas (typically from sodium azide) to inflate the airbag.

Inflation and Deflation:

The inflated airbag deploys from the steering wheel, dashboard, side panels, or other designated locations. The airbag absorbs the impact energy and then rapidly deflates to provide a cushion for the vehicle’s occupants.

Seat Belts in Conjunction:

Airbags are most effective when used in conjunction with seat belts. The seat belts restrain the occupants, preventing them from moving too far forward during rapid deceleration, while the airbags provide additional protection against hard surfaces and reduce the risk of injury.

Diagnosing a Faulty Airbag:
If there is a problem with your vehicle’s airbag system, it is crucial to have it diagnosed and repaired promptly to ensure the safety of all occupants. Here are some common signs of a faulty airbag:

Airbag Warning Light: The most apparent indication of an issue with the airbag system is an illuminated airbag warning light on the dashboard. This light typically stays on or blinks when there is a problem.

No Deployment After a Collision: If your vehicle is involved in a collision, and the airbags don’t deploy, it may indicate a problem with the system.

Continuous Beeping Sound: Some vehicles may produce a beeping sound to indicate a fault in the airbag system.

Intermittent Issues: Faulty wiring or sensors can lead to intermittent problems with the airbags, where the warning light comes on and off sporadically.

Best Practices:
To ensure the proper functioning of your vehicle’s airbag system and maximize safety, consider the following best practices:

Regular Maintenance:

Follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule for your vehicle, including airbag system checks.

No Modifications:

Avoid making unauthorized modifications to the airbag system or removing components. Altering the system may compromise its effectiveness.

Seat Belt Usage:

Always wear your seat belt while driving. Airbags are designed to work in conjunction with seat belts, not as a substitute for them.

Children and Airbags:

Children under 13 years old should sit in the back seat, as deploying airbags can be dangerous for young children.

Professional Inspection:

If your airbag warning light is on or you suspect an issue with the airbag system, have your vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic or authorized service center.

Recalls and Updates:

Stay informed about any recalls or software updates related to your vehicle’s airbag system. Manufacturers may issue recalls to address potential safety concerns.

Remember, airbags are an essential safety feature in modern vehicles, but they are not infallible. Always practice safe driving habits and follow all traffic rules to minimize the risk of accidents and potential airbag deployment.