Driving with Airbag Light: Is it Safe?

Imagine that you are driving to work when all of a sudden a red light flickers to life on your … Continued

Imagine that you are driving to work when all of a sudden a red light flickers to life on your dashboard. The red illustration of a driver with a large airbag in front of him catches your eye and forces you to pull over out of concern for your vehicle. Everything appears to be normal yet the SRS light on your dashboard remains on. The first question that might pop into your head will probably be just how safe is it to drive with an airbag light on? This question is valid and so is your concern, but before we answer your question, here is what you need to know about the airbag light in your car.

What is an SRS Warning Light?

Your seatbelt is not the only safety net available in your car. There is another system that complements this device but it only appears when danger hits. This system is known as the supplemental restraint system (SRS) and it controls the airbags inside your vehicle. This additional safety cushion is equipped with sensors that are placed in strategic places throughout your car and their job is to detect any dramatic and abrupt deceleration similar to that of a collision. The sensors detect this violent impact and instantly deliver an electrical charge to the airbags, causing them to deploy.

passenger's airbag light on

What Causes the Air Bag Light to Appear?

In ordinary circumstances, dashboard lights including the SRS symbol appear for a brief moment when you first start the car and then disappear after a few seconds. This is merely the system performing a health check of its own thanks to its built-in self-test mechanism.  An SRS warning usually makes an appearance when one of the components that belong to the restraint system is suffering from some sort of defect. This includes the airbags, seat belt system, computer or the wires that link everything together.

  • Seatbelt Switch Interference

Sometimes, the airbag light appears in your dashboard due to simple and easy to resolve issues. For example, something as small as a nickel could get stuck in the belt buckle and this, in turn, will interfere with the seatbelt switch. This interference will trigger a false warning that is directly connected to the airbag. The first thing you should do when the light flickers to life is to check and make sure that nothing is interfering with the switch.

  • Faulty Airbag Clockspring

 In the case of a damaged airbag clockspring, the thin circuit bands become frayed and prone to falling. These bands allow the steering wheel to do its job while sustaining its connection to its airbag,  horn and electrical system. If the clockspring breaks, the airbag will fail to deploy.

  • Damaged Passenger Occupancy Sensor

The adjustable seats in your car have wires that connect it to the passenger occupancy sensor. Continuous adjustment of the seats makes these wires prone to getting disconnected and worn over time. Sticking things under the seat may also cause damage to those sensitive wires. In order to check if the sensor is still working, you will need to check the ‘Passenger Airbag Off’ Indicator. The light should be on if the seat is passenger-free.  If the seat is occupied, the lights will disappear, meaning that the airbags are working and ready to do their job.

  • Drained Backup Battery

The SRS system is equipped with its very own backup battery that is designed to work during emergencies and this includes collisions. The main car battery is responsible for charging it, but sometimes the main battery can get drained and this will negatively affect the SRS battery.  A dead backup battery can also trigger the SRS lights in your car. Changing or replacing the battery should solve this problem and the airbag light will disappear as a result.

  • Previous Accidents

Minor accidents are capable of triggering the crash sensors in your car but the impact itself might not have been strong enough for the airbags to be deployed. This scenario does not happen often but it could be one of the reasons why the SRS light is on in your car.

  • Electronic System Failure

Another rare scenario involves driving your car during a flood where the risk of water leakage is high. If this occurs, the computerized system will be damaged and lose the ability to read the airbags in your car. Other factors such as age, heat, and vibration can also cause the computer to fail.

airbag light blinking

Is it Safe to Drive with an Airbag Light On?

The airbag light can be a symptom of a serious problem that could rob you of a safety net when you need it most and that is why it should not be ignored. This is not to say that your car is unsafe to drive, but there is no need for you to gamble with your life. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry, especially when your safety net is not working at full capacity. In some cases, an SRS system that is not operating at 100% will disable the airbags and they will not be deployed when an accident happens.

So, is it safe to drive when the airbag light is on? The answer is no.

Even though there is a slim chance that the airbags will be deployed when the warning light is on, it is still considered a huge risk to ignore it and hope for the best. The roads are full of unpleasant surprises and putting your life and the lives of others in danger are not worth this risk.

Nowadays, diagnosing the problem is easy. All you need to do is take your car to the mechanic where the computer code will be diagnosed. This code will reveal what went wrong and will pave the way for resolving the issue and making the necessary repairs so you can get back on the road. Sometimes, a simple crash sensor reset is all it takes to get rid of the airbag warning light and regain confidence in your car’s safety system.

Sources:

  1. Warning Lights and Indicators, Government of Canada
  2. Why Is My Car’s Airbag Light on?, Angies List