When the airbag light illuminates on your car’s dashboard, it immediately makes you ask two questions:
1. Could the airbag go off at any point?
2. Will it still deploy if I’m involved in an accident?
You can’t be blamed for being concerned, your airbag is arguably your car’s most important safety feature, designed to protect you and your passengers in the event of an accident. The light coming on tells you that there’s a problem with your car’s airbag system.
The first and most important thing to remember if your airbag warning light comes on is that, should you be involved in an accident, your airbags will not deploy. At the same time, this means that your airbag won’t suddenly go off in your face as you’re driving, but that’s secondary to your safety and that of your passengers.
So what should you do if your airbag light comes on?
The first thing you should do is have your car checked by a qualified mechanic at your local garage. It is vitally important that you have diagnostics run to find the cause of the airbag light and to have the problem fixed as soon as possible so your airbags will work again.
Obviously this is easy if the light illuminates at the start of your journey, as you can simply remain where you are and call your garage. What if it happens whilst you’re driving and miles from home? Well, technically you can still drive your car, but we wouldn’t advise anyone to drive anywhere without functioning airbags, it’s not safe and is just not worth the risk.
In that event, we would advise following these steps:
1. Drive as carefully as you can.
2. Be even more aware of potential hazards and other motorists.
3. Stop as soon as you can in a safe place.
4. Call your breakdown service or garage to recover your car and perform the necessary diagnostic checks and appropriate repairs.
5. Only when your airbags are fully functioning should you continue your journey.
What causes the airbag light to come on?
As is the case with other warning lights, there can be a myriad of reasons why the airbag light has become illuminated. Here are some of the most common reasons:
1. The airbag needs resetting. If you have been involved in a collision, but it wasn’t severe enough for the airbags to be deployed, the airbag light will become illuminated. You will need to have the airbag reset at your local garage.
2. Corroded sensors. If your car has sustained water damage the sensors could have become corroded. This would create a fault in the system and cause the airbag light to come on.
3. Depleted battery. When you car’s battery has become drained, the airbag backup battery can become depleted and this will cause the system to report a fault.
4. Dislodged wiring. If your car has side airbags, sometimes the fault can be with the side airbag on the passenger side. The wires for that airbag can become dislodged or damaged when the passenger seat is moved backwards and forwards. If you notice that a plug has been disconnected, we would advise not to try plugging it back in as you could trigger the airbag. Book your car into your local garage and let them check for you.
5. Faulty seat belt. It may be an issue with your seat belt sensor. Sometimes the sensor that detects whether you have fastened your seat belts can become faulty. When this happens, it can trigger the airbag light to come on.
6. Your airbag clock spring may need replacing. The spring coils throughout your steering wheel and is designed to maintain continuity between the wiring and the driver’s airbag. Over time, the spring can become worn and fail, causing the airbag warning light to illuminate. This defect is more common in older cars.
The bottom line is that, when your airbag light comes on, it’s vital that you don’t drive any further and have your car checked by a mechanic as soon as possible. Until the problem is diagnosed and fixed, your airbags will not deploy. Your safety and that of your passengers is paramount so don’t ignore your airbag light.
If you would like to find out what other warning lights mean and what you should do when they become illuminated, you should read Dashboard Warning Lights Explained, which gives you advice on a number of lights and their meanings.