Airbags have been required by federal law in all new vehicles since 1999. While this regulation has saved countless lives, you can still drive an older car built before 1999 without airbags. There is also no legislation that requires the replacement of airbags once they have deployed. So, can you drive a car once the airbags have deployed?
The answer is yes, but. You need to do certain things to keep yourself and the passengers in your car safe from serious injury. It’s not always easy to think coolly and calmly after an accident. Read on to find out how to handle the situation.
Definition Of Airbags
An airbag is a device designed to protect vehicle occupants involved in an accident. It does this by inflating extremely quickly and then deflating immediately afterward, providing a temporary cushion for the occupants in front or side impacts.
Purpose Of Airbags
The whole purpose of the airbags is to prevent the driver and passengers from making direct contact with the car’s steering wheel, dashboard, or bodywork as it is involved in an accidental impact. After the impact, it is equally vital the deployed airbag deflates so that the people in the vehicle can move and get out as soon as possible.
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Can You Drive A Car Once The Airbags Have Deployed?
Once deployed, all airbags have fulfilled their purpose and cannot be re-used. The protection they provide is no longer available in the event of another accident.
Safety Risks Involved
- Immediately after the collision that caused the airbags to deploy, the car may be driveable, but there must be pretty severe damage because minor accidents don’t trigger the airbags. If you’re forced to drive the car, drive slowly and for as short a distance as possible before you get it checked over.
- Once the car has been repaired, driving without the airbags means you’re vulnerable to severe injuries if you have another accident. There’s nothing to protect you or your passengers (maybe your children?) from a frontal or side impact.
- Your insurance cover may lapse if you don’t have functional airbags in your car. Make sure to check this out with your insurance company. It’s not a physical risk, but a serious one, nevertheless.
Potential Damage to the Vehicle
Your airbag sensors will only deploy those airbags directly affected by the impact. If you have a side-on collision, the driver’s airbag and the other frontal airbags (if your car is fitted with them) may not deploy. Types of airbags include:
- Driver’s Frontal Airbag
- Driver’s Knee Airbag
- Passenger’s Front Airbag
- Side Airbags
- Curtain Airbags
- After an accident, check whether the undeployed airbags are still in full working order. The sensors may have been damaged, in which case the airbags aren’t going to deploy when needed.
- Just because not all airbags have deployed, it doesn’t mean that those areas of the car are undamaged. So, for example, a front-end collision will not cause deployment of the side airbags, but the bodywork may be totally out of alignment, and side pillars and doors bent and inoperable.
- It’s not just the visible damage that you need to have checked. The drive train, including the engine, transmission, cooling system (especially the radiator), and suspension, may all have been damaged, depending on the severity of the impact.
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What to Do After An Airbag Deployment
There are two scenarios to look at. The first is when your car has been in an accident, and action is required both immediately after the accident and later. Or it might also be a car you are considering buying, and you’ve been told that the airbags were previously deployed. Either way, there are a few vital steps to ensure your safety and those of your passengers.
Contact A Professional
Immediately after the accident, switch off the engine to avoid leaking gas or oil igniting. Most new cars have an automatic cut-out if the airbags deploy.
- Check for any injuries to anyone involved in the accident and get professional medical assistance if necessary.
- Contact the local police or traffic department to assist at the scene and to report the accident.
- Contact You Insurance Company. Your insurance may cover the cost of replacing the airbags.
- If you have an older car, the combined cost of repairs plus replacing the airbags may be too high in relation to the car’s value.
Have The Vehicle Inspected
- If it’s your car, your insurance may ask you to obtain quotes from professional repair shops, or they will send their own assessor to establish what repairs will cost.
- If you’re looking at buying a car that has had airbags deploy in the past, it’s even more important to get an accurate assessment of what has been done and what still needs to get it repaired to a satisfactory standard.
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Replace The Airbags
Getting airbags replaced can be expensive, but as we’ve pointed out, the risks of driving without them are even more costly.
- Don’t risk safety to save money. Front airbags can often be replaced most effectively by installing a new steering wheel or dashboard. It is vital that this is done by a professional specializing in airbag replacement.
- You might have to scrap the vehicle. Side and curtain airbags are extremely expensive, but if they have deployed, they must be replaced. The cost of this may be too high to be worthwhile, in which case the car will be scrapped by your insurer.
- Don’t be persuaded to fit inferior airbags purely to save costs. Defective airbags that don’t satisfy the original manufacturer’s specifications may prove even more dangerous than having no airbags. There have been cases reported of airbags causing severe injury and even death by deploying incorrectly.
- Check the airbag control module. It is an essential part of the whole system and will need to be replaced if damaged or reset by a professional. If the SRS warning light is on, it means the system is not working, and your new airbags may not deploy in an accident, so make sure this repair is also done correctly.
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There are no federal laws that require airbags to be replaced once they have deployed. So, a car can be driven legally without airbags, as with older cars manufactured before airbags became compulsory.
Airbags have saved countless lives, so we cannot emphasize strongly enough how important it is not to drive a car without protecting the lives of the occupants. Get them replaced, whatever the cost! And if you’re buying a used car, ensure the airbags are correctly installed by getting them checked by a professional. It could save your life.