Why Is My Airbag Light On? What Should I Do?

Closeup of car airbag and dashboard

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The majority of the cars on the road today are equipped with an airbag system. Many cars have the basic front seat driver and passenger airbags. While other cars may have many more airbags distributed around the inside of the passenger compartment. What this means is that you and your passengers are protected in case of an accident.

But how do you know for sure that the airbags will deploy when they are needed? Well, that’s what the airbag module is for. It not only deploys the airbags but will continually check to be sure they are in working order. If a problem with the airbag system is detected then you will be alerted by the airbag light on your dashboard. If the airbag light is on and stays on solid, you need to take action as soon as possible.

What is the airbag light?

The airbag light in your car indicates that there may be a problem with the airbag system. This warning light is integrated into the car’s safety system which includes the seat belts and airbags. The most common types of warning lights are:

  • A display of the letters “SRS” (supplemental restraint system)
  • A display of the outline of a driver with an airbag deploying
  • A display of written warnings such as “Air Bag”, “Air Bag Off” or “Air Bag Deactivated!”

Top reasons why your airbag light is on

If the airbag/SRS warning light comes on solid it may not necessarily mean that there is a problem with the airbag system. Since there are several other components involved in the system, the problem could be elsewhere. As a first step it is a good idea to check each of the seat belt switches to ensure they fasten properly. If the seatbelts appear to be fastening properly then you should consider the following possibilities:

Depleted airbag backup battery

The airbags are deployed by the car’s main battery. Since it is usually located in the front engine compartment it is susceptible to damage in a front-end collision. For this reason, there is a second backup battery that is charged by the main battery. If the main battery is destroyed before the airbags are deployed, the backup battery will ensure that the airbags deploy. It is worth noting that if the main battery discharges the backup battery will also discharge. Usually, once the main battery is recharged the backup battery will recharge as well. In some rare cases, an error code will be set that will turn the airbag light on.

Damaged impact sensors or wires

Also known as crash sensors, they are distributed around the car body and are used to detect an impact. If an accident occurs and the impact sensor is not functional then the airbags will not deploy.

Worn clock springs (mechanical or electronic) issue

Located in the steering column, the clock spring is responsible for triggering the deployment of the airbag via a signal from the impact sensor. This issue is more common in older cars with mechanical clock springs that are more prone to failure over time. Newer cars have electronic clock springs that are not prone to failure.

Corroded or shorted airbag module

This module controls the operation of the entire airbag system. It processes information from the impact sensors to determine which airbags to deploy in an accident. In older cars, the front airbags are deployed via the clock spring in the steering column. In newer cars, additional airbags (passenger or side curtain) may also be deployed. Since this module is located under the seats, it’s very susceptible to moisture and corrosion which may make it inoperable.

How to reset the airbag light?

In a manual way

A blinking airbag light indicates that the airbag module was not reset properly after a deployment or some other service that was performed. If that is the case, you can reset the light in a manual way by following these steps:

  1. Move the ignition key to the “ON” position so that the airbag light comes on normally
  2. When the airbag light starts to blink turn the ignition key to the “OFF” position for at least 3 seconds
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until the airbag light no longer blinks
  4. If it continues to blink after repeated attempts, you will need to bring your car to a shop for analysis

With an airbag scanner

If the airbags have never been deployed and the light is on solid, this indicates that the airbag module has detected a problem.  If that is the case, you will need to identify the problem with an airbag scanner. The airbag code reader will scan the car and provide an accurate diagnosis of the problem. There are many devices available, that you can purchase, to perform this diagnosis. The other option is to bring your car in to a professional to perform the diagnosis and make the necessary repairs.

Is it wise to drive with the airbag light?

No, it is never wise to continue driving your car with the airbag/SRS light on solid or blinking. This is especially true if you drive long distances or in heavy traffic because the risk of an accident increases. You do not want to take the chance that the airbags will not deploy if you are in a collision. You should assume that if your airbag light comes on, your safety is at risk. In this situation, it is important that you have it checked out as soon as possible.

The Bottom Line

Whether you buy a scanner and perform the test yourself or bring your car in to a shop, it is your choice.  Driving your car with the light on will not cause any damage to your car. The damage will happen to you and your passengers if the airbags don’t deploy in the event of a collision. The bottom line is that if the airbag light comes on unexpectedly you need to address the situation as quickly as possible. Driving around in an unsafe car is not an option when your life is on the line.