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Airbag Light -- Why Does it Come On?

Updated on January 13, 2011

Airbag Light -- Why is My Airbag Light On?

My airbag light came on about a week ago, a bright red button that tripped halfway through my drive. It's always distressing when a warning light suddenly pops on, but at least with the airbag light, it's not as though your car is suddenly about to lose oil and seize the engine. But still, the airbag light is an indication of something that's gone wrong, and it's nice to at least know what that is so that you can decide whether or not you're going to fix it. The main question I had, which I'm sure others have had as well is: if the airbag light is on, am I in danger of the airbag suddenly deploying while I'm driving? That's tricky to say. If the airbag system is malfunctioning, then either it will activate when it's not supposed to or else won't activate when there's an accident. Either case is distressing and is worth getting checked out by a professional.

When the SRS, or Supplemental Restraint System, is functioning properly, the SRS light or airbag light should stay on for about 6 seconds after the key is turned on.  The light stays on while the system checks itself to make sure that it's functioning properly.  If the light stays on indefinitely or begins blinking after the 6 seconds, it means that the SRS is malfunctioning somehow.  There's no reset for this system because the system checks itself every time the car is turned on again.  Most recommendations say that trying to repair the airbag isn't a job for do it yourself-ers, but should be handled by a professional.  I would tend to agree with them and am planning on having my system checked out asap.

The airbag light can be a menacing little button that can lead to some dangerous situations if not taken care of
The airbag light can be a menacing little button that can lead to some dangerous situations if not taken care of

Why Did the Airbag Light Come On?

There are a few possibilities to why the airbag light suddenly has come on.  One easy possibility is that the car blew a fuse.  One fuse in particular, fuse #13 is a likely culprit.  If your airbag light is on and your rear windshield wiper doesn't work, then it's a pretty good indication that you need to change fuse #13 and possibly others.  Blown fuses can definitely cause the airbag light to come on.  There are a number of other instances that can cause an airbag light to come on suddenly.  When the airbag system is malfunctioning, a mechanic or auto parts store should be able to read the code that the system is putting out which will give them a clue as to what particular problem the airbag is having.  Since the airbag is a complex system of sensors, wiring, and programming, staying dormant for years and then called upon to immediately activate during an accident, there are a lot of different things that can potentially go wrong.  So check the fuse box first to see if you've got some blown fuses, and if not, then you'll probably need to take it in to the dealership or a trained mechanic for servicing.

Dangers of Leaving Your Airbag Light On

As we just talked about, the airbag is a very complex system of sensors, programming, and wiring. Trying to fix it yourself isn't recommended for obvious reasons. The good news is that while the airbag light or SRS light is on, the airbag won't deploy. I say that this is good news because I would rather have a malfunctioning airbag that simply won't deploy than a malfunctioning airbag that deploys while I'm driving 70 miles an hour down the freeway. So the danger comes in driving with a deactivated airbag and then getting into an accident. If you get into an accident while the SRS or airbag light is on, the system won't deploy and you won't have the protection that an airbag offers. So even if there's nothing really wrong with the system and the light got tripped for something like a busted fuse, you'll be driving around without an airbag for as long as the light is on.

Something else that you need to take very seriously is that many auto insurance companies are getting more and more stingy in their coverage of the medical bills from an accident.  If it is determined that the SRS system was disabled for a "long" period of time and that the airbag would have prevented serious injury, they may try to get out of covering medical bills.  How would they know how long the airbag light is on though? It is a little known fact that the SRS system recording device that records data from an accident.  Much like the black box in an airplane, the recording device in the SRS system might be enough for the insurance company to get out of covering some of the medical bills.  So keep that in mind.

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    • Benjimester profile imageAUTHOR

      Benji Mester 

      6 years ago from San Diego, California

      Hey Steve, I'm not sure on that. Sorry. You might ask your local auto parts store.

    • profile image

      Uchennasteve@yahoo.com 

      6 years ago

      Thank u on the way u answer people problems.My question is this:I normally find it very very difficult to programme vag vehicels because of the security code.Which equipment wil programme and read the security code of vag vehicels.I wil be happy if my question is answered using the e-mail:uchennasteve@yahoo.com

    • Alladream74 profile image

      Victor Mavedzenge 

      7 years ago from Oakland, California

      Had the same problem, always a worry.Thanks

    • Benjimester profile imageAUTHOR

      Benji Mester 

      7 years ago from San Diego, California

      Indeed.

    • abradford55 profile image

      Adam Bradford 

      7 years ago from Howell,MI

      That's funny.

    • Benjimester profile imageAUTHOR

      Benji Mester 

      7 years ago from San Diego, California

      That's really good to know. Thanks for passing that along.

    • POWERS1205 profile image

      POWERS1205 

      7 years ago

      Saw your post and just wanted to mention that a lot of vehicles also have seat sensors that can throw a fault code if a person kneels on the seat in just the right way. Working in the automotive field I have seen this a few times.

    • Benjimester profile imageAUTHOR

      Benji Mester 

      7 years ago from San Diego, California

      Haha yeah, agreed. I suppose it's good to have lucky number 13 be a fuse for something that can save your life though. Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image

      Jalus 

      7 years ago

      I just had to check and sure enough, my airbag fuse is #13 as well. Not the best number for it, in my opinion! I'd much rather have my stereo or something less serious be #13 :)

    • Benjimester profile imageAUTHOR

      Benji Mester 

      7 years ago from San Diego, California

      :) haha

    • lefseriver profile image

      David Walli 

      7 years ago from Northern Minnesota

      sounds like a lot of hot air to me.

    • Benjimester profile imageAUTHOR

      Benji Mester 

      7 years ago from San Diego, California

      Yeah that's quite possible. They say that electrical disturbances like changing the battery can cause the airbag light to come on. That's good that it turned itself off again. Mine's still on for some reason.

    • agvulpes profile image

      Peter 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for these great tips I did find my airbag light came on slightly but within a few days the cars battery completely died and needed replacing. After the new battery was fitted the air bag light functioned perfectly.

      Possibly in line with your blown fuse suggestion?

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