Having even a minor car collision is an unpleasant experience, but thanks to progress in automotive technology, various elements of your car are there to keep you safe and minimize its effect. One of those systems are airbags. This passive safety system is now standard in the United States, as all new cars are required to have them. Depending on its size, class, and price a car can have front, front-side and side curtain airbags that deploy during a collision to protect the occupants.
Airbags are activated via a set of crash sensors installed throughout a car to instantly activate in case of a collision. When a certain force is applied to a sensor, it sends an electrical impulse to the inflator which triggers a chemical reaction in the inflator. The reaction instantly inflates a thin nylon bag located nearest to the place of a crash or throughout the whole car.
The effects of airbag deployment could be shocking, but life-saving as well since airbags provide vital additional protection during a collision. They decrease the possibility of injuries by creating an air cushion between the occupant and sheet metal or other components of the car, preventing serious injuries or even saving lives in the process.
Airbags get activated only under a force which usually disables the car from driving away. However, in some instances, when there’s no structural or functional damage with the car, it is theoretically possible to drive away after a collision.
The perfect question in such cases is can you drive a car with airbags deployed? As you might assume, there’s no one-word answer to it. So, let’s take a closer look of pros and cons, the dos and don’ts of driving with your car with airbags deployed.
Types of Airbags
At first, pioneering airbags were located in the steering wheel and on the co-drivers side of the dashboard. But as the quest for safety continued, new and more modern cars got more airbags scattered throughout the car, while front airbags are obligatory for every new car on the market and most cars built in previous two decades.
Now, many new cars also offer driver’s and co-driver’s knee airbags that aim to prevent leg injuries of front occupants, as well as side-front airbags which minimize the effects of lateral body movement in side collisions. These airbags are there to prevent torso injuries and are usually located on the sides of the seats. Finally, curtain airbags offer wholesome protection for the second or third row of seats by deploying from the ceiling to the floor of the car. Recently, exterior pedestrian airbags appeared on Volvo cars, and some vehicles also feature a seat belt airbag.
Depending on a car, airbags can deploy only where the sensor was triggered or all at once, offering maximum protection. If a car doesn’t deploy all airbags, it will make it easier for you to drive it away from the scene of a collision, but we’ll focus on that later.
A crash happens… Airbags deploy
Suppose there’s been a collision hard enough for the airbags to deploy, yet everyone walked away unharmed, and the car is still fully operational. Usually, it will happen if it has been hit sideways, deploying side or curtain airbags. In this case, you will be able to start, steer, and get to the driveway or the nearest repair shop. But should you drive a car with the airbags deployed?
It is not illegal to drive a car with deployed airbags, but that still doesn’t make it a good thing to do. First of all, there’s the matter of shock. It’s hard to keep your head cool right after a collision which will definitely impact your concentration if you’re driving almost immediately after it. If you decide that towing or another form of transport isn’t an option, make sure to wait long enough to regain composure before you start your car and drive off.
Of course, there’s also the matter of safety. Let’s be honest, it’s highly improbable that a driver will suffer another collision right after the first one, but it is still possible. In that case, at least one airbag will not be able to deploy, thus increasing the chances of injuries.
If you decide that you want to drive the car off, you should take care of the deployed airbag. Airbags usually deflate by themselves, and if you mind waiting, you can deflate it yourself with any sharp object you have around. That works for front and front-side airbags, but side curtain airbags are trickier because they have to be cut off or torn off since they block side vision.
Driving Without Airbags
Airbag replacement is a costly procedure. If the driver is not at fault, the insurance company will cover the costs of it. The problem with this is that insurance companies and a mechanic can write off the car as totaled, getting it a salvage title. From this point on, it’s up to the driver to decide whether the car is worth saving or not.
Front airbags are easy to replace, and if the front airbags have been deployed, they’ll most likely get installed during the replacement of the steering wheel or dashboard panel. But, side curtain airbags are much more complicated to replace.
Replacing the side curtain airbags will definitely set you back hundreds of dollars because it doesn’t involve just repairing the damage done to your car’s interior and exterior panels, but replacing the sensors and installing new, more expensive bags. This translates to hours of labor and high repair bills, which is something many car owners want to avoid at all costs.
As previously mentioned, driving with airbags deployed isn’t illegal, but it isn’t good either. However, this time, the dangers are significantly increased. The next collision could always happen and it might be the one when the absent airbag happened to be the most needed.
Keeping all safety systems in perfect working order is one of the foundations of responsive car owning, so it’s always the best idea to replace the airbags as soon as possible and minimize the risks of being involved in a collision while driving a potentially unsafe car.
Buying Second Hand and Airbags
Deciding to buy a pre-owned car always bears a set of risks, especially if its insurance report isn’t crash free or if it’s a salvage title car. The psychology of selling such cars sometimes involves cost cutting and deliberately missing to replace an airbag is definitely among them.
In case you opt for buying a car with a chip on its shoulder, let alone a salvage title car, make sure you have a trusted mechanic by your side. They will help you notice every potential trouble with the car, or assure you that there’s no need to worry despite the car being in a collision or written off. If you’re lucky, you might end up with a solid car for a fraction of the price just because of it salvage title. Still, it’s not a good idea to buy any of these cars.
You must know that it’s legal to rebuild a car without replacing the deployed airbag. If that’s the case, replacement panels should have a No SRS Installed disclaimer on them, clearly stating the condition of the car. However, not all sellers are honest and it is still possible that the replacement panel is a regular one, but there’s no airbag underneath.
If you’re aware that there are airbags missing, it’s up to your negotiating abilities to bring the price of the car as low as possible to cover the costs of installing the missing airbag. Of course, you can decide to skip airbag replacement at your own risk.
On the other hand, if you still decide to buy a previously crashed car without inspecting it with your mechanic at site or without making sure that all airbags are present and functional, the first thing you should do is to drive it into a trusted repair shop. Only there you’ll find out if all airbags are functioning the easier way.
The Final Thought
In conclusion, while it’s technically not illegal to drive your car without an airbag, it’s not a responsible thing to do. Driving a car with airbags deployed is possible and won’t result in a fine, but bears an increased risk of severe injuries for both the driver and the occupants in case of another collision.
Immediately after an accident, it might be the best to call a friend or family member, take a taxi, bus or find any other alternative transport while the car gets towed to a trusted repair shop.
Our advice is to always be responsible towards yourself and your occupants and get the airbags reinstalled as soon as possible. Moreover, potential future owners of your car also need to know whether the airbags have been deployed and replaced with functioning ones.
Just like fresh and weather appropriate tires or serviced brakes, airbags can make a huge difference in case of a worst case scenario. That’s why safety should always be your number one priority in the path towards a carefree car owning experience.