Do Airbags Expire?
Airbags are one of those things most people never think about – until they are quite literally in your face. Because they stay hidden, it is easy to overlook them. But is out of sight out of mind a good mantra for these life-saving safety features? Like other important vehicle components, do airbags require inspections? What about replacement? Is there an expiration date stamped somewhere deep within your steering column?
If you have a newer car, you can assume that your airbags will never require replacement. In modern vehicles, airbags do not expire and are designed to last throughout the car’s lifetime.
If your car is older, however, your car’s manufacturer may advise you to change out your airbags as part of routine maintenance. According to automotive experts at Edmunds.com, this is usually only a concern in vehicles that predate 1990.
A Brief History of Airbags
Although they are now standard in all new cars, airbags started out as something of a novelty. In the 1970s, they were new technology. Because auto makers of the time were unsure how long an airbag could last, they generally recommended that owners obtain airbag inspections every few years.
Additionally, some foreign car makers used plastic sealing technology around the airbag’s igniter. Because the plastic could deteriorate over time, some foreign manufacturers prior to 2002 instructed car owners to replace their airbags every 15 years. Because the majority of automotive manufacturers around the world used glass sealing technology (which stops moisture from penetrating the igniter) instead of plastic, this was rarely a problem.
In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported 30-year-old airbags that performed successfully in collisions.
Beginning in the late 1980s, federal lawmakers started requiring all car manufacturers to install airbags in vehicles as a standard feature. In 1998, federal regulations mandated that all new vehicles include dual airbags.
Modern vehicles are equipped with self-diagnostic systems – often shortened to SRS – that automatically run a check of a car’s safety systems as soon as the vehicle’s engine is started. Because airbags are part of a car’s SRS, the vehicle’s computer runs a diagnostic of airbag function every time you start your car. In most cars, the SRS diagnostic is indicated by a small light that shuts off shortly after the system completes its analysis. If your car’s SRS light fails to appear or refuses to shut off, you might have a problem. If you notice a malfunction with the diagnostic light, it is a good idea to have your vehicle checked out.
The Bottom Line
When airbags were still new technology, car manufacturers had to rely on theory. Without any real-world data to go on, they could only speculate on the durability and reliability of airbags. Today, however, airbag technology has been around for decades. If your vehicle is relatively new, you can rely on your airbag to keep you safe for miles to come.