Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Airbag light on — What it means

How to diagnose and fix an Airbag light on condition

Got an Airbag light on and you just want to clear the airbag code? vw warning icon airbagI’ve got news for you; the airbag system conducts a check every time you turn the key. If you clear the code and the light comes back on, THERE’S a problem with the airbag system.

What causes and airbag light on condition?

The supplemental restraint system (SRS) consists of at least one airbag, some type of impact or g-force sensor, seat belt pretensioners, passenger seat detection device, and in some cars, side airbags and knee bolsters. The main SRS computer tracks the condition of all the components and sensors when you start the car and while you’re driving. If it detects a fault, it sets the SRS or airbag light on condition.

image of crash sensor

Crash sensor

In many cases, the cause can be as simple as a poor connection at the

Occupant seat detection sensor

Occupant seat detection sensor

passenger seat detection device. In those instances the fix can be as simple as powering down the airbag system and disconnecting and reconnecting the connector. However, other times it can require replacing the seat detection device.

Toyota occupant seat detection

Toyota occupant seat detection

Where to start your diagnosis of an airbag light on condition?

It all starts by getting the trouble code. If you skip this step, you’ll replace perfectly good parts and I guarantee you, you’ll wind up back at the starting point trying to get the trouble code you should have gotten in the first place.

Get the trouble code with a scan tool

Look, if you want to repair your own vehicles you simply have to own the right tools or rent them if you don’t have them. Owning a scan tool is pretty much a given. It’s just as critical as owning a socket set. Sure, you can run it over to the auto parts store and let them scan it for you, but auto parts scan tools usually only read generic powertrain codes. They DON’T read manufacturer specific codes, chassis “C”codes, body “B” codes, or digital “U” communication codes.

Why? Because the auto parts store don’t want the liability of reading an airbag code or giving you advice on how to fix it. Wrong advice can get someone killed.


Power down the airbag system before touching any component

Each car maker has their own power down procedure. Just about every one requires disconnecting the battery. But you should be aware that disconnecting the battery on a late model vehicle can cause it to lose critical calibrations like throttle body, window, steering angle, etc. So, if you try to do your own airbag repairs, you may wind up with a car that won’t start after because it’s lost its throttle body calibration. In other words, get a shop manual and learn how to do a steering angle and throttle body, memory seat, anti-pinch window relearn procedure.

Don’t ignore the airbag light on condition

Once the SRS light turns on, the computer keeps track of how many times you started the car with the light on. So, if you carry a passenger and that passenger gets injured because the airbag didn’t go off, you’re going to get sued for every penny you have. The injured party’s lawyer will have the computer read and they’ll present that evidence at trial that you knowingly transported a passenger with a faulty airbag system. See where this is going? And the car makers get off scot free too because they use the number of starts to proved that it was YOUR fault the airbags didn’t go off. You knew they weren’t working (can’t claim the light didn’t come on because it always comes on when you turn the key) and yet your drove with a disabled safety features. So bottom line, quit whining. Stop asking how you can “trick” the safety inspectors. Stop asking how you can bypass the system. You can’t. Just get it fixed.

© 2012 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat


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