Airbag warning light is on: 4 Reasons & How to fix it

Updated Mar 19, 2021 | Same topic: Automotive FYIs

Fix this issue with or without an OBD-II scanner.

Airbags have been protecting car users since 1952. Back then, the early forms of these inflating safety devices worked mostly through mechanical means. Later in the 1960s, the airbag was then improved to use more electronics combined with chemical inflation systems.

A picture of airbags mid-deployment

Airbags have saved 50,457 lives from 1987 to 2017

To this end, airbags have become faster and more able to protect a car’s occupants during a crash. The downside to this is that it has become much more complicated. It needed a bunch of sensors to work, and so issues will arise in some instances.

On modern cars, airbag issues will present themselves in the form of an airbag warning light. So, what are the reasons as to why your car’s airbag light is turning on, and how do you fix it?

Four reasons why your airbag light is on

Faulty sensors

The most common cause of airbag warning lights turning on are faulty sensors. These are sensitive devices that detect several parameters on your car, and it will tell when to inflate the airbags. Besides being linked to the airbag system, these are also linked to the car’s computer. That way, the car, through the airbag warning light, can tell its owner if something has gone wrong.

A picture of an airbag warning on a car's multi-information display

On some cars, the warning is more apparent [Photo: Reddit user greyven1]

It might be that the sensors were tripped accidentally, or the sensors were exposed to something that damaged them directly. If the latter was the case, you might need a replacement. If it was the former, then all you need to do is to reset them.

Wet airbag module

As its name implies, the airbag module is an electronic device. That said, it doesn’t work well if exposed to water, so it will trigger the car’s airbag warning light. This might come in the form of water damage caused by flooding, or something as benign as spilling water or drinks on the seat. Of note, a modern car’s airbag module is often positioned under the seat. Corrosion on the module caused by moisture can also trigger the airbag lights.

A picture of an airbag module

A typical airbag module. Picture here is a module from the Nissan Frontier

Worn out airbag clock springs

The driver’s airbag on the steering wheel requires an additional part called the airbag clock springs. This is because the steering wheel needs to rotate, but the bag mounted inside the wheel needs a way to connect to the electrical system. To do this, it uses the part in question. This part however wears down overtime.

Deactivated airbag

Another cause for the airbag light to turn on is airbag deactivation. This might be caused by issues with the airbag sensors, or a fault in the many components of the airbag.

How to fix with activated airbag light without a scanner

Note: If you’re unsure about doing it yourself, it is always a good idea to let the professionals handle it. Airbags after all are sensitive devices that can deploy accidentally if you commit a mistake. Once deployed these need to be replaced and that’s an additional cost you do not want.

1. To do this without a scanner, turn on your car’s electronics without turning on the car. Wait for the airbag light to turn on.

2. The light will stay on for about seven seconds then it will turn off. After it turns off, shut off the car completely and wait for three seconds.

3. Repeat steps one and two twice.

4. Start the engine. The airbag light will come on and then will turn off completely. If it does this, the airbag light has been reset

If you’re using a car with a push to start button, leave your foot off the brake and press the button once. To turn off all power, just push the button again. Note also that this method might not work with some car models. Also, some airbag systems will need to get their issues fixed first before you can turn off the airbag warning light.

How to fix with activated airbag light with a scanner

1. Before doing anything else, check if the car has a passenger airbag toggle switch. It might just be turned off by mistake.

2. Find your OBD-II port. This is usually located underneath the dashboard. Connect the OBD-II scanner device and allow it to scan for trouble codes. Find the codes related to the airbag system.

3. The device will tell you the specific issue with the said system. If you find some, we highly advise you to bring your car to your trusted service center.

4. After addressing the issue, you can now clear the code. Of note, you can clear the code without fixing the issue, but the warning light might come back after two to three driving cycles.

A picture of an OBD-II being used

An OBD-II scanner is a must-have device for serious car owners

Do note that an OBD-II is not some magical device that can make the problems with your airbag system go away. It just helps you detect what needs fixing thus saving you a lot of time. For more helpful car maintenance tips, safety tips, and tips on car buying and selling, keep it here on Philkotse.com.

Airbag light: FAQ

1. Can an OBD-II scanner turn off a car’s warning lights?

Answer: The OBD-II system is not a magical fix to all of your car’s problems. Instead, it’s like an air-planes flight data recorder that records the condition of the car and indicates what’s wrong with it. Resetting or clearing the OBD will also eliminate all the data that was stored and also turn off warning lights. Without fixing the root cause however, the warning light will come back on eventually.

2. Can I legally drive with deactivated airbags?

Answer: In the context of the Philippines, yes you can drive without airbags. We do not recommend that though.

3. How do I replace an airbag sensor?

Answer: We do not advise replacing an airbag sensor by yourself at home. Instead, take it to your car brand’s dealership and have their mechanics do it for you.

4. Can I drive with my airbag warning light turned on?

Answer: Yes, you can, but it’s advisable to get it fix as soon as you can.

5. What is a car airbag made out of?

Answer: Typically, a modern car’s airbag is made out of nylon. The gas used to inflate it is argon or nitrogen.

Cesar G.B. Miguel

Cesar G.B. Miguel

Author

Cesar is a graduate of AB English with previous experience working as a freelance writer for varied internet publications in-between his former stints in the Pharmaceutical Industry, and later as a First Aid Provider and Training Staff at the Iligan City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.

Since childhood, Cesar has been keenly interested in cars. He has learned the ins and outs of these marvelous vehicles and is a competent amateur mechanic who is keen on sharing his knowledge.

Cesar is perceptive of car culture in general – not only in the Philippines but in global regard, as well. His knowledge ranges from the prevalent stories and trends among car enthusiasts around the world, to closely following the latest local and international developments in the automotive industry.

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