Most modern cars have a dizzying array of warning lights built into the gauge cluster, often with infotainment centers that can spit out a bewildering number of diagnostic messages when something goes wrong. Familiarizing yourself with all of these warnings may seem like a daunting task, but there is one that you should never ignore: the airbag light.
In most vehicles, this light will look like a seated person with a deployed airbag in front of them. This warning light alerts you to problems with your car's Supplemental Restraint System (SRS), and it's not something to take lightly.
Understanding the Supplemental Restraint System
The "supplemental" restraint system uses airbags to supplement the protection offered by your seat belts. If you look around your car's cabin, you will likely notice "SRS" emblazoned on several surfaces. These letters denote the locations of airbags in your passenger compartment. These critical safety items are one of the primary reasons that modern cars are so much safer than their predecessors.
Although it's easy to think of each airbag as an independent unit, they are a part of a more extensive safety system. The supplemental restraint system consists of the airbags, along with the sensors and control units that determine when to deploy them. The SRS even includes emergency power to trigger the airbags if an accident disables the car's electrical system.
Decoding the SRS Light
When your car's airbag light illuminates, it means that the computer has detected a problem in one or more components of the SRS. In many cases, this does not indicate a problem with the airbags themselves. Instead, failures more typically occur in the sensors that the SRS relies on or even in the seat belts.
The two most common failures on most cars are the seat occupancy sensors and the seatbelt tensioners. The seat occupancy sensor determines if someone is sitting in the passenger seat to determine if the airbag should deploy in an accident. Likewise, seatbelt tensioners must be correctly working since airbags can severely injure unrestrained passengers.
Dealing With an SRS Fault
If the SRS light illuminates, your car's computer has disabled some or all of the SRS, and your airbags may not deploy in an accident. Airbags inflate with a tremendous amount of force, and so deploying them at the wrong time can lead to passenger injuries. For this reason, manufacturers err on the side of caution when faults are detected and disable the affected portion of the system.
You should always have any SRS fault diagnosed and repaired as soon as possible. With an illuminated SRS light, a critical part of your car's safety system is no longer operable, leaving you and your passengers vulnerable in an accident. Addressing the underlying cause of the light is the best way to ensure the safety of all of your vehicle's occupants. Deal with these auto repairs as soon as possible to have peace of mind.