Sometimes called the Supplemental Restraint System (SRS), the airbag system in your car is designed to inflate within fractions of a second to provide a cushion in the event of a collision. The airbags use sensors in the seat belts and the seats themselves to determine whether or not the airbag should be deployed. This way, if no one is in the passenger seat, the airbag won’t deploy unnecessarily.
What the airbag warning light means
Every time the engine is started, the computer does a quick check on the system to make sure everything is working as intended. When you start your car, the airbag warning light will turn on for a few seconds and should turn off automatically if everything is okay. If the light stays on, the computer has detected an issue and will store a code to help identify the cause. Most importantly, if the light stays on, the airbag system is disabled to try and prevent the airbags from deploying randomly. Some common issues include a malfunctioning seat belt switch or seat sensor. On older vehicles, it is common for the clockspring in the steering wheel to wear out preventing the computer from telling the airbag to deploy.
What to do when the airbag warning light is on
Check your seatbelts for any debris as that can prevent the switch from moving. Most likely the issue won’t be that easy and you’ll need more information to find out the cause.
If the light stays on, you will need to have the car’s computer scanned for codes to determine what the issue is. Most vehicles have a reset procedure that will need to be done to turn the light off as well. Always remember that working with airbags is dangerous as they are critical to your safety and they should only be handled by trained professionals.
Is it safe to drive with the airbag warning light on?
While the vehicle can be driven, keep in mind that the airbag won’t deploy in the case of a collision which is very dangerous. Try not to drive your vehicle unless absolutely necessary or unless you are taking it to the auto shop to get it repaired.
As always, if you feel uncomfortable driving the vehicle, our certified technicians are always available to come to you and help you diagnose the issue.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What Does the Airbag Warning Light Mean? and was authored by Spencer Cates.