Airbags in cars: Car airbag working, types, price and more

Team AckodriveJun 6, 2022

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The automobile industry has come a long way in terms of safety equipment and advanced safety features. That’s why modern-day cars have become safer for the driver, passengers and other road users. One of the most crucial safety features of a car is the airbag. Airbags in cars are a passive safety feature, which works best in conjunction with seatbelts. This article will provide a deep insight into car airbag types and their working mechanism.

airbags on cars

What are airbags in cars?

An airbag is inflatable safety equipment that protects the car passengers in case of a collision. Generally, they are made out of stretchable fabric like nylon. Airbags on cars are part of the occupant restraint safety system as they supplement the safety offered by seatbelts. 

Airbags are tightly packed at various locations inside the cabin, depending on the type of airbag. Most commonly, you find the airbags on the dashboard. If there’s a collision, they inflate very quickly and provide cushioning for the passengers to reduce the chances of your body colliding with the vehicle’s interior. In the following sections, let’s look at the working mechanism and different types of airbags.

How do airbags in cars work

Airbags work by means of a chemical reaction and a bunch of sensors. But, before diving deep into the car airbag working, let’s look at some of the main components of the system. An airbag system consists of crash sensors, inflator, airbag module and airbag control unit. These components work in conjunction to efficiently deploy the airbag if there’s an accident/collision.

How do airbags open in cars?

So, how does the car airbag system work? Refer to the points below to find out the answer.

  • The crash sensors — generally located at the front of the vehicle — relay the signal to the airbag control unit if it detects sudden deceleration.

  • The main control unit also receives information from other sensors such as wheel speed sensors, seat occupant status sensors, brake pressure sensors, etc.

  • The airbag control unit analyses the data and can activate safety features such as automatic door lock, seatbelt lock and airbag deployment.

  • Once the main control unit detects an accident, it sends a signal to the inflator.

  • A chemical charge is initiated by the inflator, which produces an explosion of Nitrogen gas. The gas fills up the airbag.

  • As soon as the Nitrogen fills the airbag, it bursts through the panel that contains it and provides a cushioning effect to the passenger.

  • Lastly, the airbag deflates automatically after deployment.

How fast do airbags deploy?

The airbag deployment speed is rapid. Accidents are unpredictable; a collision can happen at any moment. Hence, the reaction time is crucial for any safety equipment. So, how fast does an airbag deploy? The answer is very fast! The airbags deploy in around 55 milliseconds, and that’s the time you take to blink your eyes! So, the system is very effective dues to its super quick reaction time.

Types of car airbags

Below are the different types of airbags used in cars.

  • Front airbags: They are located on the steering wheel and passenger-side dashboard to protect the front occupants.

  • Side airbags: They protect the occupants if the car suffers a side impact. Generally, they are located on the side of the seat.

  • Knee airbags: They protect the front passengers from suffering knee injuries. The airbags are located under the steering wheel/dashboard.

  • Curtain airbags: They are mounted on the car’s roof. They protect the occupants from head injuries. The airbags deploy like a curtain, hence the name curtain airbags.

What is the importance of airbags in cars?

As mentioned earlier, an airbag is one of the essential passive features of a car. That's the reason all modern cars come equipped with airbags as standard. Without airbags, the occupants may suffer serious injuries in the event of a severe collision. Without any cushion, the passenger's head, neck, knees, etc., may collide with the car's interior. Such injuries can be fatal.

So, airbags play an important role in minimising injuries. They act as a cushion and soften the blow experienced by the passengers during a collision. However, the airbags are of no use if the occupants are not using the seatbelts. That's because the airbag is also part of the restraint system, and they work in sync with the seatbelts. 

Sometimes the airbags can also hurt you if you have not fastened the seatbelts. Remember that the airbag deploys with an explosion, and if you are thrown uncontrollably from your seat, the force of airbag deployment may injure you. Hence, seatbelts are also as important as airbags in a car.

Pros and cons of airbags in cars

In this section, let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of car airbags.

Pros of airbags in cars

Below are the merits of car airbags.

  • The airbags increase the cushioning around the driver/passenger's head, neck and spine in case of a severe collision.

  • It minimises the force of impact by limiting the movement of the person's head and neck, provided the driver/passenger wears the seatbelt.

  • It decreases the chances of occupants being thrown out of the front windshield or windows.

Cons of airbags in cars

Here are some of the disadvantages of car airbags.

  • Deployment explosion: The airbags deploy by means of a chemical reaction. The inflator triggers an explosion that produces nitrogen, which fills the airbags. In some situations, the explosion can ignite fuel fumes or any other flammable component of the vehicle. In that case, it may lead to a fire accident.

  • Dust cloud: The airbag is coated with talcum powder for ease of deployment. So, when the airbag deploys, it produces a dust cloud, which may cause breathing issues, asthma attacks or other respiratory-related issues.

  • Deployment force: The airbags deploy with an incredible amount of force that equals a speed of around 300 km/h. So, if your body is too close to the steering wheel/dashboard when the airbag deploys, you could suffer severe injuries. 

How effective are car airbags?

Car airbags are highly effective. That's why you see airbags on every modern car. They can turn out to be a lifesaver in a severe accident. They rely on several sensors and activate within a blink of an eye. The fast reaction time makes them efficient. The sensors are smart enough to detect a severe impact. The airbags don't deploy if the impact is very light. Hence, there's no chance of accidental airbag deployment.

Airbags are the most crucial piece of safety equipment that protects the occupants from severe injuries in case of a collision. However, the passengers must fasten the seat belts for the airbag to do its job. Without seatbelts, the airbags can cause more harm than protecting the occupants.

How much does an airbag cost?

The cost of an airbag can vary depending on your car’s make and model. The price can also vary depending on the type of airbag. For instance, the front airbags can be more expensive than curtain airbags. To know the exact pricing of your car’s airbag, you can refer to the spare parts catalogue of your vehicle. Alternatively, you can visit the authorised service centre to find out the price of airbags in cars.

Cars with airbags in India

The cars sold in India are now much safer thanks to the airbags and other safety features. Car manufacturers are rapidly developing new safety equipment to make cars safer than ever.

In April 2019, the government implemented new rules to make a few safety features mandatory. As per the mandate, all cars sold in India need to have ABS, reverse parking sensors, high-speed alert, seatbelt reminders (driver and front passenger) and a driver-side airbag as standard fitment. However, from January 2022, all cars need to have dual front airbags as standard.

Below is the list of cars that come with only one airbag as standard. Expect these models to have dual airbags as standard when the updated versions are introduced.

Dual airbags cars in India

Here are some of the cars in India that are available with dual front airbags as standard.

Maruti Celerio Maruti Wagon R Maruti Swift Datsun Go
Renault Kwid Hyundai Santro Maruti Dzire Maruti Ertiga
Datsun Go+ Maruti Vitara Brezza Kia Sonet Honda Amaze
Hyundai Grand i10 Nios Tata Tiago Tata Altroz Hyundai i20
Maruti XL6 Maruti Ignis Maruti Baleno MG Astor
Maruti Ciaz Maruti S-Cross Tata Nexon Hyundai Aura
Hyundai Venue Hyundai Creta MG Hector Mahindra Marazzo
Mahindra Thar Mahindra Scorpio

4 Airbags cars in India

Here’s the list of 4 airbags cars in India.

6 Airbags cars in India

Here is the list of SUV, hatchback and sedan cars with 6 airbags.

SUV cars with 6 airbags in India

Below is the list of SUVs with six airbags.

Hyundai Venue Kia Sonet Mahindra XUV700 Skoda Kushaq
Hyundai Creta Kia Seltos Tata Harrier Tata Safari
MG Hector MG Astor Hyundai Alcazar Jeep Compass
Volkswagen Taigun Hyundai Tucson MG Gloster Citroen C5 Aircross
Isuzu MU-X MG ZS EV Hyundai Kona Electric Mahindra XUV300

Note: Six airbags may be available only on the top-spec variants of some models.

Hatchback with 6 airbags in India

As of March 2022, only two hatchbacks are available with six airbags: Maruti Baleno and Hyundai i20. Note that only top-spec variants are available with this safety feature.

Sedan with 6 airbags in India

Below is the list of sedans with six airbags.

Note: 6 airbags may be available only on the top-spec trims.

7 Airbags cars in India

Mahindra XUV300, Mahindra XUV700, Toyota Innova Crysta, Kia Carnival and Toyota Fortuner are available with seven airbags. However, the feature may be optional and available only on the top variants.

8 Airbags cars in India

As of March 2022, the only mass-market car with 8 airbags is the Skoda Superb.

Future of airbag technology

Technology evolves rapidly, and the same applies to car airbags as well. Safety features in cars have taken a giant leap in the past decade, and they will only get better as days go on. Now, coming to airbags, the future technology promises to make inflatable seatbelts a reality. In case of an impact, the seatbelt will also provide a cushioning effect to the chest and help to avoid any chest injuries.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below are some of the common queries and their answers regarding airbags in cars.

Is it safe to drive my car with the airbag light on?

If you notice that the airbag light is illuminating on the dashboard, that means that there's some issue with the system. Hence, the airbag will not deploy in case of a collision. So, it's not advisable to drive your car with the airbag light on.

Which is the most affordable car in India with airbags?

In India, all cars need to have at least a driver-side airbag as standard. Hence, you will find an airbag even on entry-level cars. The cheapest entry-level car with an airbag is the Maruti Alto.

Can airbags protect the occupants from injuries?

Yes, airbags can protect passengers from severe injuries. However, you need to wear a seatbelt for the airbag to do its job correctly. Without a seatbelt, the airbag can cause injuries due to its deployment force.

Which small cars are available with dual front airbags as standard?

Renault Kwid, Datsun Go, Maruti Wagon R, Maruti Celerio, Tata Tiago and Hyundai Grand i10 Nios are some small cars that come with two frontal airbags as standard.

How many airbags are mandatory in India?

From January 2022, dual airbags (driver-side and front passenger side) are mandatory for cars sold in India.

How do I know if my car has a faulty airbag system?

Modern cars come with ECU (Electronic Control Unit) that can diagnose the sensors and circuits of the airbag system. If it detects any issue or fault in the system, you will get a warning light on your car's dashboard. So, immediately visit the service centre to rectify the problem whenever you see the airbag light lit up.

Can I disable the airbag system in my car?

No, you cannot disable the driver-side airbag in a car. However, you may be able to disable the front passenger-side airbag, provided the car has a passenger airbag cut-off switch. The switch is generally located on the passenger side dashboard. But it is not safe to drive with airbags disabled.

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