Have you ever seen one of those prank videos where someone hides an airbag under an unsuspecting buddy’s chair and detonates it? It might be funny for a split second until you realize the real cost that prank. Spoiler alert: airbags aren’t cheap.
For a majority of people, airbag replacements come after a car accident. If you’re wondering about the cost of airbags, you came to the right place. In this article, we’ll talk all about airbags, discuss their cost in detail, and answer any questions you might have. Let’s start with a quick science lesson about how they work.
How Does An Airbag Work?
When you’re just driving your car around, you might have no idea that you even have airbags. It isn’t until there’s a massive force exerted on your car that the bags make their presence.
Airbags can be hidden behind a number of different panels and pieces of plastic around your car. The most common hiding spot is behind your steering wheel and the dash on the passenger’s side.
The sole purpose of an airbag is to save your life during a crash. It creates a (not so comfortable) pillow for your head to land on instead of going into the steering wheel and potentially killing you.
This begs the question: how does an airbag work? Well, the bags are packed into a tiny compartment. The compartment has the material of the airbag folded over itself neatly. At the base of the compartment is a crash sensor. If this sensor sees a giant spike in energy, it will tell the airbag that it’s time to go.
It sends a signal to an inflator that starts an immediate inflation process of the airbag. It uses nitrogen gas and a chemical explosion to quickly pump up the bag. This explosion causes the airbag to quickly fill up with nitrogen gas, inflating the airbag into a large cushion.
Now, the driver or passenger will propel into the cushion filled with nitrogen gas instead of a hard piece of plastic, leather, or glass.
After the airbag goes off, there’s no chemical reaction that can un-explode the bag and put it back into its compartment. In other words, airbags are a one-use item. After they’re used, there isn’t a reset button.
Number of Airbags in a Vehicle
The number of airbags that your vehicle has will depend on a lot of different factors. When you hear about safety ratings, a lot of those figures are boosted by the number of airbags in your car.
On average, a typical vehicle will have six airbags: two in the front, two on the sides, and two for the rear passengers. There are vehicles that have up to 10 airbags, like the Toyota Camry.
Why Would an Airbag Need to Be Replaced?
As mentioned, there’s no “reset button” after an airbag is deployed. You’re left with a piece of fabric sitting in the cabin of your car like a parachute. It also means that there’s no longer a usable airbag behind your steering wheel, for instance.
The only way to have a safe and drivable vehicle again is to replace the airbag. The airbag deploys due to a large collision. This could be a result of you hitting something, something hitting you, or your car dropping a significant height.
Low-speed collisions like a parking lot fender bender probably won’t deploy your airbag. Keep in mind, if your airbag doesn’t deploy after a collision, it doesn’t need to be replaced.
Your Vehicle’s Make and Model Change the Price of Replacement
Here’s another bit of bad news for BMW owners: your car’s make and model will change the price of replacing your airbags.
The worst part is that the airbag is often a copy and pasted design from one manufacturer to the next, you’re just paying more for the brand’s name.
For example, replacing the front airbag of a BMW 328i is about $200 more than the front airbag of a Honda Civic. Oddly enough, replacing an airbag in an F-150 is 2.5 times cheaper than the BMW 328i. It’s almost a roll of the dice when it comes to your specific car.
Are Airbags Expensive to Replace?
The average airbag costs between $1,000 and $1,500 to replace. This cost includes the labor at your mechanic. We didn’t mention it yet, but airbag replacement should always be done through a service department or mechanic. Trying to do the replacement on your own is dangerous and you could be risking your life if you install it incorrectly.
The figure above can basically be multiplied out based on how many airbags went off. If two airbags are deployed, it will cost $2,000-$3,000 for a replacement. If 10 airbags went off, you’re facing a bill of $10,000-$15,000.
In our opinion, this means that replacing an airbag is a really expensive undertaking. It’s one of the more expensive fixes that a car requires.
Understanding the Airbag Control Module
The airbag control module is a piece of the airbag itself. It is the brain that tells the airbag to deploy after detecting a huge force. If you have a faulty airbag control module, then it will need to be immediately replaced.
Without one of these modules, it doesn’t matter how bad the wreck is – your airbags will never deploy. There’s a great hint that your airbag control module is bad: there’s pretty light on your dashboard. It looks like someone strapped into a seat with a big bubble in front of them. If you see this light, stop what you’re doing and very carefully drive your car to the nearest mechanic.
This light means that your airbags won’t deploy in the case of a crash.
Sometimes Airbags are Free to Replace
If your airbags need to be replaced due to a recall, the replacement is free. If you didn’t know, a recall is when a car manufacturer determines there’s a huge risk in one or multiple parts in certain models of their cars.
It’s not uncommon for there to be a recall on airbags for certain cars. If this is the case, simply take the car to a dealership and they’ll do the repair for free. This won’t work if the airbags were previously deployed or non-OEM airbags are installed.
Other Times, Your Insurance Pays the Bill
The most common cause of an airbag deployment is when the car was in a crash. Depending on the circumstances of the crash and your car insurance, you might not pay a dime for the airbag replacement.
Keep in mind, if the crash was bad enough to deploy your airbags, your car might be deemed totaled and you’ll just get a payout for the worth of the car. For newer cars, the insurance money will cover the cost to repair the car, including new airbags.
Can’t Afford New Airbags? You Might Need to Sell the Car
A lot of people run into big issues after their airbags go off. No one wants to find out about a multi-thousand-dollar bill waiting around the corner. For plenty of people, especially ones with older cars, this presents a tough decision. Do you bite the bullet and shell out $3,000, or do you sell your car?
If the airbag replacement cost is higher than the vehicle cost, it might make sense just to get rid of the vehicle and buy a new one.
You won’t be selling the car for its real value, you’ll be using a scrap value. This could mean you only see a few hundred dollars, but it’s better than paying thousands for new airbags. Let someone else handle the airbag replacement and you can drive away with a different car.
Replacing Just the Steering Wheel
Let’s say just the driver’s front airbag deployed. You now have an opportunity to do the replacement yourself.
As you probably know, this airbag is positioned in the center of your steering wheel. You can simply replace your steering wheel with an OEM version of the wheel which includes an airbag. You can find a used steering wheel from a number of different places (many of which we outlined in our previous blog posts).
Since you’re not paying for an auto shop’s man-hours, this is a cheaper option. This is the only time replacing an airbag can be done on your own since the airbag is already packaged and installed in the wheel.
What About Repairing the Airbag Instead?
Some DIYers out there might be scratching their heads. By now, Motor Hills almost always talks about repairing an item for way cheaper than replacing it.
In this case, repairing is off the table. Once the airbag is exploded, there’s no safe way to repackage it. Some scammers might claim that they can stuff the airbag back in the housing, reset the airbag light, and get your car back to normal for way cheaper.
Once the chemical explosion is performed on the nitrogen gas in the airbag, it can’t be done again. Each airbag has one, and only one, charge. “Resetting” the airbag does nothing but bypass a safety feature. If you get into a wreck with a reset airbag, it will not go off and your face will hit a steering wheel instead of an airbag.
An airbag cannot be repaired, only replaced.
Only Replace the Airbags That Were Used
The good news is that you’ll only have to replace the airbags that were used. If you were the only individual in the car, that only means between one and three airbags that you’ll be on the hook for.
To be clear, you don’t have to replace every single airbag in your car after a crash if only one or two of them went off. It still stings to get a $3,000 bill, but it’s definitely better than a $9,000 one, right?
Do You HAVE to Replace Your Airbags?
There’s another camp of people that might be looking for a way around this huge bill. The sad truth is that there’s no way to avoid it.
For one, deployed airbags make driving almost impossible. Take a look at what the driver’s side of a car looks like after the steering wheel airbag deploys. You can only do so much without it getting in your way.
Additionally, airbags are just there to save your life. If you want to save a few thousand dollars, you’re putting your life on the line. A stupid driver behind you could rear-end you and you don’t have an airbag to save your face.
If you ask us to choose between spending $1,500 and hitting our face on a steering wheel at high speeds, we’ll take the financial hit every day of the week.
Finally, driving without airbags is probably illegal in your state. There’s no federal law that requires you to have airbags since cars manufactured before 1989 didn’t have them as a mandatory requirement. However, it’s a violation of most statewide driving codes to operate a car without airbags if the car was originally manufactured with airbags.
In simpler English, a New York driver is breaking the VTL code if they drive their 2020 Honda Civic without replacing the airbags. There is no violation if they’re driving a 1962 Chevy Impala (which wasn’t originally manufactured with airbags). It essentially makes it illegal NOT to replace airbags after they deploy.
Do You Have to Replace Airbags on Old Cars Due to Wear and Tear?
It seems like everything starts to wear out on a car as it gets older. If your car from 1985 is falling apart, we have a little bit of good news. In a lot of cases, airbags aren’t a victim of standard wear and tear.
Since the airbags are packaged all pretty and sitting in their little containers, the mechanism won’t wear out over time. This is obviously not the case if you’re seeing the airbag symbol on your dashboard – vibrations and potholes over time can disrupt the sensor within the airbag.
The airbags themselves don’t need to be replaced simply because your car is older. Now, let’s all take a collective sigh of relief.
We just covered everything when it comes to airbags and getting them replaced. In short, they’ll cost about $1,000-$1,500 each to replace, and you absolutely need to get them done through a dealer (don’t try to DIY it). For more car knowledge and guides, check out the rest of our blog. Make sure you see what tools and accessories we suggest if you want to have the best driving experience.