Blow-Up

An undeployed airbag is like a loaded gun; make sure your technicians take proper precautions under the dash and under the hood.


With such a priority being placed on vehicle safety, continued training on new safety technology is the cost fleets of all sizes are facing. The typical light duty vehicle has about 100 components designated to the safety system alone. Fleets are being forced to re-evaluate the level of...


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With such a priority being placed on vehicle safety, continued training on new safety technology is the cost fleets of all sizes are facing.

The typical light duty vehicle has about 100 components designated to the safety system alone. Fleets are being forced to re-evaluate the level of training their technicians have regarding airbag care.

AIRBAG STANDARDS

Since 1999, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has required frontal airbags for driver and passenger in all new light duty cars and trucks. Airbags used to be connected a sensor out on the front bumper or radiator support area, but are now multiplexed into the databus.

In 2004, 35 percent of new vehicles were required to have a more sophisticated safety system called Occupant Classification Systems in the vehicle. This number will increase to 100 percent within the next few years.

The Occupant Classification System is a sensor on the seat and/or floor that determines whether the passenger seat is occupied, as well as the weight of the occupant. With that information, the system determines whether or not it is safe, or necessary, to deploy the airbag, as well as at what power to deploy it. This system will replace the existing aftermarket switches that are used to manually turn off airbags in fleet vehicles.

According to Todd Hoffman, instructor for Inter-industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (ICAR), while side curtain airbags are not yet mandatory, they are still a big thing for fleets.

"In most of the bigger fleet vehicles, the steering wheel position doesn't allow an airbag to be installed because the angle of the steering wheel isn't straight towards the driver. What they are doing is putting in the curtain airbags and that's to prevent injuries in roll over accidents," he says.

AIRBAG DEPLOYMENT

These days airbags are everywhere, but how often are they really being deployed in fleet vehicles?

"The airbags are being deployed quite often in smaller size light-duty fleet vehicles," Hoffman says. "An airbag deploys on deceleration. It measures the mass of the vehicle and how fast it comes to a stop."

"Fleet vehicles are loaded down with accessories. When a vehicle that has additional weight, it has more mass, and when it hits an object at a slower speed it sends a stronger signal, so the airbags will deploy faster," says Hoffman.

Minor accidents, such as hitting a curb with a fleet vehicle that is loaded down with weight, will deploy the airbag, whereas in an everyday situation where that same vehicle wasn't weighed down, it wouldn't.

"A really good example is a 200 pound occupant in a vehicle going 10 miles per hour," he says. "That's 2,000 pounds of force being driven forward when the vehicle hits a solid object. So at 10 miles per hour, that person definitely needs something to protect him. Now, if you take the vehicle itself and put a lot more weight in the back, then it will deploy the airbag at about five miles per hour," Hoffman says. "An airbag is not nearly as effective unless you have your seatbelt on."

REPLACEMENT GUIDELINES

When it comes to airbag replacement, NHTSA fills in the gaps where the Federal law gets confusing. According to Hoffman, manufacturers, distributors, dealers and motor vehicle repair businesses are prohibited by 49 U.S.C. 30122 from knowingly making inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle in compliance with an applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard. However, the statute allows NHTSA to prescribe regulations to exempt a person from the "make inoperative" provision if such an exemption is consistent with safety concerns. The law also indicates you can't disable the warning light.

"The warning light has to stay functional," Hoffman explains. "If you have disconnected the airbags, and I get into the vehicle and turn the key and the light comes on, that tells me there is something wrong with that system. That way I can make the decision whether to drive the vehicle or not."

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