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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One problem with not replacing the airbag is liability after an accident. In a normal situation where someone doesn't want to replace the airbag in their vehicle, the owner of the vehicle will sign a release indicating that they are aware that the vehicle doesn't have an airbag. So if they get injured in a car accident where the airbag could have helped, no one else is liable.

In a fleet, however, "drivers of the vehicle may not have been made aware that the airbags were removed," Hoffman explains. In such a situation, a fleet driver who is seriously injured in an accident because there was no airbag in the vehicle has a strong legal case against the company because they put him in an unsafe vehicle.

"Removing safety devices knowing people could be hurt, could be criminal negligence," says Hoffman. "What happens if you disable someone's brakes and send them down the road?"

"If someone were killed as a result of safety systems being inoperable, then involuntary manslaughter or manslaughter could be brought in, depending upon the state's laws," he concludes.

The situation becomes more complicated if that vehicle ends up being resold. "There are a lot of things people are doing like taking the light bulb out or putting phony airbags in?which is really dangerous because the new owner doesn't know what's in there," Hoffman says.

There are companies that specialize in replacing airbags, and the procedures are, Hoffman says, fairly simple, so there is no good reason to sell an old vehicle without replacing the airbag.

SELF-DIAGNOSING

Stephen Howe, training program development manager for Tweddle Litho Company, explains that vehicles are self-diagnosing, and technicians have been able to get body codes from the airbag control module for quite some time.

"Essentially, it's to diagnose when the lamp stays on after you turn the key," he says. "This indicates that the system is likely deactivated, because it senses an electrical problem. That way the tech knows there is an electrical problem that has to be diagnosed. It could be an open or a short."

"Now obviously, some shorts, if you create them yourself, would deploy the airbag, which is one of the safety issues. But if the system ever senses a short, it will shut itself down," Howe says.

According to Howe, items such as circuit wires, connectors, sensor failures or a problem with the squib wiring in the airbag itself could be the cause of unexpected shorts. Alternatively, there could be a short in the lamp activation circuit, so that the light is on even though there isn't a problem. Most technicians will know to use a scan tool to retrieve a body code (B-code) for body failure.

"There could be nothing wrong with the wiring," Howe says. "In the earlier systems, the sensors for the side airbags were on the floor pan. If you didn't have the bolt torqued enough, it essentially took the ground away. If you get any electrical concerns like wiring or an internal sensor problem-anything it can sense electronically-it will turn the light on and produce a trouble code," says Howe.

Howe encourages technicians to continue to read their work manuals when they are doing the initial disconnects and general inspection. "Before you even inspect wiring, inspect sensors, or disconnect any connectors, you must disconnect the battery and wait two minutes or more." The airbag systems have a capacitor in them to store battery power in case your battery line is severed during an accident; there is enough residual voltage in that capacitor to deploy the airbags.

"It takes a couple of minutes for that to drain," Howe warns, reminding technicians that the waiting time may be different for every vehicle. "Every service info section, when first opened to the airbag section, has at least two to three pages of warnings, and this information will be in among the warnings."

DANGEROUS ACCESSORIES

"The problem we are facing today is accessories that we put on the vehicle," says ICAR's Hoffman. "We're putting radios inside of a lot of fleet vehicles, we're putting hands free cell phones, and we're adding stereos systems."

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