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Do Airbags Have an Expiry Date?

Airbags are an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ kind of deal. They are literally right in front of you when you drive, but because they are completely hidden from view, it’s easy for anyone to overlook them, much less care about their importance. But when they spring to action, their presence could very well save your life, and so their importance cannot be overstated.

In most cars and trucks, airbags never even get the chance to do what they’re designed to do, which is a good thing for car owners. But if airbags never see the light of day, does that mean that they can stand the test of time? Since all vehicle components break down eventually, does this apply to airbags as well?

Before these questions can be answered, it helps to first understand how our modern airbags came to be. CARMUDI PHILIPPINES takes a closer look at these all-too important life-saving safety components and whether or not you would need to replace them at some point in time.

A brief history of airbags

Although airbags now come standard in many new cars, this wasn’t always the case. When they first came out in the ’70s, airbags were considered a novelty and were often equipped only in the priciest of vehicles. Since many car manufacturers at the time weren’t sure how long an airbag could last, airbag inspections were often recommended and included in certain maintenance schedules. Carmakers such as Honda and Acura had to have their airbags inspected every 10 years.

The required inspection was mainly because of the prevalent use of plastic in the housing of the airbag’s igniter, called the squib. A plastic squib made an airbag prone to moisture accumulation. The makers of Mercedes-Benz were probably the most conservative of plastic squib users, recommending not just inspection, but the replacement of its airbags every 15 years.

After 2002 however, most airbag manufacturers have done away with plastic squibs and use glass squibs instead, which made igniter degradation less of a problem. Now, with the addition of many advancements in airbag technology, it isn’t unusual for airbags to last the life of the vehicle.

Self-diagnosing airbags

Nearly every airbag manufactured today includes a diagnostic function along with a supplemental restraint system (SRS) warning light that indicates if there is a problem with an airbag. In most cars, this indicator comes on for a short period and then turns off as the self-diagnosing system completes its function. If the light stays on or never comes on, that shows that there’s a possible problem with the system. With this self-diagnosing system in place, the dealer inspection has been rendered unnecessary.

The bottom line

When airbags were still new and advanced sensing systems weren’t available yet, car manufacturers had to rely mostly on speculation as to how long their airbags will last. Today, with real-world data and better technology to support their claims, you can trust car manufacturers when they say that their airbags will last the life of the vehicle.

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