How to Fix a Blown Airbag

airbag image by Dimitar Atanasov from

Airbags, which are normally located on the driver and passenger sides of a vehicle, are important additions to car safety designed to deploy on impact to reduce bodily harm in the event of a car crash.

Airbags are controlled by an airbag control module (sometimes referred to as the airbag computer, similar to the "black box" found in planes), which is located inside the vehicle. The control module senses when a crash has occurred and immediately activates the vehicle's airbags. In the event an airbag deploys without a crash, it can be repaired and the fault and error codes in the airbag module reset. (See Reference 1 and Resource.)

Assemble the tools needed to diagnose and fix the blown airbags and the airbag control module, including an airbag control module scanner tool and a code reader. These can be purchased at most auto parts stores. A code reader is a diagnostic tool that can read and clear fault codes from your vehicle's computer, while the scanner tool displays system operating information and other data that indicate the operational state of your car, such as oxygen sensor outputs, loop status (open or closed), coolant temperature, airflow, throttle position and fuel trim values. (See References 1 and 4.)

Locate your vehicle's airbag control module. Airbag control modules can be mounted in different locations inside a vehicle, including under the driver or passenger seat, behind the steering column, in the kick panel and under the centre console. Once you have located the airbag control module, plug the scanner tool cable into the control panel. The scanner tool accesses the memory on the control module and displays the computer codes that are operating your car's airbag module. (See Reference 1, 2 and 4.)

Analyse the series of computer codes displayed on the airbag control module and the diagnostic scan tool. Look up displayed fault and error code number (and code description, if available) in a standard airbag code Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs) reference chart to get information on the faults detected in your car, including the reason your car's airbag warning indicator light is on or flashing. If you don't have a DTC chart, look online for DTC software for your vehicle. This diagnostic information will help you decide the best method of fixing your blown airbag. (See Reference 4 and Resource 1 and 2.)

Fix and reprogram the airbag control module. Order and replace blown control module parts, such as capacitors and resistors. Clear and reset fault and error codes on the airbag control module similar to how you would restore a home computer's hard drive. (See Reference 1 and 2.)

Test the re-programmed airbag control module to ensure that the non-deployed airbags will activate with the re-programmed module in an accident. Get into your vehicle and turn the key. Look at the dash to see your airbag light (the airbag light bulb should have been checked during the diagnostic stage). If non-deployed airbags are in good working condition, the airbag light should come on for seven to 10 seconds and then go out. The airbag light should not come on while you are driving. (See Reference 3.)