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Don’t Let Airbags Blow Up in Your Face

When servicing and replacing airbags in vehicles, customer safety is of the utmost importance. Now that there are multiple airbags in vehicles, the challenges for repairers have multiplied too.

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Kuczkowski has previously served on the editorial staff of Babcox Media’s Tire Review, ShopOwner and Tech Group publications, while finishing her degree multi-media journalism at Kent State University. Kuczkowski has a background in photography, videography and innovative digital content creation. Prior to joining the Babcox Media team, she also served as managing editor of Kent State's independent student newspaper, The Kent Stater.

With the safety benefits that airbags bring to the table, it’s easy to see why late-model vehicles are packed with them. It all started with frontal airbags being mandated as standard equipment in all passenger cars in 1998. Now that there are multiple airbags in vehicles, the challenges for repairers have multiplied too. 

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Side airbags and side-curtain airbags have become more commonplace. In addition, OEMs are continuing to popularize knee and seat belt airbags. To take things another step further, manufacturers like Volvo have already tried their hand at external airbags.

On Volvo’s V40 model in 2012, the company utilized a pedestrian airbag to reduce the severity of injuries in the event a vehicle collides with a person. When the bumper senses an unavoidable collision with a pedestrian, the rear of the hood is released and the airbag inflates to cover one-third of the windshield.

Meanwhile in June, ZF Technologies released footage of their external airbag prototype that deploys from a vehicle’s doors when computer sensors in the vehicle determine a collision is unavoidable. 

“We highlighted that this safety system has the potential to significantly reduce occupant injury severity in cases of side-impact collisions,” said Uwe Class, head of the safe mobility systems department within ZF’s advanced engineering team.

In approximately 150 milliseconds – the time it takes you to blink – this system has to determine whether or not a collision is unavoidable and if the deployment is possible and beneficial. If so, it then has to fill the airbag, expanding it upwards to form an additional crumple zone between the A and C pillars. The decision is made using algorithms based on data from connected cameras, radar and lidar in the vehicle. 

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Interestingly, more airbags don’t always mean a safer vehicle, according to ratings and research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. And of course, if they deploy, they can complicate the repair or push the cost of repair over the value of the car, totaling it out. But like with any repair, you have to be mindful that these repairs are safely made as airbag technology continues to get more complex. 

At the July Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) open board meeting, Bruce Halcro, vice chairman of SCRS, and former chair Ron Reichen gave a presentation on the importance of performing physical safety inspections in addition to post-repair scanning because of certain factors a scan won’t address. 

Reichen described OEMs mandating post-repair safety inspections to ensure things like belts, seat mounts and airbag wiring are all as they should be. A scan might check out fine, but a physical inspection of airbag wiring would be the only way to reveal wires that were only partially connected after being strained by a crash – a situation that could potentially lead to airbag system failure down the road. 

When servicing and replacing airbags in vehicles today and in the vehicles of the future, customer safety is of the utmost importance. OEMs provide information to keep your shop updated on the latest technology in their vehicles. With so much at stake, you can’t afford to ignore their repair recommendations and requirements.

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