Deciphering the Airbag Readiness Light

Manufacturers realize how important the safety of the driver and passengers is to the success of their brand. If the automobile is involved in a high-speed accident and everybody walks away, they’ve prevented injury and likely secured lifelong customers in the process. People don’t forget cars that saved their lives.

This is why making sure all installed safety equipment is functioning properly and the driver can easily identify when something is wrong is critical. This article covers two related topics, including the airbag readiness light that verifies the system is ready to deploy and how to perform initial diagnosis when a problem is indicated by this warning light.

Airbag Readiness Light

The first task is to identify what the airbag readiness light looks like. Although this is not standardized, many companies are going with an amber colored indicator that resembles a single passenger strapped down to a seat with a ball sitting on its lap. Keep in mind that some vehicle manufacturers have tried to simplify this and their icons simply say’s the word airbag.

It is important to know which light on the dash is the icon for the airbag as this can be easily confused with the seat belt light. All vehicle owners’ manuals will include a warning light section that labels and clearly identifies what each light on the dash stands for. In addition to the main readiness light there is a separate indicator for the passenger side airbag. This is usually a status indicator that only notifies whether the passenger side is on or off.

Verifying the System is Ready

It is important to understand how the airbag readiness light operates so drivers can verify the system is ready to deploy in an emergency. Vehicle manufacturers have included a bulb check function that is extremely useful for identifying airbag systems that have been disabled, or not working properly. When the key is turned on, but the engine is not started the light should illuminate to test the bulb.

When the engine is started, the light should flash for a few seconds and then go off. The flashing verifies a diagnostic self test was run. The automated diagnostic includes a self check of the airbag electrical wiring, modules, discriminating crash sensors and seat belt pre-tensioner circuits.

Failed System Tests

Typically, if there’s a malfunction in the airbag system the basic automatic check described above will yield different results. Some examples of these failed results would be if the lamp doesn’t come on when the ignition key is turned on, and the engine is off. Another indication of a failed system test is when the airbag readiness light flashes after the engine is started, but then doesn’t go off. In this condition the light may just continue to flash or stay on steady.

Finally, if the light comes on or flashes for a short period of time while driving and then goes off, this could be an indication of an intermittent malfunction. If any of these conditions are present, the airbag system will need to be checked further for defects. When the light remains on after the engine is started, it’s likely the airbag is disarmed and might not deploy in an emergency situation.

How to Perform Airbag Diagnosis

The problem with providing directions for logical diagnosis of these systems is they’re not standardized and vary greatly based on year or model. Generally speaking, when the inflatable restraint system fails the system test the primary goal is to find out if a diagnostic trouble code has been stored. The code definition can often point you in the right direction of the failure. On some vehicles a diagnostic mode needs to be entered before the light will begin to flash stored codes.

On other vehicles this can only be done with a specialized handheld scanner that is designed to interface with that specific vehicle. In these situations it is necessary to take the car to a dealership for diagnosis. Finally, some automobiles will automatically begin flashing the trouble code when one is set. These systems usually flash a two digit code with a pause in between the two numbers. Looking these codes up in a vehicle specific service manual will take you to a tree chart for step-by-step diagnosis.

Inflatable restraints don’t always go off during an accident. Many reasons exist for an airbag not to deploy. What you want to make sure of is the airbag is ready to go when all of the criteria are met. If the readiness light is flashing or staying on solid after the engine has been started, this is alerting the driver a problem exists. Since many different things can turn on the airbag warning light it is best to extract the set code to put you on a logical path of diagnosis.