I received another call today about the failure of airbags to deploy during a significant front-end accident. The frontal airbags had not deployed during a moderate to severe accident that destroyed the front-end. My first thought was that the vehicle was probably purchased used, had been involved in a pre-sale collision where the airbags had deployed, and they either were not reinstalled or were disabled during the repair. This is a real problem in the industry and a very troubling form of Repair Fraud and Dealer Fraud.
Frontal airbags are designed to deploy generally in "moderate to severe" frontal or near-frontal crashes, which are defined as crashes that are equivalent to hitting a solid, fixed barrier at 8 to 14 mph or higher. (This would be equivalent to striking a parked car of similar size at about 16 to 28 mph or higher.)
There are other reasons an airbag may not deploy, including manufacturing defect. There are other variables tool. Speed is not the only variable. In most new cars, there is a sensor which will prevent deployment if there is not a certain amount of weight on the seat. This is to protect children and other vulnerable persons.
The airbags are deployed by sensors. The sensors take only around 50 milliseconds to activate, and then it takes another 100 milliseconds to deploy the airbag. The same amount of time as it takes to blink your eye.
There are some simple things you can do when purchasing a vehicle to try to determine if the airbags have been deployed previously.
First you can obtain a Carfax or Autocheck or similar report. They sometimes will have information regarding accidents and airbag deployment. Beware, however, that such reports are notoriously incomplete, and there is a long delay before the information makes it into the report.
Second, examine the airbag cover carefully. The airbag cover splits apart upon deployment. Repairs of the split may be detectable. Look and feel for any indication of repair. Check for the presence of seams and repainting. Is the paint on the cover "fresher" or newer than elsewhere? Compare it to a new vehicle. Is the manufacturer emblem and SRS (Safety Restraint System) logo on it?
Third, inspect the dashboard carefully. Since the passenger side airbag is located inside the dash, an airbag deployment will split the dash open.
Fourth, check the airbag indicator light. Turn the ignition key to the first position. This is the indicator light test position. You should see all the indicator lights turn on, including the airbag light. Turn the ignition to the start position and start the vehicle. Take note of the airbag indicator light. Normal operation is when the light comes on momentarily and goes out. If the light stays on or flashes, there is a problem with the airbag system.
If you think you have been the victim of Repair Fraud or Dealer Fraud then you should contact a qualified attorney immediately.