Why The Airbag Warning Light Appears On Your Car’s Dashboard And How To Fix It

When you start your car, it’s normal for most of the dashboard warning lights to briefly illuminate as part of your vehicle’s systems test. However, if you notice a flashing AIRBAG or SRS (supplemental restraint system) light or any other airbag-related message such as “Airbag off” or “Airbag deactivated!” that stays illuminated on your dashboard, it’s crucial to take action. In fact, it’s better to avoid driving any further if you can.

When your car’s airbag or SRS dash light pops up or starts flashing, it’s essentially giving you a little nudge to say, “Hey, there’s something not quite right with the airbags or seatbelts, and we need to address it.” Remember, if the airbag warning light remains on and you find yourself in an accident, there’s a risk that your airbag won’t deploy like it’s supposed to.

There are several reasons why the airbag or SRS warning light on your car’s dashboard may come on. This may include faulty seat belt pretensioners, worn clock springs, sensor problems, dead backup batteries, or other electrical issues. To fix it, you can scan for airbag codes, test the pretensioner, inspect for damaged electrical parts, or take it to a mechanic.

This problem might seem intimidating, but I’ll walk you through what the airbag indicator light is, what the airbag warning light means, what can cause the airbag dash light to come on, and what to do if your airbag dash light won’t turn off.

What Is an Airbag Indicator Light and What Does It Mean?

What Is an Airbag Indicator Light and What Does It Mean?

An airbag indicator light is a warning light that is part of your instrument cluster, usually located near the speedometer. This light can come on and stay light, or it might blink rapidly. It typically looks like one of these three options:

  • “AIRBAG”
  • “SRS”
  • An image of a seated person with a ball (airbag) over their lap

When the airbag indicator light turns on, it means your vehicle has found an issue with the Supplemental Restraint System (SRS). This is a vital safety system that involves your airbags and seat belts. It relies on a network of wires, sensors, and other parts.

The Importance of Addressing a Illuminated Airbag Warning Light

Sometimes this light turns on due to a minor issue and isn’t that big of a problem. But other times, the airbag warning light means your airbags or seat belt systems won’t work as intended. If you get into an accident, they might not deploy to help you avoid injury.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), airbags reduce the chance of dying in a car accident by a whopping 34%. And when combined with a lap and shoulder belt, that jumps up to 61%.

This problem is worth fixing.

What Causes An Airbag Warning Light to Come On

Nearly any part of the SRS can cause the airbag indicator light to turn on or flash. These are some of the most common causes.

1. Faulty Seat Belt Pretensioner

Faulty Seat Belt Pretensioner

Seat belt pretensioners don’t last forever. These are components with electrical parts that connect to your SRS and they might become faulty.

The purpose of the pretensioner is to communicate with the airbag system, as it cinches the seat belt down when an accident is detected. However, if the pretensioner gets wet, experiences a short circuit, or encounters any other issue, it can cause the SRS to malfunction and trigger the airbag light to come on.

2. Worn Airbag Clock Spring

The airbag clock spring is a small but essential device that maintains the connection between the SRS and the airbag in the steering wheel. Its primary function is to enable the airbag to deploy when necessary.

However, repeated use can cause the airbag clock spring to wear out, which can lead to a malfunction in the SRS and trigger the airbag warning light on your dashboard.

3. Sensor Problems

Sensor Problems

The array of sensors in your car’s airbag system plays a critical role in ensuring that the airbags deploy correctly. However, these sensors can become corroded due to water damage or rust, and they can also get crushed in an accident where the airbags fail to deploy.

If any of these scenarios occur, the sensors may not relay the message to the airbag during an accident, causing your dashboard’s SRS or airbag indicator light to turn on. This means that your airbag system may not function correctly, putting you and your passengers at risk in the event of an accident.

4. Dead Airbag Backup Battery

Dead Airbag Backup Battery

Another possible issue that can cause the airbag warning light to come on is a lack of charge in the airbag backup battery. This battery is separate from the car’s main starter battery and is designed to ensure your safety even if the main battery fails. However, if it doesn’t have enough power, it can trigger the airbag warning light on your dashboard.

5. Other Electrical Issues

Other Electrical Issues

The SRS’s network of wires, connectors, and the main airbag module can experience a range of issues that may trigger the airbag warning light on your dashboard. For example, a wire could have been chewed through by a mouse, or water could have entered an area it’s not supposed to be in. The airbag module, which is essentially a small computer system, might have malfunctioned in many different ways.

Another possibility is that the car was recently in an accident, not properly repaired, or the airbag codes were not cleared from the system. In such cases, the airbag warning light may come on as an indication of a problem with the airbag system.

What Should You Do When the Airbag Light Comes On?

If your airbag light stays on, the quickest and best solution is to take your car to a professional mechanic so they can diagnose and repair your SRS or airbag system. They’ll be able to figure out the why your airbag light is on, fix it, and get you safely back on the road.

But if you like to work on your car, then you can take some steps to diagnose and fix the problem when your airbag stays illuminated.

It’s important to use caution since this system has electrical components, potentially-explosive airbags and pretensioners, and other hazardous items.

How to Fix SRS Airbag Warning Light on Dashboard

Let’s go through a list of ways that you might be able to fix the airbag warning light.

1. Scan for Codes

Scan for Codes

To start fixing your airbag system, connect an OBD-II reader to your vehicle and see if there are any codes listed. These tools are useful for many different repairs. If you don’t have one, you can look into getting your own or borrowing one from a local auto parts store.

Once you connect it to your vehicle and scan for codes, the scanner might provide a code and perhaps a short description of what it means. If it isn’t clear what the code means, search online for more information. Vehicle-specific forums can provide valuable details.

With any luck, this is the only step you need as you will find the specific problem and be able to fix it or take it to a mechanic for repair if it’s beyond your ability.

2. Test Seat Belt Pretensioner

If that didn’t fix your airbag warning light, then testing the seat belt pretensioner is the next step worth turning to. You can check out this diagnostic video from BYU Idaho or follow these steps to test the seat belt pretensioner:

  • Disconnect the battery by removing the negative terminal
  • Identify the pretensioner location and remove any coverings to get access
  • Disconnect the electrical connector to the pretensioner
  • Attach a multimeter to the pretensioners connection points and test for resistance

If it has 2-3 ohms of resistance, it is likely in good shape and is not causing your SRS or airbag warning light. You should repeat this process for any other seat belt with a pretensioner to rule them out.

If any pretensioner presents the same value as connecting the multimeter leads directly together, the pretensioner could be broken and needs to be rebuilt or replaced. You can find vehicle-specific rebuild kits or replacement units online and at some auto parts stores or dealerships.

3. Perform Visual Inspection

Perform Visual Inspection

Get a flashlight handy and thoroughly inspect these areas for any damaged wires, loose connectors, or any other obvious problems:

  • Front seats: Take a look at the wires that are around the front seats, which could include things like the pretensioner, a weight detector, and a seat belt usage monitor.
  • Dashboard area: Inspect the area under the steering wheel or around the dashboard. There are often a lot of wires connected to the car’s electrical and airbag system in this area.
  • Underneath the car and hood: Pop the hood and pay attention to the areas closest to the bumpers as this is where airbag-related sensors and wires are located. It’s also worth getting on your knees or back to look under the car for damage.

In the best-case scenario, you might see a wire that’s not fully connected and can simply reconnect it to fix the problem.

Other times, you might notice a cut, damaged, frayed, or melted wire or connector that needs repair. Disconnect the battery, splice and solder new wires or connectors, and cover them with proper insulation.

If you don’t have the confidence to complete electrical work, turn to a professional for help. Pointing them to a specific problem can save you some time and money.

4. Reset Codes After Repair

If you were able to find a problem and repair it on your own, the final step is to reset and clear the airbag module’s codes. Connect an OBD-II reader with service capabilities to the port, find the codes, and use the scanner to reset the airbag system and clear the codes.

If the codes stay off, it’s likely you have successfully repaired the problem. If they come back on, it’s time to go through the above steps again or call in a professional for help.

5. Professional Diagnosis and Repair

Professional Diagnosis and Repair

The best thing to do when your airbag warning light comes on is to immediately take it to a mechanic. Most mechanics are passionate about helping people and fixing their cars in the quickest, cheapest way possible.

The quicker you can take it in for service and repair, the quicker you’ll be safely back on the road.

Don’t Ignore Your Airbag Dash Light

If you see the dreaded airbag warning light, the issue is serious. The airbag system isn’t working properly and the airbag might not deploy in an emergency.

Start by scanning the airbag module for codes with an OBD-II reader. Hopefully, that tells you where the problem is located and you can fix it or take it in for repair.

If not, test the pretensioner for appropriate resistance or perform a visual inspection of the electrical parts near the seats, dashboard, and bumpers. After fixing any problem, reset the codes. If the airbag warning light stays off, you fixed the problem.

If all else fails, take it to a mechanic. They can quickly diagnose and repair airbag problems.

Jason Farrell

Written By

Jason Farrell

Jason Farrell is a certified master technician, the editor of Mechanic’s Diary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Automotive Technology from Pittsburg State University. With nearly 18 prior years of experience in the automotive field, he has extensive knowledge about Domestic, European, and other foreign makes and models of cars and light trucks. Jason’s experience working as a technician and service manager at dealerships, gave him the experience and know-how of most aspects of inspection, diagnosis, and repair from engine and drivability to electrical, HVAC, brakes, steering and suspension and everything in between.

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