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How Much Does an Airbag Replacement Cost?

How Much Does an Airbag Replacement Cost?
Kelly Boyer Sagert
Kelly Boyer SagertUpdated September 7, 2022
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
More than 50,000 lives were saved by airbags between 1987 and 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. They clearly play an important role in driving safety — but what are airbags, exactly? How do they work and what does an airbag cost to repair or replace? Learn the answers here.

What Are Airbags?

Airbags are cushions built into vehicles that inflate to protect the driver and passengers when a collision occurs. They’re intended to supplement seat belts with an extra layer of protection. Since 1998, frontal airbags have been standard in passenger cars. The following year, that became true for vans, pickup trucks, and SUVs too. Side airbags are now being offered on many newer cars as options for added protection. 

How Do Airbags Work? 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), when a moderate to severe collision occurs, the airbag’s electronic control unit signals the inflator of the crash. An igniter launches a chemical process, inflating the front airbag in less than 1/20 of a second. Side airbags deploy even more quickly. 

Components of an Airbag System 

Components include the following:
  • Clock spring
  • Impact sensor
  • Igniter
  • SRS warning light
  • Passenger seat switch
  • Pyrotechnic inflator
  • ECU
  • Seatbelt tensioners

Driver and Passenger Airbags 

When driver-side airbags became required in 1998 and 1999, this included passenger-side ones too. On the driver’s side, the airbag is placed in the steering wheel, while manufacturers install ones for passengers in dashboards. 

Clock Spring 

A clock spring attaches to the steering wheel housing/cover and then typically connects to the airbag’s control module. Then, the wires in the clock spring connect the control module to multiple other parts: the steering wheel, the ignition switch, and the computer. It relays messaging among these parts. 

Impact Sensor 

Also called crash sensors, the airbag system relies upon them to know when it’s time for the airbag to inflate. These impact sensors can pick when a car suddenly stops accelerating and are typically programmed to activate when a vehicle crashes into something solid at the rate of 15 miles per hour or more. 

Igniter 

Once a crash sensor sends a signal, the igniter plays a role. A chemical reaction creates a harmless gas that causes the airbag to inflate nearly instantly. Because the airbags inflate so rapidly, it’s crucial for drivers and passengers to not be too close to the airbag’s location. Serious injuries can occur if someone is too close to a deploying airbag; injuries can be fatal.

SRS Warning Light 

When this warning light, typically located on a vehicle’s instrument panel on the dashboard, is on, this means that the airbag inflation can be deployed. When the airbag system is triggered through a qualifying event, the airbag warning light may flash or otherwise send a signal. When it turns off, this means that the airbag has been fully deployed.

Passenger Seat Switch 

Under certain circumstances, having a frontal air bag on could present risks that outweigh its benefits. If so, NHTSA may approve an on-off switch that allows the airbag deployment to be turned off. If this option is available in your vehicle, know how to turn it on and off and weigh pros and cons carefully.

Pyrotechnic Inflator 

Over the past decade, vehicle manufacturers have been increasingly using pyrotechnic inflators to contain the gas-producing substance that triggers airbag inflation. This one is less toxic than older types, with the substance contained inside of the casing. They are also more efficient than the previously used hybrid inflators.

ECU 

ECU stands for an “electronic control unit.” Sensors detecting a crash send this information to the ECU, which sends out an electrical pulse that triggers the process that releases the gas that inflates the airbag. ECUs may be programmed for different activation parameters. 

Seatbelt Pretensioners 

Late-model vehicles often have a seatbelt pretensioner that lowers the amount of slack in seatbelts when a collision occurs. Having a snugger seatbelt system allows airbags to work more efficiently.

Is It Safe to Drive Without Airbags? 

Airbags are considered an important innovation in car safety because, if a crash occurs, they cushion people in the vehicle from full impact. Plus, car-insurance policies are based on your vehicle’s features, which would include working airbags. If they need to be replaced and this isn’t done, the policy could become void, which would mean the owner is driving without car insurance—something that’s illegal in most states.

Service Airbag Light 

When this light comes on, it means some part of your airbag’s system isn’t functioning well. Although it’s possible that airbags will still deploy in a crash, they may not. So, when this light comes on, have it investigated and addressed by an authorized repair center.

Safety Inspection 

Some states will look at airbags during safety inspections and may issue warnings if they are not functional. So having yours repaired can save you from this hassle. 

Can Airbags Be Replaced After an Accident?  

Yes, they can. In fact, NHTSA states that, after deployment of an airbag, they should be replaced without delay.

How Much Does it Cost to Replace Airbags? 

After yours deploys, you’ll likely wonder, “How much do airbags cost?” An airbag cost can vary, depending on the year, make, and car model, where the airbags are installed, and whether supplemental parts also need to be replaced. In general, replacement airbag average between $1,000 and $2,000, according to Consumer Reports, but after a significant accident, replacement costs could reach $6,000.When comparing prices, beware of counterfeits. These airbags may not deploy when needed or, if they do, they could scatter dangerous debris. The governmental site StopFakes.gov recommends that you only buy original equipment manufacturer (OEM) airbags from an OEM-authorized repair facility or a franchised vehicle manufacturer dealership. Proceed with caution when buying replacements at online marketplace sites and nondealers.

Will Auto Insurance Cover Airbag Replacement?

Yes, most policies will pay for airbag replacement if you were involved in an accident and the other driver was at fault (this means the at-fault driver’s liability insurance covers it) or if you have collision insurance that will pay for damage to your car no matter who was at fault.However, because of the high price of new airbags and installation costs, some vehicles with a low cash value will be considered a total loss by the driver’s insurance company if the airbags deploy (added to whatever other damage takes place). This means your insurance company might consider it more economical to declare your car a total loss than cover repairs.For this reason, a driver might consider paying for airbag replacement and other repairs without going to their auto insurer.

How Can I Pay For Airbag Repair Costs? 

If you do not use auto insurance for airbag work, three ways to pay for it include:
  • Cash
  • Credit card
  • Personal loan

Cash 

If you can comfortably pay for your airbag replacement costs out of your checking or savings account, this makes the most sense.

Credit Card 

If you don’t have enough cash or paying the bill that way would cut you short for other expenses, credit cards allow you to conveniently pay airbag costs. Benefits of this approach include the ability to pay over time and earning rewards. However, if you don’t pay the balance in full, you’ll also pay interest on the amount.

Personal Loan 

A personal loan is another option. Interest rates are typically lower than credit card rates and payments are made back in regular installments. Limits may be higher and unsecured personal loans don’t require any collateral. Often, though, monthly payments are higher than with a credit card. 

Other Car Repairs

Auto insurance does not often cover certain important repairs and car parts replacements if there was no accident involved. These repairs include:
  • Engine replacements
  • Transmission replacements
  • Catalytic converter replacements
  • Head gasket replacements

Engine Replacement Cost 

Engine costs will vary, depending on whether you’re getting a new one or having yours rebuilt. A new engine will likely run you at least $4,000 and possibly a few thousand dollars more. If the engine is worth rebuilding, then figure $2,500 to $4,000 (and remember to also factor in any rental car costs because this can take a couple of weeks to complete).

Transmission Replacement Cost 

A vehicle’s transmission controls how much engine power reaches your vehicle’s wheels. If you just need to change its fluid, the cost can be $80 to $250. If there’s an actual fluid leak, figure the top of that range. Transmission costs when a replacement is needed, though, can be significant. Rebuilding one will likely cost $2,500 and $4,500 with a brand new one costing between $4,000 and $8,000.

Catalytic Converter Cost 

A catalytic converter protects the environment by containing exhaust fumes from going out into the atmosphere. It also converts (thus, the name) some exhaust elements for a more eco-friendly reality. Replacement catalytic converter costs can start at $400 and, depending on your vehicle, go up to about $2,000.

Head Gasket Cost 

A head gasket forms a seal between your car’s engine block and cylinder head. When it’s time to replace this part, head gasket costs may typically be between $1,000 and $2,000. More time consuming replacements could go up to $3,000. 

The Takeaway 

So, how much do airbags cost to replace? A new one can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000. After an accident, many car insurance policies will cover airbag replacement. But if the value of the car was below a certain point before the airbag deployed, the policy might call for totaling the car rather than replacing the airbags or making other repairs. If you want to keep driving your car, you’ll have to replace the airbags. In those cases, other financing options come into play.

3 Auto Loan Refinance Tips 

  1. Refinancing your auto loan could lead to lower monthly car payments and more money in your budget. Lantern by SoFi can help you find the right auto refi loan for you.
  2. You may have trouble refinancing the loan on a car that is worth less than what you owe. For more info, check out When Is the Right Time to Refinance a Car?
  3. Lengthening the term of your auto loan can decrease your monthly payments and free up funds for other financial goals. 

Photo credit: iStock/gokhanilgaz
The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.SOLC0122005

Frequently Asked Questions

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About the Author

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Kelly Boyer Sagert is an Emmy Award-nominated writer with decades of professional writing experience. As she was getting her writing career off the ground, she spent several years working at a savings and loan institution, working in the following departments: savings, loans, IRAs, and auditing. She has published thousands of pieces online and in print.
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