Why is My Airbag Light On? (5 Causes and Minimum Speed for Deployment)

There are a variety of different warning lights on the dashboard of a vehicle. Most people will only see them illuminate when there is a particular problem with their vehicle that is indicated by that light.

Whether you know it or not, you have probably already seen the airbag light illuminate without even realizing it. For example, when you get into your vehicle and start up your engine, you may see a warning light that is reminding you to put your seat belt on.

In some model cars, the seat belt light is the same as the airbag light. This means people are familiar with seeing this light as a warning about their seat belt. They are not used to seeing it as a warning about airbags. As a result, they may want to just ignore this light if it comes on without realizing that it is referring to a problem with the airbags and not the seat belt.

If you have your seat belt on and the airbag light is still lit up, then you shouldn’t ignore this light because it likely means you have at least one non-functional airbag in your vehicle.

It’s critical that you fix whatever problem there is with your airbag system because airbags are what may save your life if you get into a car accident. You don’t want to find out the hard way whether your airbags work or not.

What Can Cause the Airbag Light to Come On?

Below are five common causes of an airbag light coming on:

1) Airbag Deactivated

The most common cause for the airbag light coming on is that the airbag system is deactivated or turned off. There may be a few reasons for this which you had no control over.

There may be an issue with the crash sensors or other airbag component. Alternatively, the sensor in the passenger seat that determines whether that airbag should be active or not may be faulty.

2) Seat Belts

Like previously mentioned, not putting on your seat belt could cause the airbag light to come on. But there could be other seat belt issues that may cause this light to come on as well.

Perhaps your seat belt does not snap securely into the buckle and stay in place. Maybe there is a problem with the sensors in the buckle and they don’t accurately tell the computer that you have fastened your seat belt.

3) Small Accident

It is possible to get into a small car accident (aka fender bender) that doesn’t deploy your airbags, but it still causes the crash sensors to activate. This means your airbag light will stay on until you go to an auto repair shop and have it reset by the technician.

A small accident may be a situation where you hit something with the front of your vehicle while you’re driving at under 8 mph. The crash sensors tend to be sensitive to any type of accident no matter how big or small.

4) Water Damage

If the internal components of your vehicle have water damage for whatever reason, then corrosion may form on the crash sensors of your airbag system. This corrosion will distort their ability to function properly and it could result in the airbag light coming on.

5) Airbag System Not Reset

Once you’re in an accident which causes the airbags to deploy, simply replacing the airbag is not enough. Crash sensors, seat belt pretensioners, and other SRS components must also be replaced. In addition, the airbag monitoring unit (the brains of the airbag system) will need to be reset.

You will need to have the qualified mechanic or dealership reprogram the computer so the airbag system can be used again. Alternatively, some companies allow you to ship them the airbag monitoring unit, they reset it for a fee, and then ship it back to you ready to install.

Minimum Speed for Airbag Deployment

Airbags are designed for deployment when the front (or near front) of your vehicle collides with another vehicle or solid barrier. However, in order for the airbags to deploy, the minimum speed that you need to be driving during your collision is between 8 mph and 14 mph.

Most people are driving way above these speeds when they crash, usually between 35 mph and 60 mph.  The faster you’re going during a collision, the more that you’ll need an airbag to save your life.



8 thoughts on “Why is My Airbag Light On? (5 Causes and Minimum Speed for Deployment)”

  1. May granddaughter put a heavy suitcase in the passenger side of the Jeep. After I dropped her off at the train station and started the Jeep that’s when the airbag light come on. Could that be the cause?

    • A suitcase shouldn’t have affected anything unless it somehow caused an issue with the weight sensor or seat belt harness (ie: the suitcase was dropped HARD on the seat). They sensor may have been damaged or a wire loosened somewhere. To confirm the issue, use an OBD2 scanner that has SRS capabilities to see where the problem lies.

  2. Should there be concern if the airbag warning light turns on and then turns off while driving. the warning states airbags need servicing. the car is a 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander GT. This happened after the suv was not started for 2 weeks, it has only 24k miles on it and never had an accident.

    • The airbag code is probably stored in the computer’s memory. I would go to an auto parts store and see if they can read the code. They should be able to do this for free, and will give you a better idea of where the fault is occurring.

      One thing you could do is to try to replicate the issue and trigger the code again. With the car running, try turning the steering wheel lock to lock. Does the light turn on at any point when you turn the steering wheel? If so, you may have a problem with your clock spring. These are relatively cheap and easy to replace.

      Sometimes there are airbag connectors under the seat that can become dirty or corroded over time. You may be able to solve this by simply unplugging the connector and cleaning it. Before attempting this, follow your manufacturer’s recommendations for servicing the airbag system. These instructions can be found in the factory manual. At the very least, unplug the battery and wait 10 mins so there is no risk of the airbag going off. If you are not comfortable doing this, take your car to a mechanic for the repair.

  3. 2001 Honda Accord airbag light stayed on. Took it to a mechanic they looked at it and said that it was the sensors. Noting that one could not be replaced without the other meaning the passenger and driver side. The cost was about $800. The mechanic felt like this was just a coincidence and reset it and said if it comes on again then they may have to replace it. It has been about three weeks and the light has not come back on. Do you think we’re OK now? And do you think it might be just a fluke as well?

    • Hard to say. If the light doesn’t come back you’re probably good, but it depends on what the original fault was for and what the root cause was.


Leave a Comment