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Volvo airbag, introduced 1987 (Volvo)
Volvo airbag, introduced 1987 (Volvo)

You & Your Car

Why buying a used airbag is a bad idea Add to ...

How long do airbags last? - Clary

There is no specific answer. They are enclosed in an airtight container protected from the elements so the bags themselves have a very long life. The other issue might be one of the electronics and firing mechanisms, but so far they have proven to be effective after 20 to 25 years of service.

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My daughter had a minor crash in her Civic. There was very little damage and it has been repaired. I had a neighbour do the bodywork and I bought the parts off a Civic that had been rear-ended. All that was necessary was to bolt them on and paint them to match the rest of the car. But the airbags had gone off and I'd like to replace at least the one on the steering wheel so she is protected. I'm not worried about the others but the same yard where I got the rest of the parts has a complete steering wheel off a different-model Honda that looks like it would fit and work. Would that mean the airbag would work as well? - William in Cobourg, Ont.

That's a really bad idea.

It's great that you have found a way to keep costs down and hopefully your daughter's car will be safe to drive. But an airbag is more than just a bag.

It has been carefully developed in conjunction with the design of the vehicle - taking into account the shape of the interior and location of everything from the shift lever to the rear view mirror. This design process involves a number of real and simulated crash tests to ensure the interaction with other parts of the vehicle ensures the optimum protection.

The airbag itself is only one component in a complex system that includes everything from sensors in the buckle, seat and various other positions around the vehicle to components in the central control module.

Airbag activation can also involve other components as well. Some sensors detect and report on the size and position of the occupant to ensure the bags inflate at the suitable rate to protect different-size occupants.

Other sensors positioned throughout the vehicle provide information about the impact and input from them is taken into consideration when inflating the bag.

You have no idea how many of these sensors and other devices are still operational, let alone how they will interact with a bag not designed for the car.

There are some pretty nasty stories about deaths and serious injuries caused by airbags that have been improperly replaced, many from the aftermarket and black markets.

Even if you found the exact components from an identical vehicle, you have no way of knowing if they had been compromised by the crash that got the vehicle written off and into a junkyard. They could also have been damaged by rain or other conditions.

Even if the "donor" vehicle looks in good shape, it might have been in a flood or other disaster that resulted in damage hidden from the eye.

Replacing airbags can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the complexity of the original installation.

Deployment can mean seat, headliners and instrument panels torn apart as well as the bags and related components. This is a job for a factory-trained and certified technicians and approved parts.

That may be expensive but how much is a life worth?

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