Airbag Light

Issue:    My airbag light is on.

The airbag light is an indicator lamp on the dashboard to alert the driver (or passengers) to any problem that may occur in the airbag system, often referred to as the Supplemental Restraint System (SRS).  The normal operating procedure for this lamp may vary slightly for each manufacturer, but most vehicles are similar.

When the key is turned to the on or start position, the system will engage in a self-test, illuminating the lamp for approximately six (6) seconds.  After this test, if there are no faults, the lamp will turn “off”.  It will remain “off” unless a problem occurs in the system.

The diagnostic computer, or “airbag control unit”, is constantly monitoring the system as long as the vehicle key is “on”.  The system retains power even after the car is turned off by means of a capacitor.  The airbag system will remain ‘live’ for approximately 2-10 minute after turning the vehicle off, depending on the manufacturer.  This is designed so that if the vehicle loses power during a crash, the protection of the airbag system is still there.

Issue: Why does my airbag light come on when I drive?

On occasion, the airbag light will come on while driving. This indicates that a fault in the system is occuring. As long as the light remains "on", the system is inactive and will not deploy any devices during a collision. It will remain that way until the fault is corrected. There are multiple components in the system. Many vehicles now include the following:

front airbag modules
seat airbags
curtain airbags
control units
seat belt pretensioners
occupant classification systems

If a fault occurs in any of these components, the wiring between any of them, or if the power circuit (or ground circuit) is interrupted, a fault code will be set and the airbag light will illuminate. If the airbag light circuit itself is damaged or becomes inoperative, some vehicles implement a tone warning system to indicate such a fault. The manufacturers take airbag fault codes and the SRS system itself very seriously. When the light or tone indicates a problem, it should be diagnosed and corrected to insure safe operation of the vehicle.

Issue: How do I reset my airbag light?

Resetting the airbag light
Many people ask, “How do I reset my airbag light?”. Some vehicles require a special "scanner" or airbag scan tool to reset the light. Some do not. On many vehicles, the airbag indicator lamp will turn itself “off” if the problem that caused it to illuminate has been corrected. Many others will not.

There are a number of scanners that can reset the system, however each one requires the proper software to read and reset the system.  On occasion, the door jamb switch, cycles of the ignition key or a jumper wire can be used to accomplish this as well. is a database that provides the information you need to understand which vehicles use which scanner, and how to reset the light on thousands of vehicles.

Refer to your manufacturer’s service manual to help you determine the proper procedure and equipment required.

My car was in an accident, the airbag did NOT deploy, but my airbag light is on. What does that mean and how can I fix it?

When any device is deployed, or if the control unit determines a fault within the system, the airbag light will illuminate and will remain illuminated until the system is restored to the factory specifications. This may mean you will need to replace a sensor, a deployed airbag, the seat belt pretensioner, the control unit, or recalibrate the occupant classification system. Following a collision of any degree, when the airbag light is "on", most cars require a combination these components be replaced before the system is considered restored properly and the light will reset.

Since approximately 1997, many vehicles are equipped with multiple deployable devices. These include not just airbag modules, but seat belt pretensioners as well. These new belt designs deploy before, together with or independant of an airbag deployment, but are part of the airbag system. During any collision or impact, the control unit determines which component to deploy, including the seat belt pretensioner.

The only way to determine the exact problem is to read the airbag fault code, and follow the repair instructions for that fault.

The first step to understanding what your car or truck needs, is to read the fault codes. As each vehicle manufacturer and each year is different, begin by using this table (Airbag Scanner Requirements) to determine the method needed to read the code on your car.

After you understand the need, and can accomplish obtaining the fault code, you can gain access to the fault code chart for your vehicle by purchasing a subscription here

With the fault code in hand, read the chart and understand that the code will point you to a circuit that is responsible for the fault. But you must also know that even if it says 'front crash sensor fault', this does not necessarily mean the front crash sensor is bad, but rather that the entire circuit from the control unit to the front crash sensor and back to the control unit is in question. The problem could be a damaged wire going to the senosr, a corroded connection in the harness, at the sensor, at the control unit or even a bad control unit itself. It is the circuit that is comprimised, not necessarily the exact component that is at fault. The diagniosis capabilities of the control unit only go so far. The rest of the diagnosis and repair is still left to the abilities and knowledge of the repair technician and the tools he has available (scanners, access to the components, knowledge of the system, etc.).

Once the repairs have been made, some systems will reset themselves, but some will still require a scan tool to erase the codes and reset the light. Every car is different. tells you what you can expect.