Airbags have saved lives for many decades. Therefore, although they are not compulsory, hardly any driver wants to do without this safety system. In 1997, the installation of front airbags for drivers and passengers in new vehicles was even legally stipulated in the USA. The larger SUVs and vans then met the requirement a year later. This has implemented part of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). By the way, the first car in Germany was equipped with an airbag in 1981. It was a Mercedes-Benz W 126 (S-Class). Airbags are largely standard for the driver and front passenger today. In addition, there are countless other combinations such as knee airbags, head airbags etc. But what if you drive an older model that does not yet have an airbag? Can airbags be retrofitted?
How does an airbag work?
Airbags have now become standard equipment in all new vehicles. As already mentioned, the most common airbags are the front airbags, which are located in the steering wheel and above the glove compartment, i.e. the driver and front passenger airbags. Additional airbags can be located in the side pillars and head airbags are partially embedded in the headlining. Airbags essentially consist of three parts: the accident sensors, the control unit and the airbag module. So that the airbag does not accidentally deploy when the brakes are applied fully, airbags are connected to acceleration sensors, which only react when the braking force is far higher than when the brakes are applied fully. In addition, there are additional sensors behind the bumper in cars with airbags. These sensors forward their measured values to the control unit, which then forwards the trigger command to the airbag module. If there is a violent impact, a controlled explosion in the generator is triggered by a tablet containing sodium azide, which releases gas which fills the air cushion in a fraction of a second. So there are complex processes that help an airbag to deploy correctly in an emergency.
Retrofitting an airbag - is that even possible?
First of all, regardless of whether an airbag has to be retrofitted or the airbag has to be replaced after it has been deployed: it must be carried out by a specialist workshop. The reason is simple: work on the airbag is subject to the Explosives Act. Only specialist personnel who have an explosives certificate may install or replace airbags. Otherwise the approval and insurance cover will expire. It is best to retrofit an airbag if you want to go straight to a workshop. They have experience and quickly know in which car appropriate airbags can be retrofitted. For example, which manufacturers offer corresponding retrofit kits. Basically, sensors and the control unit have to be installed, the airbag module has to be placed and then everything has to be properly wired. In the case of the driver airbag, there is also a new one Steering wheel and if the passenger is to receive an airbag, a new dashboard must be made.
Driver airbag retrofitting is feasible
These changes are generally not possible in every car and sometimes extremely complex. There are often cable harnesses in the side pillars in particular and there is no provision for retrofitting an airbag at this point. The driver airbag can be retrofitted most easily by fitting a corresponding steering wheel. However, larger conversion measures are also necessary here, since a different steering column is often also required. The advantage of a retrofitted airbag is obvious: safety. The disadvantages are that it is initially not possible in every car and is also very expensive.
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