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How much does it cost to replace an airbag?

Profile picture of Danni White
by Danni White ConsumerAffairs Research Team
airbag light lit on dashboard

The average cost to replace a single air bag is between $1,000 and $2,000, including parts and labor. However, the cost varies based on what air bag you're replacing and the type of vehicle you drive. You also might have to replace multiple air bags after an accident, which can multiply your costs.

Because of this, it’s important to consider all of the relevant factors when estimating your final cost. In this article, we look closer at air bags and explain what you might spend for a replacement.

What are air bags?

An automotive air bag is installed in vehicles as a safety device. It contains a flexible cushion that inflates when a collision occurs. In today’s vehicles, you can find many different types of air bags, but the majority of them are located in the front and on the side of vehicles.

When the sensor is triggered, your air bags can deploy singly or in conjunction with each other, depending on the type of accident. The majority of air bags can only be deployed one time before they must be replaced.

The first air bag was designed in the 1960s, but they weren't commonly used until the 1980s. Air bags have been required in all new cars in the U.S. since 1998.

According to the NHTSA, front air bags saved more than 50,000 lives between 1987 and 2017. In purely frontal crashes, front air bags reduce driver fatalities by 29%, and they reduce fatalities for front passengers 13 or older by 32%. In driver-side crashes, side air bags that protect the driver's head reduce the driver’s risk of death by 37%, while an SUV driver’s risk is lowered by 52%.

How do air bags work?

The purpose of automotive air bags is to slow down the forward motion of an occupant before they're injured. The air bag has three vital parts that make this protection possible:

  • Air bag: The bag is constructed from thin, nylon fabric. It's often placed into the dashboard or steering wheel, but it can also be installed in a door or seat.
  • Sensor: Air bag sensors use an accelerometer to detect crashes. In a crash, the sensor sends the signal to inflate the air bag, typically when your car experiences a collision force greater than or equivalent to hitting a brick wall at 10 to 15 miles per hour.
  • Inflation system: The inflation system reacts to sodium azide (NaN3) and potassium nitrate (KNO3) to produce nitrogen gas that inflates the air bag at up to 200 mph. After inflating, the gas dissipates into the small holes cut into the air bag, causing it to deflate.

Inflation only takes about one-twentieth of a second. However, this is all that’s needed to provide support and prevent injury during a collision.

When the air bag inflates, you might notice a white, powdery substance. This is either talcum powder or plain cornstarch. Air bag manufacturers use these powders to ensure the material remains pliable, and it also keeps the surface lubricated.

How much does it cost to replace an air bag?

Replacing a single air bag usually costs $1,000 to $2,000, but some cases may be much more expensive. After a significant accident, expect the total cost of replacing your air bags to range from $1,000 to $6,000, with most bills averaging $3,000 to $5,000.

The average driver-side air bag can cost $250 to $800 in parts alone, depending on the type of vehicle you drive. Passenger-side air bags can cost more, with parts totaling $400 to $1,500. Knee or side-curtain air bags are less commonly replaced, but they tend to have the same approximate cost as passenger-side air bags. Once you factor in labor costs, it’s easy to see how your bill adds up so quickly.

It’s worth noting that many extended auto warranty providers exclude air bags and safety systems from their comprehensive policies, so you might be left with a large bill even if you have one of these service contracts.

If you have car insurance, the cost of replacing the air bags might be covered by your provider, though. Most collision policies cover the cost of air bag replacement, minus your deductible. For example, if you have a deductible of $500, that’s all you'll pay for with the repair. The rest would be covered by your insurance company.

However, the cost of replacing air bags and fixing any other damage from an accident might come close to or exceed the value of your vehicle. If this happens, the insurance company may prefer to call it a total loss and pay you for the vehicle instead.

Here are a few of the factors that will determine what you spend on air bag replacement.

Supplier 

As with any automotive part, you can spend more or less depending on where you purchase it. You can save a lot of money by purchasing an air bag online or at a salvage yard instead of from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

However, you must consider the quality of the air bag. OEM parts will almost always provide more reliability because they're designed by your automaker to work with your vehicle. Still, you will need to pay more for this level of dependability.

A new driver-side air bag is often cheaper than a passenger-side air bag.

Labor costs

In most cases, you won’t want to replace the air bag yourself. If you’re paying an experienced technician to do the job, you will likely have a hefty labor bill. You can shop around for lower rates, but replacing an air bag isn’t something you really want to skimp on.

Affected air bags

If you only need to replace one air bag, your cost is going to be lower than if two or three were deployed during the accident. On top of how many are deployed, you must also consider the type of air bag needing replaced.

Your vehicle might be equipped with driver and passenger air bags as well as knee air bags, inflatable seatbelt air bags and side-impact air bags. You might spend up to $700 more to replace the passenger-side air bag versus a driver’s air bag.

Affected parts

Apart from the air bag itself, there are several related components that might also need to be replaced. If the technician also needs to replace the fuse or relay box, air bag module, SRS unit or indicator light, seat belt tensioner or cable reel, your labor costs are going to rise.

You should also consider the potential damage done to other parts of your vehicle in an accident. If you need to replace your windshield or have body work performed, you’re going to pay even more.

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    How much does it cost to repair an air bag?

    If you've recently been in an accident, you might be trying to find other ways to get around the expensive bill of replacing the air bag. Luckily, in some situations, you can have them reset.

    In general, using the same air bag is cheaper than buying new ones, but the reset isn’t always feasible. Even if the air bags can be reattached and reconfigured, you might still spend $1,000 per air bag when all is said and done.

    You should never try to save money by driving without the air bags installed.

    If you need an air bag on the driver's side, you can also purchase a used steering wheel that has an installed air bag. You can sometimes find an entire steering column for less than having a new air bag installed.

    You should never try to save money by driving without the air bags installed. While it might seem tempting to hop back into your vehicle and hit the open road without air bags, there are some dangers to consider.

    Most importantly, this puts you and your passengers at risk — it would be difficult to forgive yourself if something were to happen to your passengers.

    Also, the air bag light won't go off on its own anytime soon. When an air bag deploys, the light comes on to let you know a repair is needed. With this light on the instrument cluster, you'll have trouble selling your vehicle in the future, and you might not be able to pass your state’s inspection.

    It’s always best to have the air bags replaced after they're deployed. Get a qualified mechanic to look at the system and tell you what’s involved. While you can shop around for a lower labor rate, you don’t want to take a lot of chances with this essential safety system.

    Bottom line

    An air bag can save your life during a collision, but the cost of replacement or repair can be significant. Depending on which air bags need to be replaced and how many have been deployed, your replacement cost will likely equal $1,000 or more.

    Have the system looked at by a qualified technician and evaluate your options. If you have collision insurance, don’t forget to see if the repairs are covered under your plan.

    There's a chance that the cost of repairs will be more than the value of your vehicle. In these cases, the car will be declared a total loss and you'll have to go car shopping for a different model. Whether you're fixing your current vehicle or shopping for another, it’s important that you always have functional air bags for your protection.

    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page.
    1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “Air Bags.” Accessed October 17, 2021.
    2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “Lives Saved by Vehicle Safety Technologies and Associated Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, 1960 to 2012.” Accessed October 17, 2021.
    3. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), “Efficacy of side airbags in reducing driver deaths in driver-side car and SUV collisions.” Accessed October 17, 2021.
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    Profile picture of Danni White
    by Danni White ConsumerAffairs Research Team

    As a member of the ConsumerAffairs research team, Danni White is committed to providing valuable resources designed to help consumers make informed purchase decisions. Danni specializes in content strategy and development, with over a decade of professional writing and research experience.