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Is the performance of airbags in older cars questionable?

Is the performance of airbags in older cars questionable?
Santosh Nair Santosh Nair Sunday 21 August 2016, 15:23 PM

There’s an air of doubt when it comes to airbags of late and the recent recalls don’t really inspire a lot of confidence in one either. Whether airbags in older cars can do their intended job at the moment of truth is questionable as of now. Having gathered some information on this, we decided to give you the gist.  

The durability of airbag systems are coming under the scanner thanks to the characteristics of the chemical inflators being used. An unstable ammonium nitrate produces hot gases when a collision occurs, to get the airbag to inflate. Ammonium nitrate has a tendency to degenerate over time and it gets worse with extreme hot and humid weather. In fact, sources claim that airbags that have ammonium nitrate inflators and made between 2001 and 2003 by Takata, have a failure rate of 50 per cent. The airbag industry also uses other inflators like mild explosive materials and compressed gas, but while explosives suffer a chemical break down over time, gas canisters lose pressure. 

Of late, airbag makers are working towards increasing the life span of an airbag inflator. However, the true concern lies with the uncertainty of the inflation process in older cars. At the moment, there’s no clear method to find out if there is a problem in an older airbag application. Lately, there have been headlines about how some airbags could overinflate, sending shrapnel through the cabin. In essence, until the industry finds a way to cope with the uncertainty, it would make sense to drive with caution if you’re in an older car.

Scott Upham, consultant, Valient Market Research, said, “You’re using a chemical inflator that probably should be changed at least at the seven year mark. Automakers really don’t want to admit that, but I think that’s going to be the result of this Takata debacle.”


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