Last updated: August 2023

How Do Airbags Work?

We’re grateful for airbags helping to make us safer in our cars. According to NHTSA, frontal airbags have saved 50,457 lives from 1987 to 2017!  But how exactly do these life-saving airbag systems work? And what are the main parts of an airbag? Is it really just air and bags? Short answer: not exactly. Follow our simple, easy-to-understand infographic and steps below to learn what an airbag is and how it works in a car accident.

What are the main parts of an airbag system?

In an airbag system, an airbag module includes an:

  • Airbag: inflatable bags made of a thin, nylon fabric and folded into the steering wheel, dashboard, seat, or door.
  • Inflator Unit: a small canister within the airbag that houses chemical propellants and an igniter to activate the chemicals to create a gas.

Crash Sensors are located throughout the vehicle to help determine when an impact is forceful enough to inflate an airbag. And at the heart of the airbag system sits the control unit, or diagnostic unit, that controls the airbag’s deployment, and stores crash data and hard codes.

How do airbag systems work?

The following steps outline how the main parts of an airbag system work together.

First, ultra-fast crash sensors detect and send different sets of stimuli, like sudden and rapid changes in speed, to the airbag control unit.

Second, if the crash is big enough, the airbag control unit sends a signal to set off the inflator unit’s igniter to activate the chemicals around it.

Third, chemical propellants in the airbag mix together to create a gas that rapidly inflates the airbag.

Fourth, and finally, after inflation, the bag immediately begins to deflate by the time the body hits it to properly absorb the impact.

And if your airbag ever deploys due to a crash, you’ll want to ensure you’re covered with a car insurance policy. Call 1-877-GO-DIRECT, click to get a quote online or visit a  Direct Auto location near you to speak with one of our friendly local agents.


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