How Do Airbags Work?


When people buy a new car, one of the first things they ask themselves is, “How safe is it?”  After spending hours comparing cars they like, then finding the perfect trim – complete with all of the interior and technology features they are looking for – they will then compare ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) to pick the safest car that has everything they want in their next new car purchase.  Buying a new car is not and should not be a decision that is taken lightly.

With all of the news lately regarding the latest airbag recalls, safety is becoming more and more of a priority.  A car should keep you safe, not be a danger.  Safety features have come a long way over time. Can you believe people used to drive cars without any airbags at all?  That is not an option today.  It was not until the 1980’s that the first commercial airbags appeared in automobiles and it was not until 1998 that airbags became a mandatory standard safety feature in all new cars on driver and passenger sides!  Now we have airbags intertwined throughout the entire car, and we want to make they do their job.

OutlanderIn light of all of the airbag recalls, Carriage Mitsubishi is going to teach you how airbags really work so that you can understand why they are so important.

The first thing we must review is the Laws of Motion and Momentum.  Momentum is mass x velocity.  Unless an outside force acts on an object, that object will continue to move at its present speed and direction.  Your car may be moving at a constant speed, but so is everything inside of the car.  Even if the car is stopped by a collision, all of the loose, unrestrained items inside of the car – including the passengers – will continue to move at the vehicles speed before the crash.  This is the reasons seat belts and airbags were invented – in order to protect you during these high speed collisions.  The ultimate goal of the airbag is to slow the passengers speed with little to no damage.

An airbag consists of three parts:

  1. The bag itself – The bag is made of a thin, nylon fabric that is folded into the steering wheel, dashboard, seat, or door.
  2. The sensor – The sensor is a device that tells the bag to inflate. The sensors receive this information from an accelerometer built into a microchip.
  3. The inflation system – Sodium azide (NaN3) reacts with potassium nitrate (KNO3) to product nitrogen gas which inflates the airbag. The gas bursts from its storage site faster than the blink of an eye!  A second later, the gas dissipates through tiny holes in the airbag giving you room to move.  The powdery substance that is released when the airbag inflates is cornstarch or talcum powder, which keeps the bags flexible and lubricated while they are in storage.

Check out this video and watch how airbags work:

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