By on October 6, 2017

1973 Chevrolet Impala Airbag Brochure, Image: www.klassiker.nu

Mark writes:

Sajeev,

I recently acquired a 1990 Porsche 944 cabriolet. It’s in really good shape and has been well taken care of, but I started thinking about the airbags. The 27-year-old airbags.

How long are they good for? If they fail will they go off unexpectedly or not at all? Should I replace with new airbags, disconnect or remove completely?

Sajeev answers:

I had a similar conversation with my mother in my fully-restored Lincoln Mark VIII: her concern being its newfound looks might not save my life in a head-on collision. I understood Ford’s airbag module’s fail safe measures (i.e. that horrific buzzer when a circuit isn’t complete) but I don’t know if the inflators still work after 20-plus years.

Too bad I didn’t reference the original 1973 Chevrolet Impala’s ACRS (Air Cushion Restraint System), as it was quite robust.

Its squibs were far from the funkadelic ride of Tower of Power’s Squib Cakes, but…1973 Chevrolet Impala Crash Test, Courtesy: iihs.org…they did the job even after 20 years! In case you’re keeping track, the Americans definitely got this right in the 1970s. The Vega didn’t send Toyota packing, but the “Tower of Power” reference is appropriate!

To your Porsche, the only concern is the type of seal around the squib. The good ones are a glass-to-metal squib which, if a 20-year-old Impala crash test is believable across another 20 years, should last as long as your body does on this earth. And that whole “glass being a liquid” thing is a farce, so perhaps these shall last thousands of years?

All bets are off if the airbags were tampered or flood damaged. And if your Porsche uses a plastic-to-metal seal, I’d recommend getting the seat belts rebuilt, wear a helmet, etc or simply purchase a mid 70s masterpiece with that stunning ACRS emblem.

[Images: klassiker.nu, IIHS.org]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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14 Comments on “Piston Slap: Is Your Squib Still a Tower of Power?...”


  • avatar
    JimC2

    The military tests batches of squibs from ejection seats after they’ve been in service for a few years or so. Sometimes they don’t work as advertised, which is kind of the point of testing statistically significant batches… Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Anyhoo…

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    I assume the IIHS did not use new cars in their testing? The one in the photo looks typical of a 5 yr old Chevy back in the day – rust spots, molding missing etc.

    • 0 avatar

      They supposedly pulled a 20 year old Impala from the junkyard for the test. It was done in the 90s. That’s in the Automotive News article.

      • 0 avatar
        Halftruth

        Ok my bad there. Didn’t get it first time around.. color me slow for a Friday!

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        I wonder how they located the two Impalas? Did someone know the VINs that had the ACRS option installed, and tracked them down that way? Or was it just dumb luck stumbling across them?

        One nice thing about the ACRS system was that it used two-stage airbags, making it waaaaaaay ahead of its time. I remember seeing the ACRS option mentioned in the brochures back in the day, accompanied by a picture of the instrument panel showing the driver and passenger airbags.

  • avatar
    MBella

    The airbags won’t go off without a short somewhere in the circuit. As to whether or not they will work, that’s hard to answer. The only way to test an airbag conclusively, is to deploy it, defeating the purpose. Usually you’ll see in you owner’s manual state replace and/or inspect after 10 years. The airbag control module checks the resistance of the igniters continuously. The tolerance is very strict, and if the module doesn’t pick up a fault and turn on the SRS warning light, its probably functional. Since you likely wouldn’t be able to get recently built airbags for you 944, there’s not much you can do, besides hope for the best. If you are not willing to take the risk, a classic (at 27 years its a classic) vehicle is not for you.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      I saw a Volvo S80 with airbag expiration dates in the door jambs, and an SRS warning light that prompted me to look at the car in the first place. It was a clean, running, driving car that wasn’t economical to keep registered because it needed new airbags and a module.

      One concern with airbags is value engineering. The first ones may have been amazing. By now, they’ve been costed out to the point where some can turn into anti-personnel mines on a humid day.

      • 0 avatar
        Forty2

        There’s no law requiring replacement of airbags after X years. Use an OBDC thing to defeat the warning and you’re good. My 1991 240 has its original (driver only) airbag and I need to think about disconnecting it to prevent APM effect.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          In the commonwealth of Virginia, you cannot get a car inspected with an illuminated SRS light, and it comes back on immediately after being reset when there is a voltage drop across the airbag igniters. The S80 was totaled by expired airbags, and we were the second shop to look at it. The first was one of the better Volvo specialists in the US.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Considering the age of cars on the road, and the Takata mess, the airbag issue could use another article. There are issues of age and inability to find replacements, whether they (Takata) should be disconnected, the crash protection built into the vehicle, and 3-point seatbelt maintenance.

    For a 20 year old car without the latest crash protection, is just the seat belt enough? Can modern airbags be retrofitted?, Can you get away with disconnecting Takata bags and relying only on seat belts if it’s a late model car? I’m kind of surprised at how few comments this topic generated. Are we afraid to talk about it?

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      I’d be far more comfortable with the idea of crashing in a modern vehicle with disabled airbags than in an older vehicle with functional airbags but a weaker passenger compartment.

      I’d also be more comfortable in a modern vehicle with side airbags and no front airbags than the same one with front airbags and no side airbags.

      I would not be comfortable in a vehicle that had a modified airbag system.

      I didn’t care about the lack of an airbag in my high speed head-on collision. I just don’t want to have any body parts crushed again.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    The airbags will probably be functional for a while yet. Regardless, I wouldn’t put much value in them. At that time, the airbags existed primarily to save people who didn’t want to wear a seatbelt. The big risk in driving this car is that if you get smoked hard enough by something big, that flimsy old passenger compartment is going to fold.

    At least you’ll have a bit of crush space with that nice, long hood in a head-on. A side impact from a taller vehicle will go right through or over the upper part of the door.

    Wear your seatbelt, and you should be fine in any situation where you aren’t crushed by passenger compartment intrusion.


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