By on January 18, 2019

2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, Image: GM

In a perfect world, a vehicle’s airbags would only deploy in circumstances where the driver, in hindsight, applauds the life-saving buffer’s invention. Not included in that list of circumstances is a spinout, far removed from hard obstacles or other vehicles.

One Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 driver isn’t applauding General Motors after his car’s side curtain airbags made their presence known at 19 mph, free of any impacting object or rollover.

As reported by Jalopnik, the ZL1 driver was just completing an autocross course spinout in his supposedly track-ready pony car when the side curtains deployed. Correspondence with the driver revealed the car hit a pothole as it completed the slide, no doubt boosting the lateral g-forces on the car. This was enough to cause onboard electric nannies to freak out.

Damage to the car and wheel was nonexistent, he claims.

While the anonymous driver didn’t get any more track fun that day, his car, now with engine immobilized, did go on a date with a tow vehicle, ending up at a GM dealership. There, the automaker began an investigation, though the driver won’t be privy to the probe’s results.

2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE

“This (Raytheon) rep explained to me that while he could not share with me his thoughts, he would tell me that the curtain airbags should only deploy in case of a collision with something (vehicle, building, pole, etc) or a roll-over,” the d river said in an email. “Once the report is sent to GM, GM engineering then decides in a committee whether there is an engineering defect or not.”

Cost of airbag replacement? A cool $6,400, after the driver decided not to attempt collection through the courts.

This isn’t the first time a set of GM side curtains popped when not needed. Back in 2011, a video made the internet rounds showing the side curtains on a previous-gen Camaro SS deploying during a drifting stunt. Last year, video emerged of a ZL1’s side curtains deploying after the driver, who clearly doesn’t believe in the “9 and 3” rule, ran over some curbing while on the track. In this case, it’s likely some momentary daylight appeared between the pavement and the Camaro’s passenger-side rubber.

2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

But the Camaro isn’t the only GM vehicle to experience this phenomenon. Take the Colorado pickup, for example, which comes in a rough-and-tumble ZR2 off-road variant. Last spring, one ZR2 owner had his vehicle’s side curtains deploy while travelling down a forestry service road in low range at approximately 3 mph. The pop came while the vehicle was not an an extreme angle, the owner insists. Repairs came to $6,500 and the company wouldn’t disclose the reason for the deployment, minus a rep claiming (according to the owner), “the airbags will deploy BEFORE there’s a rollover and they can’t control the threshold or tell me when that is.”

Other Colorado side curtain deployments appeared in videos and news reports last year, including incidents occurring during purposeful off-roading (and one during a Kelley Blue Book test). In response, a GM spokesperson told Jalopnik, “We are aware of this situation happening on rare occasions. The reason it would occur is that head-curtain airbags are designed to deploy if the sensing system predicts that the vehicle is about to roll on its side.”

The body of evidence that GM’s sensors are just a bit too sensitive is only growing.

[Images: General Motors]

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23 Comments on “GM’s Side Airbags Are Still Crashing the Party...”

  • avatar

    The least they could do would be to fill them with popcorn like the SNL skit.

  • avatar

    These vehicles are equipped to save lives, not engage in autocross. Perhaps an on-off switch? Actually, it’s hilarious these bags going off when driving like a dare devil.

    • 0 avatar

      what’s concerning is that deployment of airbags triggers the engine immobilizer. That could be a danger in itself.

      • 0 avatar

        It could be a danger, but if you have a crash that is bad enough to set off the airbags then the last thing you want is a fuel pump running (engine running = fuel pump running) and live electric circuits near that fuel… fuel + ignition source and the old fire triangle.

        Overall it’s much less dangerous to just automatically disable the engine whenever an airbag goes off. Engineer the system to be simple. If it’s overly complicated then there are more things to go wrong in real-world crashes.

        Of course none of that has anything to do with airbag systems that are overly sensitive to bumps and jolts.

  • avatar

    Cadillac has had problems with side airbags firing for no apparent reason. And I recall the Catera (the artist formerly known as Opel) was reputed to trigger side airbags if you slammed the door hard.

    I haven’t heard of any other brands having this problem. How come GM can’t get a handle on this?

  • avatar
    Peter Gazis


    Don’t you have a big Hyundai/Kia recall to report on?

    • 0 avatar

      That’s not newsworthy. Let GM or Ford have a couple dozen cars recalled for Incorrect wording on some cap and it’s far more serious than a couple hundred thousand rolling fire hazards by a non-American auto company.

    • 0 avatar

      Also, what about the fuel-to-oil leakage in Honda CR-V’s? Even Consumer Reports got on the bandwagon for this one and Honda, arguably, is an American vehicle.

  • avatar

    Side curtain airbags?

    How about driving with a gun pointing straight at you. In place of a bullet at the end of the cartridge, there is a balloon.

    Many, if not most, or all, automakers have had drivers air bags go off for no reason. Just driving along and, BOOM.

    Fortunately, it is a rare occurrence. But it has happened. It will happen—and probably more as cars get older and their system checks become compromised with age.

    Best kept secret around… the government and the automakers both share a vested interest in keeping it that way.

    The Feds enacted the law. The automakers don’t want people to be nervous. And statistically, I’m sure airbags are a net plus in terms of deaths, injuries, and MEDICAL COSTS.

    So it’s all good…unless you’re the 0.001% that has one blow up in your face.

    That’s why air bags should be OPTIONAL.

    • 0 avatar

      Solid 1990 thinking.

      You need to talk to my emergency room doctor brother. He was deployed at the center next to the end of the throughway coming into the city. As airbags became common, he says, rather than critically injured and DOEs, patients became people complaining about smashed glasses and powder burns. Not a clue how lucky they were.

      50 years ago it was people going on about seatbelts.

      So, I’ll take my chances on the .001% you quote (from somewhere or other). Optional? There’d be a lower take rate than manual transmissions. Still and all, nothing like a conspiracy theory for a Friday.

  • avatar

    “Last year, video emerged of a ZL1’s side curtains deploying after the driver, who clearly doesn’t believe in the “9 and 3” rule,”

    They guy literally has a physical disability that prevents him from using his right arm, so maybe a little less snark would be in order…

  • avatar

    Common issue with the “made for the track” CTS-V Wagon.

    Watch a GM engineer “demonstrate”:

  • avatar

    If they have a user-selectable track mode, why not have airbags disabled (or disable all except for the front airbags) as a part of track mode?

  • avatar

    Kiss your trade-in value good-bye, those airbag deployments are a killer. I recently found out my car’s Carfax report mistakenly reported an airbag deployment. An automatic $5-6K drop in its trade-in value.

    It took three weeks, but I finally got the report corrected. Maybe the Carfax cabal is a story worth telling for TTAC. Same thing happened to this guy as to me:

  • avatar

    Where’s Deadweight complaining about Guangzhou Motors and cheap Chinese airbag sensors?

    • 0 avatar

      Here I’ll fill in: Guangzhou Guadalajara Motors specializes in the finest Grade D Chinesium in every product and anyone who spends their hard earned and heavily taxed income on one deserves what they get!!!

  • avatar

    Wow. GM slides further and further down the irrelevance pole. Disgusting quality F-ups that put peoples lives in danger. It almost as if new GM didnt learn from old GM. Oh wait….

    • 0 avatar

      I honestly don’t see how GM can slide any further down the relevance pole since they’ve been at the bottom of the pole for quite a while already.

      And the people whose lives were endangered, chose badly.

      Hey, I used to be a GM fan, but I have evolved. Left the fold.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Let’s limbo some more. How low can you go GM? GM still has some room to reach the depths of Sears and Kmart.

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