GM's Side Airbags Are Still Crashing the Party

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
gm s side airbags are still crashing the party

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.

“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.

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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3 of 23 comments
  • 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....

    • Highdesertcat Highdesertcat on Jan 18, 2019

      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.

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Jan 20, 2019

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

  • Statikboy Those tires are the Wrong Size.
  • Mustangfast I had an 06 V6 and loved that car. 230k trouble free miles until I sold it. I remember they were criticized for being too small vs competitors but as a single guy it was the right size for me. I recall the 2.3 didn’t have a reputation for reliability, unlike the V6 and I4. I think it likely didn’t take off due to the manual-only spec, price tag, and power vs the V6 engine and the way it delivered that power. It was always fun to see the difference between these and normal ones, since these were made in Japan whereas all others were flat rock
  • VoGhost Earth is healing.
  • ToolGuy "Having our 4th baby and decided a camper van is a better use of our resources than my tuner."Seller is in the midst of some interesting life choices.Bonus: Here are the individuals responsible for doing the work on this vehicle.
  • MaintenanceCosts Previous owner playing engineer by randomly substituting a bunch of components, then finding out. No thanks.