5 Causes of an Airbag Light Coming On

An illuminated or flashing airbag warning light is a legit cause for concern. Does it mean this essential safety feature is suddenly deemed inactive?

Learn the most common reasons that set off an airbag light so you can get the issue resolved as quickly as possible. This isn’t a warning light you want to ignore and have your airbag fail to deploy when you need it most.

airbag light on

Related: Average Airbag Replacement Cost

What Does an Airbag Light Look Like?

The airbag light most often appears as one of three different warning lights in a vehicle’s instrument cluster. It will either be:

  • An icon of a person sitting with a large ball in front of them that represents the airbag (see image at top)
  • The word “AIR BAG” (see image directly above)
  • The letters “SRS”

airbag light flashing

They all mean the same thing, which is that there is a malfunction in the airbag system which may cause the airbags to not deploy when they are supposed to.

Reasons Your Air Bag Light is On or Flashing

Here are some of the possible reasons for your airbag light to start flashing or stay on. This information will also help you to resolve the problems as well since you need to know the problem in order to solve it.

#1 – Clock Spring Needs Replacement

airbag clockspring

The main function of the airbag clock spring is to maintain constancy between the airbag of the driver’s seat and the electrical wiring by entwining in and out in respect to the steering wheel.

The thin circuit bands may become worn or brittle and can cause the airbag on the driver’s seat to report a Soft-code error to the airbag control module which will make the airbag light start flashing. The reason for the wearing down of the circuit bands is due to the normal use.

The clock spring problem cannot be determined by yourself without the aid of a quality OBD2 scan tool which helps pinpoint the issue. Even if you can confirm you have a bad clock spring, we recommend taking it to a professional for replacement.

Serious injury can occur if you attempt replacing components of an airbag system on your own without following the right precautions.

#2 – Battery Backup of the Airbag is Depleted

One of the more common reasons for your airbag light to be on is depletion of the battery backup of your airbag. This could be caused by the recent draining of the car battery.

This problem can often take care of itself when the battery is fully recharged but you might need to remove the soft-code error from the airbag control module with a scan tool to correct this problem.

#3 – Sensor Malfunction

airbag impact crash sensor

The supplemental restraint system in modern vehicles consists of a variety of components including various sensors that all connect to the main computer (ECM or PCM) of the car.

When one or more of these sensors has a malfunction of any type, the car’s computer will recognize this and in turn illuminate the airbag warning light.

#4 – Airbag Module is Corroded or Wet

The airbag control module is usually located underneath the driver seat or the front passenger’s seat in most of the vehicles. Therefore, if a vehicle has been exposed to high water, even for a little bit, the airbag control module is exposed to this moisture which could short it out or result in corrosion.

An airbag control module, when shorted out or corroded, will generate a diagnostic trouble code right away which will make the airbag light in your vehicle start flashing.

#5 – Recent Accident

airbag replacement cost

This is often the case when purchasing a used car from a private party or car auction. If the vehicle was previously involved in an accident and the airbags went off, there’s a chance it wasn’t fixed correctly as many SRS components are one-time use only. It could be a clock spring, crash sensor, seat belt tensioner, or other component.

Even if all the components were replaced, the car’s ECM needs to be reprogrammed to essentially reset the airbag system. If this reset has not occurred, the airbag light will continue to flash until that’s done.

Implications of Ignoring the Airbag Light

Ignoring an illuminated airbag warning light can lead to serious safety implications. When this critical light stays on, it means there is a problem with the supplemental restraint system that requires attention. Disregarding the airbag light can result in non-deploying airbags in the event of an accident.

The most serious consequence of overlooking an activated airbag indicator is that the airbags may not inflate properly or at all during a collision.

Vehicle occupants rely on proper airbag deployment in accidents to help prevent severe injuries. If the airbags fail to activate due to an unresolved fault being indicated by the warning light, it poses a major hazard for drivers and passengers when crashes occur.

Additionally, small system issues left unattended can develop into more extensive electrical and mechanical faults from ignoring the initial problem. For example, minor wiring damage from a minor accident leading to the airbag light coming on could get worse over time if not repaired. What started as a cut wire could degrade into electrical shorts and complete failures.

The airbag light serves as an important early notification system, alerting drivers service is required. Disregarding the first sign of issues can let problems be compounded and increase repair costs down the road.

Diagnosis and Repair

When an airbag warning light illuminates, professional diagnosis and repair is typically required to restore functionality. Even if you consider yourself a competent DIYer, airbag issues are best left for the pros. Here are the typical steps a technician would follow:

#1 – Scan for Diagnostic Trouble Codes

The first step a technician will take is to connect a OBD2 scanner to access the airbag control module and pull any diagnostic trouble codes that point to the specific issues detected. The codes provide insight into sensor faults, communication failures, or component issues.

If you have a scan tool, this will give you an idea what type of repair costs you can expect going forward. 

#2 – Inspect Components and Wires

With codes in hand pointing to the potential cause, visual inspections of wires, control module connectors, sensors, and relevant components will follow. The goal is checking for visible damage, wear and tear deterioration, and pinpoint issues that may be triggering problems.

#3 – Test Systems

Advanced testing procedures can provide definitive confirmation if certain sensors, seat track positioning detectors or internal control module electronics have malfunctioned and need replacement. This helps identify parts needing repair or replacement.

#4 – Replace Defective Parts

After conclusive testing, any damaged, non-communicating or defective electronic airbag components are replaced and the systems are rechecked to confirm proper operations. Only manufacturer certified parts should be used in repairs.

Mark Stevens


  1. I have a 2022 Hylander that has 1K miles on it. The red words Passenger Airbag started flashing when I turned my car off. They weren’t flashing when it was running. No one talks about this exact issue. It continues to flash even though the car is off and parked.

    1. I am interested in a reply to this question. I too have a 22 Highlander. Just had to replace my battery be ause of over charging….

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