Deployed airbags do not automatically make a car a total loss. If a vehicle’s airbags deploy and the cost of replacing them is more than the total loss threshold for your state, it would be declared a total loss – or totaled.

The total loss threshold is the percentage where an insurer declares a car totaled, which varies from state to state.

“If an airbag deploys in an accident, it does not mean the insurance company will consider the vehicle totaled,” says Lauren Mckenzie, insurance broker/agent with A Plus Insurance. “If the value of the vehicle is lower than the cost to replace the airbags, then the insurance adjuster would consider the vehicle totaled because they would end up spending more money to replace the airbags than what the vehicle is actually worth.”

However, airbags are a vital safety component of a vehicle. According to the NHTSA, frontal airbags saved 50,457 lives from 1987 to 2017.

Key Highlights
  • An insurer declares a vehicle a total loss if it would cost more to repair it after an accident.
  • The decision to total a car varies depending on the car’s actual cash value and the total loss threshold for that state.
  • An airbag replacement can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000.
  • Insurers will cover airbag replacement only if the car is not being totaled, as it is costly to replace airbags.
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Written by:
Laura Longero
Executive Editor
Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.
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Reviewed by:
John McCormick
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Editorial Director
John is the editorial director for CarInsurance.com, Insurance.com and Insure.com. Before joining QuinStreet, John was a deputy editor at The Wall Street Journal and had been an editor and reporter at a number of other media outlets where he covered insurance, personal finance, and technology.

Is a car totaled if the airbags deploy?

Airbags are like any other damage to a vehicle – if it is cheaper to total out the vehicle than to repair it, that’s what an insurance company will do.

Due to the high price of new airbag components and installation costs, many vehicles with a low actual cash value (ACV) will be considered a total loss if the airbags are deployed. On the flip side, if the car has a high ACV, the cost of installing new airbags will not likely cause the vehicle to be declared a total loss.

Tip iconExample

If your car is valued at $5,000 in Iowa, you would need only $2,500 of damage to call it a total loss, as the threshold in Iowa is 50%. However, living in Colorado would take $5,000 in damage, as the threshold in the Centennial State is 100%.

When is a car considered totaled?

Your insurance company will determine whether a car is totaled following a crash. The determination is based on the total loss threshold, which varies by state.

“A vehicle is considered totaled once it is determined by an adjuster or claims rep that the total cost to fix the vehicle from damage incurred by the accident/loss, is more expensive than the actual value of the vehicle,” Mckenzie says.

For example:

  • Once a claims adjuster arrives to look at damages, they may discover that the vehicle is worth $20,000, and estimated repairs put them at $20,000, or even a little higher.
  • In this case, it is not worth repairing or fixing the vehicle so the insurance company would write a check to the insured for $20,000.
  • The insured can buy a new vehicle with this $20,000 check instead of fixing it.

Check out our guide on what to do with a totaled car?

Can an airbag be replaced?

Airbags cannot be reused once they’re deployed. However, airbags can be replaced. Ensure you contact an authorized technician or a new car dealership to ensure the quality of your airbag replacement.

The NHTSA urges consumers to report any airbag that fails to deploy to NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation to investigate possible system defects and potential recalls.

McKenzie says airbags may not deploy in minor accidents, such as a minor crash due to a pothole or loose gravel, impact with a small animal or fender bender.

“Airbags generally will deploy at high-speed impacts, but if they were defective, you should talk to the insurance adjuster,” Mckenzie says. “Some people have suffered serious injuries due to their airbags failing to deploy; they may seek compensation from the airbag manufacturer. In other cases, medical injuries may be covered by the other party if they were the one found at fault in the accident, in which the airbag didn’t deploy.”

How much does it cost to fix a deployed airbag?

Airbags cannot be fixed – they must be replaced, which will cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the make and model of the vehicle, according to automotive tip site AutoChimps.

“Most airbag systems will cost around $3,000, that is if all airbags deployed in the crash. If just one airbag is deployed, you may pay closer to $1,000-$1,5000 for the replacement. The cost will depend on what type of vehicle you have,” Mckenzie says. “I would highly recommend making sure a qualified technician replaces all airbags to ensure they are properly working.”

Does insurance cover airbag replacement?

Whether your insurer will cover airbag replacement depends on the cost of the repairs and your car. Your insurer won’t cover airbag replacement after a crash if it’s planning to total the vehicle because it’s expensive to replace airbags.

“Most insurance companies will cover airbag replacement, as it is a standard coverage under comprehensive/collision package,” Mckenzie says. “If you are only carrying liability coverage and are found at fault in an accident, your insurance company will not cover the airbag replacement.”

FAQ: Airbags

When did airbags become mandatory?

Airbags became a legal requirement in the United States on September 1, 1998. The enactment of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 required that passenger cars and light trucks have airbags for the driver and the front passenger after September 1, 1998. In 2007, the NHTSA issued a rule requiring more sophisticated airbags.

At what speed do airbags deploy?

According to auto shopping site CarsDirect, a passenger airbag deploys at 100-220 mph. Airbags can cause serious injuries, so drivers and passengers should always be at least 10 inches away from airbags while wearing seat belts.

Can you drive a car once the airbags have been deployed?

If the car is drivable, no federal laws preclude you from driving your car once the airbags have deployed. However, remember that airbags are a crucial vehicle safety feature, so it’s not a good idea. If you drive, ensure the airbags are deflated before driving again.

“You should not drive a vehicle once the airbags have deployed,” McKenzie says. “It is best to either file an insurance claim or take your vehicle to a qualified repair facility to make sure you have new airbags installed before driving the vehicle.”

How often are defective airbags found?

Defective airbags have been discovered in the past. An NHTSA report said about 67 million Takata airbags were recalled. The NHTSA suggests checking for recalls using your VIN and signing up for recall alerts. Recalled airbags can be replaced by your local auto dealership, but use an authorized mechanic.

Sources

AutoChimps. “How Much Does It Cost To Replace Airbags?” Accessed June 2022.

CarsDirect. “How Does Your Car’s Airbag System Work?” Accessed June 2022.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “Airbags.” Accessed June 2022.

NHTSA. “Takata Recall Spotlight.” Accessed June 2022.

NHTSA. “Office of Defects Investigation.” Accessed June 2022.

NHTSA. “Safety Issues & Recalls.” Accessed June 2022.

NHTSA. “Email Subscription Form.” Accessed June 2022.

– Michelle Megna contributed to this story.

Laura Longero

Ask the Insurance Expert

Laura Longero

Executive Editor

Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

John McCormick

Ask the Insurance Expert

John McCormick

Editorial Director

John is the editorial director for CarInsurance.com, Insurance.com and Insure.com. Before joining QuinStreet, John was a deputy editor at The Wall Street Journal and had been an editor and reporter at a number of other media outlets where he covered insurance, personal finance, and technology.

Leslie Kasperowicz

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Leslie Kasperowicz

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Leslie Kasperowicz is an insurance educator and content creation professional with nearly two decades of experience first directly in the insurance industry at Farmers Insurance and then as a writer, researcher, and educator for insurance shoppers writing for sites like ExpertInsuranceReviews.com and InsuranceHotline.com and managing content, now at CarInsurance.com.

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Nupur Gambhir is a content editor and licensed life, health, and disability insurance expert. She has extensive experience bringing brands to life and has built award-nominated campaigns for travel and tech. Her insurance expertise has been featured in Bloomberg News, Forbes Advisor, CNET, Fortune, Slate, Real Simple, Lifehacker, The Financial Gym, and the end-of-life planning service.

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Executive Editor

Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.