If airbags deploy, is my car totaled?

If you're wondering "Does airbag deployment total a car?" you'll need to know your state's total loss threshold. If airbags deploy, your car is totaled after the repairs meet a certain percentage of the vehicle's value.

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UPDATED: May 24, 2022

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Written By: Laura BerryReviewed By: Joel OhmanUPDATED: May 24, 2022Fact Checked

Here's what you need to know...

  • Whether your car is totaled is up to your state and insurer
  • If your repairs pass the total loss threshold, then it will be totaled
  • Some insurers are willing to provide discounts on cars with airbags

If airbags deploy, is my car totaled? Whether or not your car is totaled will largely depend on how your state determines total loss. With a comprehensive car insurance guide and policy, you can ensure that you get proper airbag repairs or reimbursement for a totaled vehicle.

While researching if airbag deployment will total your car, you can do a quick comparison shopping to see what you could pay for a comprehensive policy. 

If an airbag deploys, is the car totaled?

What designates a car as totaled often depends on the vehicle and the state that you live in. In addition, your vehicle has a specific value that depreciates as soon as you get off the lot.

Once your car has depreciated enough, your insurer won’t want to pay for costly repairs on a vehicle that may suffer more problems soon. To help make this practice fairer, states determine percentages at which cars are considered a total loss, or totaled, which means:

  • Your insurer won’t pay for any repairs
  • You’ll get reimbursed for the value of the vehicle
  • Any repairs to your vehicle will come out of pocket

So, if your airbags deploy is the car totaled? Getting a payment back after your airbag deployment will largely depend on what kind of insurance you have. Standard liability car insurance won’t pay for any repairs and won’t give you payment if your car is totaled.

What is the total loss percentage by the state?

The airbag replacement laws differ between states, with the loss threshold sitting at an average of 75% of the vehicle’s total value. This means that if the cost of your repairs exceeds 75% of your car’s actual value, then your vehicle will be considered totaled.

While several states sit at 70% or 75%, it’s up to each state’s legislature to determine what is considered a total loss threshold. Instead of a flat percentage, some states allow the insurer to decide the value based on a total loss formula (TFL) to determine the total loss cost.

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Is it legal to drive a car after airbags deploy?

Few laws exist regarding driving with airbags, as they represent a fairly modern invention. There are no current laws to say you can’t drive a car after the airbags deploy. However, it means you are driving without a major piece of automotive safety equipment.

According to the NHTSA, from 1987 to 2017, frontal airbags saved 50,457 lives.

Airbags are standard on vehicles produced in the U.S. today, and it’s a good idea to have them replaced immediately if they have deployed.

Are you wondering how to start a car after airbags deploy?

If airbags go off is the car totaled? Luckily, your car’s functionality won’t be affected by airbag deployment alone. Most cars can drive just fine after the airbags deploy, but you’ll be missing an important safety feature in your vehicle.

If your car doesn’t start after your airbags have been replaced, there may be additional damage that requires attention. You might ask if airbags deploy, can airbags be repaired and reused? The NHTSA finds:

No. Once deployed, an air bag – whether advanced frontal or another type – cannot be re-used and must be replaced by an authorized service technician without delay.

So while you can start your car, it’s just not a good idea to drive with deployed airbags.

Can airbags be replaced?

While it can get costly, replacing airbags after an accident may be your only option. Most airbags can be replaced unless irreparable damage to the steering wheel position has occurred.

When replacing an airbag, you should always make sure you:

  • Go to an authorized mechanic
  • Replace them as soon as possible
  • Don’t drive your car until the airbags are replaced

To ensure that your airbag replacement goes safely and efficiently, you’ll benefit from going to a licensed mechanic as soon as possible.

There are many reasons not to attempt to repair airbags yourself. Due to the unique knowledge and delicate nature of this procedure, seek a professional. When the mechanic fixes your airbag, they’ll need to take apart major pieces like:

  • The steering wheel
  • Dashboard pieces
  • Other interior sections

Airbags also include an inert gas that rapidly expands to deploy the airbag. If an inexperienced handset off the airbag accidentally, a high probability of injury exists.

Does insurance cover airbag replacements?

Whether or not your insurance will cover your airbag replacement will largely depend on your vehicle and the estimated cost of the repairs. As mentioned previously, your state or insurer will have a method of determining whether the repairs exceed the car’s value.

How much does it cost to replace airbags?

The cost of an airbag replacement can vary but skews high. Just for the standard airbag replacement, the mechanic will have to:

  • Replace the airbag control module
  • Replace seat belt buckles and retractors
  • Install a new airbag
  • Repair or replace wiring and other connectors that may have been damaged

You can expect to pay anywhere between 1 to 2 thousand dollars to replace your airbag and its associated safety features.

What is considered a total loss?

As mentioned above, your car is considered a total loss when the cost of the necessary repairs exceeds the total loss threshold. This threshold is either determined by a state-wide percentage or a total loss formula left up to the insurer to decide.

The total loss threshold varies from just 70% in Indiana to 100% in Colorado.

Calculating the total loss for a car depends on a few factors. Your insurance company will calculate the cost to repair your car, as well as an estimate of the value of the car, and decide if it is a total loss.

Do insurance companies require you to have airbags?

Most insurers won’t require airbags due to the number of classic cars made without them. That being said, you can still get benefits from using airbags and other safety features in your insurance.

Insurers have been known to give car insurance discounts to people who show that they are committed to being safe. This includes deals on cars with:

  • Airbags
  • Anti-lock brakes
  • Anti-theft devices

If you have less of a chance of filing a claim, your insurer will be much more willing to provide you with savings on your monthly rates.

When were airbags invented?

The first patented airbags surfaced in 1952. However, airbags didn’t become widely used in commercial vehicles until the 1970s. Because of this recent deployment of the airbags, no pun intended, many insurers are less inclined to mandate their place in your car.

Instead, many insurers prefer to offer unique discounts for individuals with airbags in their vehicles.

How many lives are saved by airbags each year?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, airbags have saved an estimated 50,457 lives between 1987 and 2017. With the implementation of airbags in all new cars, this number will continue to go up in the future.

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Air Bag Deployment and Total Loss: The Bottom Line

While you may think your car is automatically a total loss, this largely depends on your state. If your state or insurer finds that the repairs for the airbag represent more than a certain percentage of cost, it will consider your car a total loss.

Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about auto insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything auto insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by auto insurance experts.

A former insurance producer, Laura understands that education is key when it comes to buying insurance. She has happily dedicated many hours to helping her clients understand how the insurance marketplace works so they can find the best car, home, and life insurance products for their needs.

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Written by Laura Berry
Former Insurance Agent Laura Berry

Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP® Joel Ohman

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