While some auto producers have set time limits on when to replace an airbag, the actual parts are extremely durable. The main difference is the kind of seal used on the housing of the airbag igniter, also known as the squib.
“Almost all squibs since first day have used what is called ‘glass-to-metal’ sealing, which is recommended and the best for moisture protection,” according to Douglas Campbell, the president of the Automotive Safety Council and has been in the airbag industry for more than 25 years.
“Some earlier non-North American brands may have been made with a ‘plastic-to-metal’ seals, which would have passed the vehicle life tests, but are considered to be potentially not as excellent in extreme testing,” Campbell concludes.
Leo Knowlden, a field performance assessment engineer at General Motors, said that GM has used glass-to-metal seals on all its airbags since the very start. A plastic-to-metal seal is more likely to accumulate moisture over the years, Knowlden notes. This can lead to corrosion of the electrical pins in the igniter and potentially lead to a less active airbag.
As proof of the lifetime durability of GM airbags, Knowlden directed attention to a 1992 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study, where a rusty 1972 Chevrolet Impala was crash-tested and both the driver’s airbag and passenger airbag was successfully deployed. That Impala was one of the first 1,000 airbag-equipped cars made by GM.
And similarly, “airbags from 1990s vehicles are working correctly in today’s accidents,” says Campbell.
The National Highway Trafficc Safety Administration (NHTSA) knows of successful deployments of airbags more than 30 years after production, according to Jose Ucles, a NHTSA spokesperson.