If airbags deploy, is the car automatically totaled? (Accidents + Rates)

If airbags deploy, is the car automatically totaled? Airbags are expensive to replace (up to $1,000 each), so if more than one deploys, along with other damage, it could result in a total loss. It depends on the value of your car and the total cost to repair it.

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Sara Routhier, Managing Editor of Features and Outreach, has professional experience as an educator, SEO specialist, and content marketer. She has over five years of experience in the insurance industry. As a researcher, data nerd, writer, and editor she strives to curate educational, enlightening articles that provide you with the must-know facts and best-kept secrets within the overwhelming worl...

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Cynthia Lanctot is an insurance professional with ten years of industry experience. Cynthia is licensed in several states, and holds an associate in claims law, as well as a bachelor’s degree in English. Cynthia’s experience includes the New England and Northeast states. She currently works as a liability claims professional and an occasional online contributor.

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Reviewed by Cynthia Lanctot
Licensed Agent

UPDATED: Jun 24, 2020

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Airbag Technology Overview
Airbag TypeTechnology
Inflatable seat beltsIn the event of a crash, the shoulder belt will inflate. Ford, Lincoln and Mercedes are using this technology.
Front-center airbagGeneral Motors has developed a center airbag. This prevents collision of the passenger and the driver.
Panoramic sunroof airbagHyundai Is developing a sunroof airbag which prevents passenger or driver ejection.
External hood airbagVolvo developed the external hood airbag intended to protect pedestrians in the event of a collision. Currently, this feature is only available in Europe.
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Most cars have safety mechanisms to help prevent fatalities in the event of an auto accident, but how are cars safer now than in the 1970s? Airbags are one of the most common safety devices that are used when involved in a crash. However, what happens when you are in a minor accident and your airbag deploys? How do auto insurance companies handle accidents where airbags deploy? Can you get a new airbag installed?

And of course, the big question: If airbags deploy, is the car automatically totaled

We are going to take a look at all these questions, plus take a look at statistics of lives saved by airbags. Does your car have airbags? Did you know having airbags could save you money on your auto insurance?

See what kind of rates safety equipment discounts can get you. Enter your ZIP code here and start getting auto insurance quotes today.

Airbags and How Auto Insurance Companies Determine Total Loss

Auto Insurance companies look at various factors when determining if your vehicle is a total loss.

Let’s take a look at how much damage it would take for your insurance company to consider your car totaled and how airbags play into that.

If the airbags deployed, is my car totaled?

Your airbag being deployed will not automatically total your car. We will warn you, though, replacing an airbag isn’t cheap. How much does it cost to fix a deployed airbag? They can’t be fixed, so a better question would be how much is it to replace an airbag?

It’s expensive. Airbags can cost more than $1,000 each. Chances are more than just one airbag deployed in an accident, so your bill could get extremely high if multiple bags deploy.

So, while deployed airbags aren’t a guaranteed sign your car will be totaled, there is a likely chance it will be.

Auto insurance companies will go through the same process of looking at damages and worth of car to determine if your car should be totaled.

If you are driving a more expensive or newer car, you have a higher chance of getting your car repaired and back on the road.

How much damage does it take to total a car?

The value of the car and the amount of damage is what will determine if your car is a total loss. If you drive an older car worth $6,000 and have $5,000 worth of damage, your auto insurance company may consider your car a total loss.

Your auto insurance company determines the value of your car by looking at the actual cash value.

So, what’s the actual cash value of my car? The actual cash value is calculated by replacement cost minus depreciation. The replacement cost of a vehicle is the amount it would cost to replace the car. Auto insurance companies use current sales in your area as a source of measurement. The depreciation is anything like miles, wear, or damage to the vehicle.

So, is my car totaled? Calculators online can help you figure it out, but the insurance company’s word will be final.

Can I appeal the company’s total loss car insurance settlement?

There is a process for how to fight an insurance company’s totaled car decision. Although how much insurance pays for a totaled car depends mostly on their calculations, you may be able to get them to reconsider.

You will need to present evidence for your calculation of the value of the vehicle and prove that it’s worth more than the settlement.

Do my auto insurance rates go up after an accident?

Your driving record shows the likelihood of you filing a claim and whether you are a risky driver. These two metrics are not good signs to an auto insurance company. The more claims and risky driving behaviors you have, the more your auto insurance company will be paying out in damages and injury. Too many dings on your record may mean you need high-risk auto insurance.

Average Annual Auto Insurance Rates by Driving Record
GroupClean recordWith one accidentWith one speeding violationWith one DUI
American Family$2,693.61$3,722.75$3,025.74$4,330.24
State Farm$2,821.18$3,396.01$3,186.01$3,636.80
Liberty Mutual$4,774.30$6,204.78$5,701.26$7,613.48
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A driving record with one accident can cost you more than $1,000 with some companies. Liberty Mutual and Progressive have the biggest jump while companies like Nationwide and State Farm have a lower increase.

Many auto insurance companies have accident forgiveness programs.

Auto insurance companies offer incentives for clean driving records and drivers can add a forgiveness benefit to their policy. This means drivers will not see a premium increase after an accident.

Allstate, Liberty Mutual, Geico, and USAA are a few of the auto insurance companies that offer accident forgiveness programs.

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Keeping Your Car After Airbag Deployment

Is a car drivable after airbags deploy? Yes, but it isn’t safe. If you keep your car after an accident in which airbags have been deployed, you need to make sure airbags are properly replaced.

After car accidents where airbags are deployed, do you have to buy new airbags to replace the inflated ones?

Airbags are essential to your safety when driving and when passengers are riding in your vehicle. You must replace your airbags once they have been deployed. Airbags should be replaced by an authorized technician.

Once an airbag has been inflated, it can not be reused.

Do airbag sensors need to be replaced after an accident?

After an accident, most cars will need only the airbag replaced. Airbag sensors can be reset. A technician should check your airbag sensors. If they were damaged due to an accident, they may need to be replaced.

How can you tell if a used car’s airbags have deployed?

A Carfax report can tell you a lot about a used vehicle. One of the many things a report can tell you is if the airbags have been deployed.

History of the Airbag

Airbags have been around for some time now. There are two types of airbags. Front airbags are located in the front dashboard of the car and have been proven to decrease driver fatalities by 29 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Side airbags are located around the sides of the vehicle and reduce the risk of driver-side impact in SUVs by 52 percent.

Airbags, used in coordination with seatbelts, have been proven to save lives.

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When did airbags become mandatory?

The federal government has mandated all auto manufacturers to use airbags. With the mandate first coming into effect in 1999, airbags need to be present in all passenger cars, vans, and sport-utility vehicles.

The federal government only enforces the use of frontal airbags, but most manufacturers have side-airbags as standard or optional equipment.

So, if you are driving a car made in 1999 or newer, you have frontal airbags and may even have side-airbags, as well.

At what speed do airbags deploy?

Front and side airbags inflate and provide safety for drivers. They prevent passengers from suffering severe head and chest impact in the event of a crash.

Airbags in newer cars have the technology to know if a driver or passenger is wearing their seatbelt. These seatbelt sensors allow the airbag device to know when it should or shouldn’t go off.

Airbags are designed to go off with a moderate to severe impact.

So, how much force is needed to deploy an airbag? If a driver or passenger is wearing their seatbelt, airbags will deploy at about 16 mph. Airbags will deploy between 10 and 12 mph if the occupant is not wearing their seatbelt.

 How Airbags Save Lives

Airbags are a huge part of keeping drivers and passengers safe in the event of an accident. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III) over 30,000 lives are lost every year due to traffic accidents.

Traffic Fatalities by Year
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Take a look at how many lives are saved by airbags.

How many lives are saved by airbags each year?

Vehicles have two major safety components that when used correctly have the potential to save thousands of lives a year. Seatbelt usage and properly installed airbags saved over 17,000 lives in 2017 alone based on National Highway Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.

Lives Saved by Safety Restraints and Airbags over 27 Years
YearSeat Belts (age 5+)Frontal Air BagsChild Restraints
(age 4 and younger)
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From 1987 to 2017, it is estimated that airbags have saved 50,457 lives.

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Frequently Asked Questions: Auto Insurance and Airbags

Take a look below at some commonly asked questions regarding airbags.

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Can I get a discount on my auto insurance for having an airbag?

Yes! Auto insurance carriers offer tons of different discounts. Take a look below at various safety features that could save you money on your auto insurance.

Auto Insurance Safety Feature Discounts by Company
Adaptive Cruise Controlxxx
Adaptive Headlightsxxxx
Anti-lock Brakesxxxxxxxxxx
Daytime Running Lightsxxxxxxxxx
Driving Device/Appxxxxxxxxx
Electronic Stability Controlxxxxxx
Forward Collision Warningxxx
Lane Departure Warningxxx
Passive Restraintxxxxxxxxxx
Seat Belt Usex
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Auto insurance carriers also offer other discounts for drivers in addition to safety discounts.

Auto Insurance Discounts by Driver Characteristics
Safe Driver DiscountsYoung DriversPolicy HoldersPersonal Stats
Claim FreeDriver's EdFull PaymentNewlyweds
Defensive DriverDistant StudentEarly SigningGood Credit
Driving Device/AppFurther EducationContinuous CoverageMarried
Low MileageGood StudentLoyaltyMembership/Group
Occasional OperatorYoung DriverFamily LegacyNon Smoker/Drinker
Safe DriverNew GraduateFamily PlanOccupation
Seat Belt UseFast 5Recent Retirees
Roadside AssistanceMultiple DriversRenter
Farm VehicleMultiple PoliciesHomeowner
Garaging/Storing Your VehicleMultiple VehiclesFederal Employee
Utility VehiclesNew AddressEngaged Couple
New Customer/New PlanSenior Driver
On-Time PaymentsStable Residence
Online ShopperVolunteer
Paperless Documents
Paperless/Auto Billing
Switching Provider
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Talk to your auto insurance company to see if you are using all the discounts available to you.

Does it matter who is at fault in a total loss?

When a car is totaled, the at-fault driver’s insurance pays in most cases. If you’re at fault in a total loss, your collision coverage pays for the damage to your vehicle. If you don’t have that coverage, you’re out of luck.

If  your car is totaled and you’re not at fault, the other driver’s insurance pays for the damage. In this case, you don’t need collision coverage.

Can airbags be reused?

As we mentioned earlier, airbags must be replaced after they have been deployed. After an accident, you must go to an authorized technician and have your airbags replaced. You must also ensure all sensors are still properly working. The only answer to the question of how to fix deployed airbags is to replace them.

Can airbags injure a driver or a passenger?

If not used properly, airbags can injure a driver or passenger. Airbags are made to be used in addition to wearing a seatbelt. You should always use your seat belt to avoid being thrown into an airbag.

The NHTSA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, recommends keeping a 10-inch distance between the driver or passenger and the front airbag.

You should maintain enough distance to be able to reach the pedals comfortably without being too close to the steering wheel.

Auto insurance companies want drivers to be safe on the road. Getting your airbags checked if you are buying a used car, and wearing your seatbelt can ensure safety.

Whether you’re shopping around for insurance on a new car after a total loss or just want to compare rates, we can help. Enter your ZIP code here to start saving on auto insurance today.


  1. https://www.iihs.org/topics/airbags
  2. https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/air-bags#topic-fake-air-bags
  3. https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-highway-safety
  4. https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812691

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