Used Cars

Published on June 21st, 2019 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez


How To Know If A Used Car Had Its Airbag Deployed Before


Every used car dealer will tell you that the vehicle they are selling is ‘accident free’. At best they will claim ‘just’ minor dents and scratches and that is why there is a new coat of paint or the headlamps look bright and new. 

Then sometime later you find out the car was in a bad accident, you return to complain to the dealer and they just shrug their shoulders and say, ‘I also didn’t know and the previous owner lied to me’! This is a common issue and the new car owner now drives their car with a bad taste in their mouth.

So, today we have technology on our side. The last 15-17 years, nearly all vehicles sold in Malaysia had at least 2 airbags or more fitted. Now, if the airbags have been replaced there will be a record of the replacement (Takata airbag recall).

An airbag deployment in an accident requires that the airbag, the modules and the cover on the dashboard to be replaced. Also, all of the electronics involved in airbag deployment must be inspected and replaced if necessary. This can be an expensive undertaking and needs to have the vehicle authorized service center to undertake the work and also supply the new airbag and its cover.

Take note, the insurance approved accident workshop and mechanic can only perform cosmetic repairs or they can use a ‘potong kereta’ (car junkyard) complete dashboard installed back in the car without any new buyers noticing. But, the airbag or engine check light will show! So, they will disconnect these lights and sell you the car without these check lights showing.

So how so you do first level detection? When you want to test drive the car, first turn the car ignition to pre-ignition, where all the check lights come on. Leave it at this this and look for the engine check light and airbag light to show. If these two light are not lit, then you know they have been disconnected or might just be faulty. Also, with most cars, normal operation is when the light comes on momentarily and goes out. If the light stays on or flashes, there is a problem with the airbag system.

Either way, could be signs of trouble and best to walk away.

However, the best way to confirm an accident damaged vehicle it is to take the vehicle to a trusted mechanic for a thorough inspection but sadly not many Malaysians have this available to them.

So, here is a simple checklist;

1.         Make sure the airbag covers on the dashboard are flushed nicely with the rest of the dashboard.

2.         Make sure at pre-ignition the airbag light and engine check light come on and not flash or stay on while the engine is running.

3.         Make sure your car dashboard colour is the same colour shade as the side door panels and center console.

4.         Try and see if the car brand authorized dealer can share with you details of any airbag replacement or if a recall was done (during the Takata recall or not)

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