Airbags are undeniable lifesavers and they have become a necessity as far as safety features in all modern cars.
However, anyone who’s had to get a replacement will tell you that they don’t come cheap, which begs the question- why are airbags so expensive? If you’d like to find out, keep reading!
Why Are Airbags So Expensive?
1. They Use Advanced Technology
Between the very first airbag patent in 1919 and the first vehicle model to have a working system in the 1970s were several decades of trial and error, with experts trying to perfect the technology.
Airbag systems have to detect a collision and relay this information to a control module that triggers the airbags themselves to inflate before the impact has a chance to affect those in the cabin.
An accident happens in the blink of an eye, so engineers had to find a way to make the airbag system kick in faster than this.
Long after the first vehicles to have working airbags were sold to the public nearly 50 years ago, manufacturers continued to look into ways to make the technology more effective.
For instance, there was a brief period in the 1990s where manufacturers used mechanical airbag systems that would deploy without power just in case the crash destroyed the battery.
Even today, vehicle manufacturers spend a lot of money on researching how to make the airbags in their cars more effective.
Research and development (R&D) expenses that go towards airbag technology cover the work of several engineers, building the prototypes and determining their effectiveness through expensive crash tests.
Therefore, when you factor in all of the above, you get a better idea of how airbags could end up being so expensive.
2. They Last Long
Unlike most vehicle parts such as tires, batteries, brake pads, etc., airbags are designed to last the entire lifespan of a vehicle and only need to be replaced after an accident.
This means that the manufacturers have less opportunities to make a profit from these products, so their prices are higher from the very start.
3. They Come In Limited Numbers
Another potential reason why airbags are so expensive is that they are available in limited quantities.
Manufacturers are restricted in the number of airbags they can fit into a vehicle, because each additional airbag adds to the vehicle’s overall weight and is a new potential point of failure in the system.
On the former, a heavier vehicle is less efficient than a lighter one because its components are less durable and have overall poor fuel economy. These could work to ruin a model’s reputation and hurt the brand’s image.
Airbag systems have to be very precise if they’re to work as intended, and this means that the system functions best when it isn’t stretched.
Each airbag is something different than the system has to handle, and this becomes more of a task when you’re dealing with setups that have to decide in a fraction of a second which airbags to deploy.
At the end of the day, these factors mean that manufacturers have to put in a limited number of airbags, which negatively impacts the number they can sell, so the prices are higher to compensate.
4. They Have To Act As Insurance For Manufacturers
Airbags are intended to protect the vehicle’s occupants in a crash, so if they fail, the results could be catastrophic and might spell serious legal trouble for the manufacturers.
If an accident occurs and the airbags fail to deploy when they normally should have, the affected could seek legal action against the manufacturers.
Therefore, setting airbag prices at amounts that account for these possibilities makes sense for manufacturers.
Moreover, manufacturers also have to account for the financial impact if a new batch of airbags gets recalled, meaning higher prices on other models could be used to cover the losses.
5. They Are A Necessity
Despite manufacturers like Ford and General Motors having reservations about airbags, and initially thinking of them as ineffective and unnecessary, they have gone on to become standard in all vehicles released today.
In some countries like the US, New Zealand, and India, they are actually required by law to be on all new vehicles.
In places where there are no airbag mandates, manufacturers still understand their benefits and therefore include them on all vehicles.
Buyers are also aware of their importance, meaning that they’re likely to stay away from cars that don’t have them and, more crucially, they will also avoid driving without functional airbags.
Airbags are not a luxury on a car, as they’re considered a necessity. Therefore, manufacturers have less of an incentive to make them affordable since there is little reason to talk people into purchasing them.
6. They Are More Tightly Controlled
What we’ve described in the previous section further affects airbag prices by having manufacturers be in complete control of the airbags for their vehicle models.
Unlike something like tires, where you have different brands competing for your attention, airbags are almost always original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts.
For example, if you have a Buick, the airbags you can safely install in your vehicle have to come from the Buick brand.
Since there is less competition, the manufacturers can set the prices how they want because there is no motivation to draw customers in, which is why you don’t see sales for airbags like you would for tires, rims, and other aftermarket parts.
7. They Require More Expertise To Handle
Replacing airbags is a delicate and sometimes dangerous procedure that is harder to pull off successfully on your first try compared to something like changing a tire.
This means that places with skilled personnel, like auto shops and dealerships, are able to charge higher prices for their labor when replacing airbags.
Basically, if it’s not something they have to talk you into, they have little reason to lower the price for you.
To learn more, you can also see our posts on what are airbags made of, when do airbags deploy, and when were airbags invented.
Airbags are expensive for many reasons, the key ones being that they use advanced technology, are practically mandatory and require expertise to handle, so the manufacturers and auto shop personnel are virtually free to set their own prices.
Manufacturers also have to make financial considerations for events like airbag-related lawsuits and losses from recalls when setting the prices of airbags, and this might be another reason why they’re so expensive.