1996 Pontiac Bonneville deploying airbags while driving

On Sept 10, 2011 I was driving towards a major highway when my airbag light came on. I just figured it was a sensor malfunction and kept driving. I proceded to the highway and when I was up to 57MPH I put my cruise control on. About 3 mintues later both of my airbags deployed while I was driving. I cannot find anyone who has ever heard of this happening. Do you think I need a lawyer?

On a 15 year old car ??
no lawyer can diagnose an air bag malfunction like that.

First, what damages did you suffer?
Unless you incurred damages in addition to the need to repair the airbags, I don’t see the point in spending money for attorney fees.

And, even though you should definitely replace those airbags and have the cause of the malfunction repaired, please bear in mind that this is a 15 year old car. If your engine blew a head gasket after 8 years, GM would not be responsible for those repairs. If your transmission fell out after 10 years, you would not be entitled to any consideration from GM. So–why do you think that the vehicle manufacturer should be responsible for repairs to your SRS after 15 years?

I am not trying to be combative, and I would be interested in hearing your line of reasoning.

I believe that it should not matter how old my car is. I feel as though the problem came from the factory but has only just now occurred. I have already done tons of research regarding this phenomenon and I have yet to find someone that has heard of this problem. If my windows would have been up I could have very easily suffocated from that stinking powder that blew out of my windows like it was on fire…to say nothing of the fact that I was traveling 57MPH and lost complete vision of the highway.

Air bags should not deploy while going down the road. The fix will cost more than the car is worth. Besides the bags, all the sensors will need to be replaced and the cars computer will need replaced. The SRS wiring will also need to check for damage. Junk the car. I would check with a lawyer to be sure you don’t have a case. Laws differ from state to state. I don’t think you have a case.

Oldbodyman, it sounds as though you think this was a electrical problem?


I am glad that you suffered no actual damages, other than the need to repair the SRS system. So–other than the SRS repairs–expensive though they may be–there are no other damages. This is not worth filing suit over, IMHO, but you may well find an attorney willing to take your case. Just be sure that you only sign a retainer if the attorney agrees to take a fee on a contingent basis. (If you win, he gets paid. If you lose, so does he.)

If you were to go to court and state that, “the problem came from the factory but has only just now occurred”–after 15 years–you would likely be laughed out of the courtroom. I am not trying to minimize the surprise/shock that you experienced when this malfunction took place but, the prime consideration here is that the car is so far past any warranties–either expressed or implied–that winning this type of case is very unlikely.

Everything has limits, and this malfunction is VERY far past the limits of the mfr’s responsibility.

The next, and as yet un-answered question…
What the heck happened ?
I’ve never heard of that happening.

Did you bump something in the previous few days and old sensors took that long to act ?
Did some wires chaffe through causing a dead short ?

Ken…I do not recall bumping into anything or being hit by someone. I know the car is old…but that still does not make it okay to put a human being in such a dangerous position because of shoddy workmanship. Old or not…it could have cost my life and other lives on the highway.

Call your insurance company to report this incident and ask them for legal advice.

Yes it could have been a electrical problem. A lot of input as to happen before a air bag deploys. The car has to moving over a set speed, decelerate within a cretin parameters. Some cars have sensors in the seats. They tell the computer that someone is in the seat and some can tell about how much they weight. That sets the speed that go’s when it deployed. If a wire was damaged and power was sent thru this wire to the air bag it will go off. If that happen something else should not be working or a fuse could be blown. In any case unless you want to drive with out air bags ( I would not ). The car is not worth fixing. You are very lucky to have not lost control and been really hurt bad or killed.

When someone came into the shop with a wrecked car. You always could tell if the air bag went off by looking at them. The almost sunburned face and white power on them.

The airbag light was there to warn you that there was a problem with the system. By ignoring the light and heading up the highway, you negated any chance whatsoever that you have of blaming the manufacturer. As the car is 15 years old, even if you had not had the warning light you’d still bear the burden of proving that it was a manufacturing defect rather than wear & tear related.

Just think God you’re okay and start looking for a replacement vehicle. new bags will cost you more than the car’s worth.

I also believe all airbags have a disclosure on the visor saying to the effect that after 10 years you have to have them checked by the dealer, otherwise they could malfunction. I want to see if anybody else has noted this on their car?

Scary… I thought that when the airbag warning light came on that the system ‘failed safe’, disabling the arming and firing mechanism. So I didn’t think this could happen either. But I suppose there’s all kinds of malfunctions.

If you choose to try to sue, make multiple copies of all paperwork, get everything you can in writing, and take pictures of everything. Don’t ever let the dealer or zone rep or whatever hold on to your only copy… it will likely get ‘lost’ if you do.

Yes oblivion you are right. When the light comes on it is supposed to disarm the system. It should have been safe for the OP to drive. What ever happen to set them off should not have happen. My guess is it was short in the wiring. Most likely in the clock spring. The clue is the OP said “I put the cruise control on”.

I want to thank everybody that has responded to my incident. I have contacted GM, SafeCar & NHTSA. I have gotten responses from everyone. I will be talking to GM this afternoon and I will update you as I continue to argue my case.

You’re lucky. Normally you need a doctor not a lawyer after those things explode in your face. I really really wish they would be toned done some or give you an on\off switch. Another device to safe us from ourselves gone bad. I don’t think you have a case though and I suppose any kind of a computer or wiring malfunction could cause it. Questionable whether or not insurance will help pay the damages.

Here’s a demonstration of the power of one of these:

I’ve never seen a better illustration of the danger in playing with these things.

Wow. I could see doing that outside on soft ground but the guy could have been slammed into anything above him. We’re talking dead due potential here. Sheesh!