2005 Toyota Camry side air bag warning = new seat?

Recently, our 2005 Toyota Camry popped up an air bag warning light: one of those serious-looking red icons on the dashboard. Oh oh!!!

We took it to a dealer and the computer gave error code B1821 which is, apparently, an open circuit warning for the sensor for the driver Side-Air-Bag. The mechanics reset the error code and said “If this happens again you’ll need to replace the whole drivers seat.”


According to the dealer, this sensor is “integrated” into the seat so you just can’t drop in a new sensor. Nope… you need a whole new seat!

A new seat costs about $2700 and that’s nearly a third of the car’s value. Why the heck would Toyota fully integrate some little sensor into an expensive seat?

So far, the red warning light hasn’t come on again but we’re very worried. What if it some on again during a long trip and the warning light comes back on?

  1. Is there any way to actively check this sensor to make sure it works. I mean, other than running into a wall.
  2. Is the deal correct? Bad sensor = new seat?

Any advice?

When this code shows up, and the diagnostic tests point to sensor in the seat, then dealer will replace the seat.

This sensor can be replaced. But it requires that the upholstery be removed from the seat and then reinstalled once the sensor is replaced. And I don’t know any dealers who have upholsters on their payroll.

So they just replace the seat.



I also own a 2005 Camry, and I happen to own the factory service manual

I believe the dealer didn’t explain the problem sufficiently

If you need the seat airbag, you need a seatback assembly, NOT the entire seat

Does the fault code indicate that the seat airbag has an open circuit?

Or does the fault code indicate that the sensor has an open circuit?

As far as that sensor goes . . . I quote:

    (a) Remove the seat slide position sensor protector from the seat position airbag sensor.

    (a) Disconnect the connector from the seat position airbag sensor.
    (b) Using a torx socket wrench (T30), remove the torx screw and the seat position airbag sensor.

In my book, they clearly show the sensor as being a separate part, which is available.

I just looked online, and I found that sensor for about $60



Well, I’m a 15+ year Toyota tech, and I just relaced the upholstery on a seat this morning. It’s not hard, just hog rings and being careful not to damage anything. It’s expected of Toyota techs. Now, with that being said, the flow chart shows to replace entire seat. This is NOT because you couldn’t get the parts seperately (potentially) and do the repair. The problem is, if someone screws up the repair, the airbag doesn’t depoy, or deploys incorrectly, someone dies, and Toyota gets sued along with the Dealer, and the Tech. LIABILITY. If it was my car, being a Toyota professional, I would try the repair. But, I know that’s at MY LIABILITY and MY life at risk. If I were you, I wouldn’t trust Joe’s Bar and Garage to do the repair!! Bite the bullet, and have the new seat done, trade the car in, or buy a used seat and take your chances that that one is good. But, please, do not try and diasassemble the seat. It’s not safe unless you’ve done it MANY, MANY times. And even then, it’s at your own risk!! Cheers.

Maybe you can find a seat in the salvage yard. Or take it to a upholstery shop if you can not do it yourself.

Wow. I bet odds of this car being involved in side impact are low. I wonder what ratio is for front airbag issues vs side air bag issues? Makes me glad I don’t have side airbag.

Thanks for all of your advices (advici?).

Next month, we’re going on a multi-day trip and my wife is worried about traveling in this car. So far, the warning light hasn’t come back on. Are there any concerns about using the car? Anything we can do proactively? Or do we just wait until to warning light comes back on?

Over the past 50 years, I’ve driven many hundreds of thousands of miles with nothing but a seat belt and shoulder harness and lived through it. I’ve seen people pretty banged up from air bag deployment in minor accidents where the belts would have done the job just as well. To live is to risk.

@DwibDwib: she’s got $3700 worth of worry?

If she’s that worried, offer to drive and assume whatever minimally-increased risks accrue. If she’s still $3700 worried…well, that’s flattering, I suppose.

Couldn’t get me to pay 10% of that sum to do anything…you’d probably get a better return on risk buying you and herself $3700 worth of advanced driving classes.

Seat replacement: $3700.
Roll of electrical tape: $3.70.
Not having to hear s/o say, “hey, what’s that light for?”: PRICELESS.

Well, if the worry is only about the road trip, renting a car would be cheaper than $3700.

If liability wasn’t such a big issue in today’s world a mechanic might not hesitate to swap in another seat or do some sort of repair to the seat.

The most benign of repairs can lead to multi-million dollar settlements or judgements even if the mechanic is totally blameless. Perception counts for a lot so a mechanic or shop does have to walk on eggshells a lot.

What would I do if the car were mine? Drive it without worry.

Ironically, wife should be LESS worried about lack of side airbags on this trip, if “multi-day trip” translates to “mostly interstate driving.”

I mean, how likely is it to get T-Boned with no cross traffic intersections, and opposing traffic physically seperated from you?

But again, sounds like the sensor got tripped, reset, and (as of now) is indicating proper operation. How could one spend 3.7 large to replace a side air bag that “hiccuped” once?

The Final Cut (car problem resolved)

With our vacation looming, we took the car to a different dealer. They found a used seat and performed the repairs for about $1700. Amazingly, our car insurance covered canines chewing up the car so we only had to pay the $200 deductible. We received the car day before our trip and everything got sorted out.

Thanks for all the support and advice.


Thanks for the update

I think you did extremely well

$200 for that entire seat is very reasonable, especially when you consider that the seat has those airbags built in