Unintended airbag deployment in a VW Jetta

My kid was driving her '03 VW Jetta tonight and for no apparent reason, the passenger-side air bag and side curtain deployed. It scared the bejeezus out of her, but she maintained control.

We bought this car new, it’s long since paid-for, and has almost 100K miles on it. Never been in a wreck…which is also relatively unbelievable since we bought it for her when she got her license. Beleive it or not its been a peach and runs well. Got her thru the last two years of HS and college too.

Here’s my question: Will VW likely repair it at no cost to her? Even given it’s long out of warranty. I seem to recall something I heard somewhere that manufacturers generally fix safety-related things that go wrong by no fault of the owner.

Not likely since it’s out of warranty.

However, if there’s a chance you could take the car to the dealer you bought it from, there MAY be a goodwill gesture. (In hopes of you buying another car from them)

Thanks. Not possible to go back to the dealer we bought it from. We’ve moved and that place is several states away. I suppose I’ll just go the local VW dealer and make a lot of noise about how we really want to buy a new one very soon, but we really need to get this one fixed now, and by the way, VW is lucky she didn’t get hurt when the airbag deployed for no reason, etc., etc. Wish me luck!

If the passenger side deployed then I don’t know if I would drive the vehicle. An unintended airbag deployment when stopped or at low speed can seriously injure the driver or worse. I would call the dealer and let them transport the Jetta on a roll back.

I initally wanted to say “impossible, this cant happen” but I thought I better look at TSB’s first. Well it is not a home run but something unexpected, there is a TSB instructing mechanics who to report all unintentional airbag,seat belt pyrotechnic deployments too. Seems to happen enough that somebody got the job keeping a list.

Volkswagen is NOT going to repair it free…Nobody else is going to touch it. You are NOT going to get any money…

As cars age, things malfunction, including airbags. It’s no different than the heater fan changing speeds when you turn the radio on…The Dealer MIGHT give you a big discount on the repair, but not a free-bee…

I suppose it would be pretty ironic if the airbag deploying caused you to get in an accident, at which time it would be deflated and not protect you.

That’s scary. Maybe writing a letter to whatever regional manager is available would help?

Assuming you can believe your daughter (I would never besmirch a lady without permission) you have come to precisely the right place for this question, because everyone on this site owns a VW dealership. You can’t go wrong.

Here’s the helpful part: Call the dealership where you bought the car. No need to tell them where you are now. Always ask to whom you are speaking. The first words out of your mouth should NOT be “out of warranty.” Mileage is irrelevant, so no need to discuss it. Ask them.

Then, call a dealership nearer to you. Again, the first words out of your mouth should NOT be “out of warranty.” Ask to whom you are speaking. Mileage? Irrelevant. If that doesn’t work out, call VW Corporate.


“As cars age, things malfunction, including airbags. It’s no different than the heater fan changing speeds when you turn the radio on…”

No, it’s quite a bit different.

Have you reported this safety-related defect to NHTSA?
If not, you should do so promptly, via their website.

If sufficient numbers of people report the same defect, it can result in either a VW-initiated “campaign”, or a gov’t mandated recall. In either event, even if you have already paid for the needed repairs, you can be reimbursed for your expenses once there is an official repair/recall program in effect. Just be sure to retain all documentation of these repairs.

You should also call VW of America, in order to ask for their assistance with this matter.
Remember to keep it calm and civil. A firm, business-like approach will be more likely to garner the desired result, as compared with a shrill, nasty tone.

Above all, do NOT tell them that you will never again buy a VW vehicle as a result of this incident. Once you make a statement of that nature, you have removed much of their incentive to help you. Instead, say something like, “this incident has shaken my faith in my favorite make of car”.

Good luck!

First try your local dealer. It is irrelevant what dealer you bought it from. If they say no contact VW of America. If they balk and say no at helping mention you will be filing a report with NHSTA of the incident. I believe you are not alone.

As far as them paying for this, good luck. It will be very expensive.

Oldschool, That’s The First Place I Looked, Too. Just A Few Days Ago You Said, “Having a plan to find TSB’s is very good (my favorite issue to harp about).”

It amazes me how many times those TSBs lead you right to a problem snd / or solution and save you so much time and aggravation. Why reinvent the wheel ? Often times if you’re having a problem, so are some other folks. They’ve already been there, done that.


The chances of the dealer, any dealer, paying for this repair is between extremely slim and none. Any good will warranty would be by VWOA.

They may step and perform this repair for you but the statement about manufacturers fixing safety-related things is for the most part, incorrect.
My feeling is that this should not be covered after 100k miles. The point here is that where does good will end? At 200k miles? At 300k? Would it cover seat belts, lighting, or whatever else fails?

If car makers start good-willing everything that car owners are unhappy about they’ll be bankrupt pretty quickly.

I’m certainly not accusing your daugher of anything here but is it possible the car could have suffered an impact to cause this? Any skins on the paint or even underneath the car, suspension, wheel, or floor pan?
If VWOA does step in on this it’s very likely they will be going over the car with a fine tooth comb to find out exactly why that bag deployed.

I repaired some airbags at the head level (along the roof line) that were inop due to chaffed wiring. All that happened was a airbag light came on, I wonder what chain of failures would have to happen to cause deployment?

In all my airbag and car electric work no one ever set one off accidently. What did happen once was on a BMW convertible the automaticly deployed rollbars went off, but we had jumper wires all over the car.They deploy very fast, lots of dirty shorts over that one.

Here’s an update. The local service manager was initially as incredulous as most of you folks. It does appear however, there is no indication of the occurence of any initiating event. It’s going in by appointment tomorrow (Friday, 5/6) and per the service manager, if the system does not reveal the existence of a “crash code,” VWOA will likely cover it. IMHO, principally because true unintended airbag deployment is a very dangerous defect with potentially catastrophic consequences. The service manager is not going to charge us for the diagnostics. Finally, one of the keys here, seems to be the fact we’re the original owners, and we know the car has never been wrecked. I’ll keep you posted.

If they do replace the airbags for you without charge, I am very happy for you.
However, you still need to report this incident to NHTSA.

That Is Good News, So Far.

The Technical Service Bulletin pertaining to these spontaneous air bag incidents discusses the dealer notifying VW. I’m sure you are really curious what they say causes this and what changes are going to made to keep this from ever happening again, spontaneously.

It’s one thing to get it fixed and quite another to drive ( or have your daughter drive )the car with its track record. Once bitten, twice shy, is an understatement.


Since the DRIVERS airbag did NOT deploy, as it would in ANY normal deployment, this was not a “normal” deployment…Electrical power was supplied to the 'bags from a source OTHER THAN THE AIRBAG CONTROL MODULE… Which works sort of like CDI ignition…


That's fine as long as VW comes to my house and removes all the explosives from the car when it hits the 100k mile mark.

You can blow the NHTSA

some kisses if you want to, but you are under no obligation to file any sort of report.

Amended to acknowledge VDCDriver’s “responsible citizen”. Put that way, I agree 100%.