As a responsible vehicle owner, you are most likely aware of what most of your dashboard lights mean. The Jeanie bottle light means it is time for an oil change. That blinking light with a stick figure with a seatbelt across it means you need to buckle up. The half circle with the exclamation point in the center means that you need to check the pressure in your tires. And, of course, you know what your low gas, high beams, and parking brake lights look up.
But what exactly is your car’s SRS light all about? In this article, we will thoroughly examine what the SRS light is, why it may be on, if it’s safe to drive when this indicator is lit up, and how to get the problem resolved.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about your SRS light.
What is a SRS Light?
The Supplemental Restraint System, or SRS, is the technical term for the system in your car that controls the automatic seatbelt restraints and the airbags. Your vehicle’s SRS is considered a passive restraint system. This means that you don’t have to do anything to activate it. It does it all on its own. Your SRS automatically detects things such as braking, deceleration, impact location, and if there’s a passenger in the front seat. It then sends the information to the Airbag Control Unit, which figures out which seatbelts to tighten and which airbags to activate.
When lit up on your dash, the SRS light resembles the side view of a buckled-up person with an airbag in front of them. In some vehicles, the letters “SRS” will be illuminated too.
Each time you turn your car on, it undergoes a self-check that lights up all of the indicators on your dashboard, including the SRS light. After a couple of seconds, all of these indicators should turn off on their own, meaning that your system is good to go. However, if the SRS indicator stays on or pops up while you’re behind the wheel, it could mean that there is an issue with your system.
How Your Airbag System Works
Your car’s SRS is an intricate system that uses its own computer. This computer uses a unique network of sensors to detect numerous items, including braking, an occupied passenger seat, deceleration, and more. If the system senses a significant frontal impact, the computer will initially tighten the seat belts to hold driver and passenger securely in place.
Next, this computer system will send an additional signal to the front airbags. An electrical impulse will ignite chemicals in the airbag inflator, causing pressurized nitrogen gas to expand the airbags in less than 50 milliseconds – about how long it takes you to blink.
The airbag will inflate and act as a cushion around your head as it moves toward you. After thoroughly absorbing the impact, the airbag will immediately deflate.
If there are any side impacts, they will trigger the side airbags to be released. They will remain inflated for longer, in case your vehicle rolls over.
It is critical that your SRS and airbags work in perfect harmony with each other. The system may even include a black box recorder that takes down all of the relevant data for up to 20 seconds before the impact occurred.
Why is My SRS Light On?
Your car, truck, or SUV’s SRS is a very unique and complex system. Thus, it makes it tough to pinpoint the exact culprit behind your SRS light being on. Some causes may be obvious, while others will be a tad harder to solve. Since your SRS is an intricate part of your vehicle’s safety system, it is always best if you have a certified and experienced mechanic diagnose and correct the issue.
Sometimes, the SRS computer will create a trouble code that can help in the diagnosis of the issue. A mechanic will look for this early on in the process to get to the root of the problem.
You also should check for any SRS or airbag-related recall notices on your vehicle. These will typically be covered under a recall or extended warranty, so you won’t have to pay a dime to get your vehicle repaired.
Here are some of the most common reasons why your SRS light is on:
- There’s a problem with your seat belt latch: Your SRS has special sensors that let it know whether the seat belts are fastened or not. A coin or some other foreign object inside of the buckle could possible trigger a fault that illuminates your warning light.
To solve this dilemma, simply check inside of the seat belt buckle for any foreign objects and then remove them. You may need to reset your SRS computer if necessary.
- The passenger seat occupancy sensor has malfunctioned: The front passenger seat in your car has a sensor that can tell when somebody is sitting there, and how much they weigh. This signals to the SRS to fire the passenger airbag if there is an adult in the seat. If this sensor isn’t working correctly, it could signal the airbag light to turn on.
To fix this issue, have your mechanic check to see that the wiring connector is secure, that the wiring is intact, and that the seat sensor is operating. You may need to replace or repair any malfunctioning parts, and also reset the computer if need-be.
- There is corrosion from water damage: If any water damaged happened inside of your vehicle, corrosion could have happened in the SRS-related components. This will cause the system to stop working properly, and the SRS indicator light will come on.
To solve, have a mechanic thoroughly check all of the system’s components and replace all of the corroded parts. The SRS computer will need to be reset to verify that everything is functioning again.
- You have a bad airbag clock spring: The airbag clock spring is an electrical connector inside of the steering wheel. It maintains electrical contact between the SRS computer and the driver’s side airbag when you move the wheel back and forth. Over time, this part can suffer from wear and tear and stop working. If and when it does, the driver’s side airbag won’t deploy when the computer tells it to and your airbag light will illuminate.
The SRS computer will typically log a code that verifies this issue. Have the mechanic replace the clock spring and also reset the SRS computer.
- The SRS computer’s backup battery is dead: Your car’s SRS computer contains a backup battery that allows it to retain its data, even when the car’s power is cut off. A low or dead battery can cause the SRS backup battery to also get low, and will turn the warning indicator on.
Recharge or replace your car’s battery. This will enable the SRS backup battery to restore itself. Also have your mechanic reset the computer if needed.
- A previous accident did not trigger your airbags: If your car was involved in an accident that triggered the crash sensors, but didn’t need the airbags to deploy, this could wreak havoc on your SRS and result in the warning lights to come on.
To fix this issue, have your mechanic reset the SRS computer for normal operation.
- You have a faulty SRS computer: Electrical systems inside of your car can fail, even your SRS computer. Many factors can play a role in a bad SRS computer, including heat, age, vibration, and water damage.
Book an appointment with your car service center and have the mechanic replace your SRS computer and reset the entire system. Be sure to thoroughly go over your SRS warranty to see if any of the repair costs can be covered.
Is It Safe to Drive with My SRS Light On?
While you can certainly drive while your SRS light is on, it isn’t safe. You should get your vehicle to a service center as soon as possible so that a technician can inspect your SRS computer.
If the SRS/airbag light is staying on for long period of time, there is a very real possibility that your airbags may not go off if you are involved in a collision. This will put you and your passengers in serious danger.
There could also be negative consequences from your insurance company. The black box recorder inside of your car’s SRS will provide the data that the airbag warning light had been on and that you did not fix the system before you were involved in an accident. This could be grounds for denying coverage.
What Should I Do if My SRS Light is On?
If your SRS/airbag light has been on for a long period of time, it needs to be taken care of right away. Here are some things you can do to fix it:
Take your car to a mechanic: Take your vehicle into your local service shop or dealership service center to be seen by a certified mechanic. They can diagnose and resolve the problem, ensuring that your vehicle is safe to drive again.
Do it yourself using an OBC2 scanner: If you have some mechanical expertise, you can diagnose and repair the issue yourself with an OBD2 scanner. This method is more affordable than taking your car into a repair shop.
An OBD2 scanner is a tool that you connect to the OBD2 port in your vehicle. It is used to diagnose your car’s system and will use a trouble code to define exactly what the problem is.
You must purchase a OBD2 scanner that can read SRS light codes and can reset the system. There are numerous ones on the market and are compatible with models made in 1996 and newer.
These types of tools can be wired or wireless. Pick one that best fits your needs, but ensure that you select an option that can read SRS problems on the make and model of your vehicle.
OBD2 scanners work by showing error codes to help you determine the exact cause of the problem. You can run a simple Google search to find out the problem and the solution. Moreover, some of the more advanced scanners offer explanations and fixes too.
Even if the OBD2 scanner is not able to suggest a fix for the problem, it will help you solve the real issue, which can help save you a lot of money in the long run.
The Bottom Line
If the SRS light on your vehicle’s dashboard is illuminated, there is a problem with your SRS computer and airbag system. It may just be as simple as having a spare coin in your seat belt buckle slot, or the problem may be far more extensive.
While your car is drivable with the airbag light on, it is not safe to drive. You should take it into the dealership’s service center or your local repair shop right away to have it looked at and fixed.
A OBD2 scanner can help you find a solution to the problem, but never attempt to repair, replace, or reset your SRS yourself. In order to be safe, take it into an experienced mechanic who will fix it.
Your SRS is a critical safety component of your vehicle. In order to stay safe while on the road and in the event of a collision, you must monitor your dashboard to see if the airbag/SRS light is coming on. If it is, it is in your best interest to get it professionally repaired immediately.