Marissa Hayes is a technical editor and contributing writer. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in history, and she was the editor of the literary magazine, The Bluestone Review.

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Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years. He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like Reviews.com.

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Car Insurance Agent Daniel Walker

UPDATED: Feb 25, 2022

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The Short of It

  • Your vehicle is not automatically totaled if the airbags deploy
  • The cost to replace deployed airbags is factored into the total vehicle repair estimate
  • Every state has a different total loss threshold which calculates if the vehicle is totaled

If the airbags deploy, is the car totaled?

There is a common misconception that your vehicle is a total loss when your airbags deploy. The reason for this misconception is that airbag deployment is usually involved with a significant crash.

Even though a crash can be severe enough to set off the airbags, this doesn’t automatically mean the car is totaled. If you have a full coverage insurance policy for your vehicle, it is possible that it will cover the damages, including airbag replacement.

In this article, you will find all the information you need to determine if your car is totaled, and what to do if your airbags deploy.

If you have a vehicle that had airbags deployed, you can get fresh car insurance quotes in your area by entering your ZIP code into the tool at the top of this page.

How could airbags deploying cause a vehicle to be totaled?

You may think that a vehicle is considered to be totaled if the repairs exceed the value of the vehicle. This is not entirely accurate.

The “total loss threshold” is a percentage of loss that determines if your car is totaled. This threshold is set by the state and can vary.

For example, if you live in New York, the total loss threshold is set to 75%. If your car is worth $5,000 and you incur $3,750 or more in damages, your vehicle is considered totaled. This damage amount does include the price of replacing your airbags if they were deployed.

However, if you live in Texas, the total loss threshold is 100%. Therefore, if your vehicle is valued at $5,000 and you incur $5,000 or more in damages, your vehicle will be considered totaled.

However, you may want to use a formula to calculate the actual cash value determination of your vehicle before it is considered totaled. The actual cash value may be different from what your insurer has quoted you and could result in a higher payout if you try to negotiate.

What that all means is that whether or not your car is totaled as a result of airbags deploying depends on whether the cost to repair reaches the threshold.

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What Makes Airbags Deploy

As you will read in the information below, it does not take all that much of an impact for an airbag to be released.

As the crash begins, the sensors instantly begin to measure impact severity. If the crash is determined to be severe enough, the airbags deploy by filling the inflators.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, front airbags are typically set to deploy between 10-12 MPH when the occupants are not wearing their seatbelts. The threshold is raised to 16 MPH when the occupants are wearing their seatbelts. This seatbelt sensor feature is only installed in newer vehicles.

When Side Airbags Deploy

Side airbags deploy a bit differently than front airbags. They are designed to deploy at faster speeds as there is very little room between the occupant and the impact. The airbags are designed to cushion the head and chest, and deploy from above the window.

If the crash area is narrow, the airbags can deploy at as low as 8 MPH. If the crash area is wider, the airbags may not deploy until 18 MPH.

As of 2014, side airbags are now required in virtually all vehicles.

What Happens When Airbags Don’t Deploy

In most instances, if your airbags did not go off, the accident you were involved in was not severe enough to release the airbags.

Airbags can cause injury, so they are designed to deploy only when the impact is severe enough. Although injury can happen in a minor crash when airbags do not deploy, it is usually soft tissue injuries. Airbags are designed to protect you from more serious collisions, but that collision only needs to start at 8 MPH to be considered severe enough to deploy airbags.

What Happens if Airbags are Defective

Although the likelihood of your airbags being defective are very low, sometimes they do not deploy when needed to. If this is the case, you may be able to pursue charges against the manufacturer of the airbags and the vehicle manufacturer with a defective product lawsuit.

It is important that if the airbags were possibly defective in the accident and did not deploy, to not allow the insurance company to declare the vehicle as a total loss. This is because once the total loss is claimed, the insurance company becomes the owner of the vehicle and salvaged title.

You need to retain the vehicle ownership while an investigation is being conducted.

If you are concerned that your vehicle’s airbags did not deploy properly, notify your insurance company that you want to have an investigation conducted on the faulty airbag deployment before the vehicle is totaled out.

Full Coverage Auto Insurance Will Replace Airbags

Once an airbag is deployed, it must be replaced. There is no way to reuse or reset a deployed airbag.

Your auto insurance will cover replacing your airbags if your vehicle is not considered totaled. If your vehicle is totaled in the accident and you have to get a salvage title, the insurance company will not replace the airbags, even if the vehicle is still driveable.

If the other party is at fault for the accident, the airbags will be replaced by their coverage.

If you are the party responsible for the accident, your insurance will cover the deployed airbags. However, you will need proper collision coverage, not just liability, for your airbags to be covered. There are plenty of companies that insure cars with blown airbags.

The Cost to Replace Airbags

The cost to replace airbags varies, but typically starts at $1,000 and goes up from there.

There are many variables that affect the price of the airbag. Some of these variables are:

  • Make and manufacturer of the vehicle
  • Make and manufacturer of the airbag
  • How many airbags need to be replaced
  • The amount of labor that is involved to replace the airbags
  • OEM airbag parts vs. generic parts
  • The type of airbag needing replacement
  • Related parts to the airbag

The cost of an average driver’s side airbag is around $500 just in parts. This does not account for labor costs to install the airbag.

Some airbags are more expensive than others. Side airbags cost quite a bit more, ranging in the $700 range. There are also multiple airbags to consider, such as the knee airbag.

There are related parts that may have been damaged when the airbag deployed. Some of these related parts are the airbag indicator light, fuses and relay boxes, seatbelt tensioner cables, and more.

As you can see, the cost of replacing airbags can add up quickly, with the average airbags’ replacement cost being around $5,000.

There are auto insurance companies that allow modifications that could increase the value of your vehicle.

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The Bottom Line: Is your vehicle totaled if the airbags deploy?

Just because your airbags deploy does not automatically mean that your vehicle is totaled. However, the cost to replace the airbags will make up a significant portion of your claim.

Combining the costs of the airbag replacement along with the costs of body shop work will likely push your vehicle into being totaled if your vehicle is older. If the frame is damaged in the accident, that could account for thousands of dollars of damage, which will likely total out even a newer vehicle.

The most important thing is to do some of your own research and see how much the damages your vehicle incurred, and combine those damages with an estimate of replacing the airbags.

Then, account for the actual cash value of your vehicle, factor in the total loss threshold of your state, and deduct the estimated vehicle repair expenses. This should give you a good idea of whether your vehicle is totaled or not.

Now that you are informed about whether your car is totaled when airbags deploy, you can begin to compare auto insurance quotes. Use our handy tool at the bottom of this page to get local car insurance quotes by entering your ZIP code.