Date:8 July 2013
Q: The passenger-side airbag light in my 2009 Dodge stays on. The problem was diagnosed as a defective cushion bladder, which would cost, erm, an arm and a leg to replace and is not a stocked part. Is the seat safe to ride in if the occupant is an adult? My understanding is it’s unsafe for a lightweight minor.
A: The bad news is that you can’t get a used seat from a scrapyard, because a replacement bladder needs to be calibrated and programmed into the occupant-sensing system to work properly.
“Is the seat safe to ride in?” is a far more iffy thing to answer. The cushion bladder is part of a pressure-sensing system built into the seat bottom and designed to more or less weigh the occupant. It tells the car if the seat is occupied, the approximate weight of the occupant and, in some cases, the position of the occupant. The computer combines this data with information about whether the seatbelt is buckled, the speed of the vehicle, and the severity and angle of the impact to determine whether to fire the airbag or not, and if so, just how forcefully to do it.
Considering your car’s malfunction, we would absolutely not recommend seating babies or toddlers in the seat, or anyone shorter than 1,4 metres or lighter than 45 kilograms. That threshold represents the theoretical small adult female that airbags are designed around to avoid injury. Without the sensor in play, airbag-deployment behaviour is unpredictable. We posed this question directly to Chrysler’s office of safety, and their only answer was to recommend getting the seat fixed as soon as possible, and that any malfunction in the airbag system should be treated very seriously. Ignoring the warning light might save some money in the short run, but it’s not worth the risk it poses to your passengers.
By Ben Wodjdyla