Why Do Airbags Make Smoke And Smell? (Explained!)

We know that airbags are very important when it comes to keeping you safe during a crash as, when working together with the seatbelt, they could minimize the chances of serious or fatal injuries.

But while you are able to avoid major injuries when the airbag deploys, one of the things you may notice is how odd the airbag smells.

So, why do airbags produce smoke and smell funny?

Here’s why airbags produce smoke and smell funny

Airbags produce smoke and smell funny because of the way airbags deploy. They deploy using a chemical reaction that would produce a small explosion that would be able to produce enough nitrogen gas to suddenly inflate the airbag. Meanwhile, the smoke is perhaps a powdery substance such as cornstarch.

airbag-deployed-crash
Luxury Cars by MotorHowTo.com x
Luxury Cars by MotorHowTo.com

One of the very important things you need to know about airbags and how they work is that they rely on an intricate system that requires the airbags to inflate fast enough to react to a crash.

This is why the system used to inflate airbags relies on a chemical reaction or a small explosion that produces the smoke and odd smell that you may notice.


Related:

Do airbags have a burning smell?

Airbags are some of the most useful safety features of any vehicle because of how they are great at minimizing fatalities during car crashes, especially if these airbags work together with seatbelts.

That said, airbags are very effective at keeping you safe and at making sure that you don’t get seriously injured if you happen to be in a car crash.

While it might be true that your chances of getting seriously injured in a car crash are quite low whenever you have a working airbag, you might be worrying about the things that go into the airbag. Specifically speaking, you may have heard that airbags have a burning smell whenever they deploy.

What you need to know is that it is quite normal for airbags to produce a burning smell whenever they deploy. You may have heard this before from those who have experienced an airbag deploying on their face, as they may have smelled a burning gas coming from the airbag. But this is something that is completely normal in airbags.

Again, this isn’t something that you should be worried about because of the very fact that this is quite standard. This is something you will understand when we talk more about how an airbag works and why it is normal for it to have that burning smell.

Why do airbags make smoke and smell?

Again, airbags do have the tendency to produce a smoke-like substance and to have a burning smell whenever they deploy.

We said that this is normal, but there are some people who might be too worried about the possibility that it isn’t standard.

You may be worried about the fact that a deployed airbag kind of produces a smokey gas and smells funny. As such, while you may have ended up safe from injuries in a car crash, you may be worried about how this burning smell might be something that would put you in danger.

However, what you need to know is that this is standard in the way an airbag works. That is because airbags inflate due to a chemical reaction that produces enough gas to inflate the airbag in a hurry.

Most airbag systems rely on chemicals such as sodium azide, which is contained close to the nylon bag that would inflate. What happens here is that, as soon as the car’s sensors detect a crash that is strong enough to decelerate the car in a very quick period of time, the accelerometer will trigger the airbag circuit.

The airbag circuit will pass through a heating element that is similar to the wires you see in your toaster. From there, the heating element will ignite the explosive chemicals so that these chemicals will create a small explosion that should be able to produce enough gas to inflate the nylon bag packed behind the steering wheel. As such, the airbag will pop out of the steering wheel as it inflates in a hurry.

Meanwhile, the smoke-like or powdery gas that airbags produce is most likely cornstarch or talcum powder. This powdery substance is there to keep the airbag lubricated or pliable while they are in storage. So, as soon as the airbag inflates and pops out, the powdery substance gets released into the air as well. This is why the surrounding area may seem like it is filled with smoke, but it is just powdery air.

All that said, the smell that comes from the airbags is due to the gasses produced by the small explosion that inflates the airbags. These gases are usually nitrogen or argon, which are completely harmless and will not be detrimental to your health in any way. As such, you don’t have to worry about the “smoke” and the odd smell that you will notice when your airbag deploys.

Is there a fire when the airbag deploys?

Another thing you need to know about airbags is that the system that inflates the airbag relies on a heating element that produces enough heat that would ignite the explosive chemicals.

So, in a way, fire is produced through the heating element so that the chemicals would ignite and cause a small explosion. But the fire or heat won’t be enough to damage or cause any other reaction in the vehicle.

The reason why airbag systems rely on this heating element that produces a small explosion is that it is the best way to inflate the airbag fast enough during a car crash. Remember that the events that happen during a car crash happen in a split second. 

This means that the airbag needs to be inflated quickly enough without losing a valuable fraction of a second. If airbags weren’t quick enough to inflate, the person would most likely suffer an injury before the airbag even makes it out of the steering wheel.

As such, the only way to produce enough gas very quickly is to use a small explosion that would be triggered at almost the same time as the crash. That way, the airbag will be able to inflate fast enough such that only a fraction of a second has passed from the time of the crash up to the time the airbag pops out of the steering wheel.

Sources

Everything you Need to Know About Airbags

How do airbags work?