Reader Question: Air Bag Imbroglio

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

John asks: I have a 1997 Ford F150 with a smashed bumper. Runs and drives great. Problem is, the air bags deployed when the bumper got smashed.

1: Do I have to have air bags in a 1997 vehicle to pass inspection in Texas?
2: Will I have problems transferring the title from my cousin to me?
3: If air bags are required, can I buy them somewhere and put them in?

I have been all over google but can’t get a straight answer.

My reply: I have good – and bad – news.

The bad news is that state saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety inspections require all the original/factory-installed saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety equipment to be “intact and operational.” This is a federal thing and it means the air bags – if the car originally came with them – must be there and they must be “operational.” The inspector will look at the steering wheel dash and fail the vehicle if it appears the air bags deployed and were not replaced. He will also check to see whether the SRS/air bag check light illuminates when the ignition is keyed on.

The good news is your truck is close to being eligible for “antique” vehicle tags (see here) and antique vehicles are exempt from saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety (and emissions) checks.

The problem is you truck will need to age three more years. The minimum is 25 years old to get the antique tags.

Another option – in the meanwhile – is Farm Use tags. There are some caveats – such as “limited use” – but the upside  is you can tag (and drive) your truck without having to deal with the air bags.

You could buy/install the air bags, but this means either buying the parts you need new (expensive) or finding a salvage yard willing to sell you used parts. This assumes of course, that you are able to handle the install. If not, the price goes up.

You could also dummy up the truck to make it look like the air bags are intact and operational; that’s not particularly difficult. All you’d need is the covers (steering wheel/dash pad) and maybe some stuffing to go underneath, to take up the space which the air bags would have occupied.

You’ll also need to rig the SRS light – so it comes on when the inspector inspects.

Transferring ownership/title is not a problem – the problem is getting it registered and plated for legal use without the operational bags… or bags that look operational!

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. Being in Texas, if you live in an area where only a safety inspection is performed (usually outside any urban county), a removed airbag is not an issue. And once the car hits 25, all counties only perform a safety inspection:
    1. Horn
    2. Windshield Wipers
    3. Mirror
    4. Steering
    5. Seat Belts
    6. Brakes (system) (Parking – beginning with 1960 models)
    7. Tires
    8. Wheel Assembly
    9. Exhaust System
    10. Exhaust Emission System (beginning with 1968 models)
    11. Beam Indicator (beginning with 1948 models)
    12. Tail Lamps (2); (1) if 1959 model or earlier
    13. Stop Lamps (3) 1986 and newer; (2) if 1960-1985; (1) if 1959 model or earlier
    14. License Plate Lamp (1)
    15. Rear Red Reflectors (2)
    16. Turn Signal Lamps (beginning with 1960 models)
    17. Head Lamps (2)
    18. Motor, Serial, or Vehicle Identification Number
    19. Gas caps on vehicles 2-24 model years old
    20. Window Tint.


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