Auto Airbag System Repair/air bag system


hello sirs, i have a 1997 dodge grand caravan 3.3 liter.  a tree fell on my windshield shattering it into a billion pieces on the inside, and it popped the dash apart on the passenger side. i noticed a peculiar smell inside the vehicle that was very strong and smells like a chemical of some sort, even close to an ether smell or paint thinner. is that smell possibly the air bag inflation gas, could the air bag system be damaged? is it linked to the windshield? and if the air bags are damaged, (they did not deploy out or anything) will it pass inspection when hooked to the inspection computer? im still waiting for the windshield repairman to put the new one in, does he have to hook anything up to the airbag system? thank you so much for your time.

Hello Leighton:
Sorry about your van.

If the dashboard was damaged in front of the passenger I would be extremely worried that the airbag was damaged also.  The airbag is located just under the top cover of the dash (above the glove box), mounted tot he frame of the dashboard.  With that said, to determine if the electronics of the airbag were damaged, you should check the airbag indicator when starting the vehicle.  The airbag light should illuminate for 6 second and then go out.  If it does not do that (either illuminate or go out) then there is something wrong.
Regarding the may be smelling any number of chemicals that are used in your vehicle (freon, transmission oil, fuel vapor, etc).  The propellant for the airbag uses a solid chemical, sodium azide. If the airbag canister was damaged then there could be an issue.  The airbag could explode accidentally, the chemical could leak out and cause burns if it gets on unprotected skin, and it could severely irritate the lungs if inhaled. These units are sealed from the factory and need to remain sealed.

The danger is amplified if sodium azide comes in contact with heavy metals in the car, such as lead and copper, because these may react to form a volatile explosive.

But most importantly, when sodium azide (NaNO3) is mixed with water (sweat or tears) it forms hydrazoic acid (HN3). This new chemical is highly toxic, becomes airborne easily and is potentially explosive. The other byproduct is Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) and this is the one that hurts!!!
Here are the potential health Effects of sodium azide.
Severe irritant. Effects from inhalation of dust or mist vary from mild irritation to serious damage of the upper respiratory tract, depending on severity of exposure. Symptoms may include sneezing, sore throat or runny nose. Severe pneumonitis may occur.
Corrosive! Swallowing may cause severe burns of mouth, throat, and stomach. Severe scarring of tissue and death may result. Symptoms may include bleeding, vomiting, diarrhea, fall in blood pressure. Damage may appear days after exposure.
Skin Contact:
Corrosive! Contact with skin can cause irritation or severe burns and scarring with greater exposures.
Eye Contact:
Corrosive! Causes irritation of eyes, and with greater exposures it can cause burns that may result in permanent impairment of vision, even blindness.
Chronic Exposure:
Prolonged contact with dilute solutions or dust has a destructive effect upon tissue.
Aggravation of Pre-existing Conditions:
Persons with pre-existing skin disorders or eye problems or impaired respiratory function may be more susceptible to the effects of the substance.

I'm sorry for your trouble, but I would stay in close contact with my insurance agent (and adjuster) as well as a TRUSTED shop to replace the dash and carefully inspect the passenger airbag.
Here is a link to a blog our company published about this issue a few years ago.

Good luck
Douglas Gan

Auto Airbag System Repair

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Douglas Gan


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