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Subaru Forester Passenger Air Bag Occupancy Sensor

vtkahnsvtkahns Posts: 10
edited May 2014 in Subaru
We test drove a Forester the other day and when we rouded curves.. the passenger air bag OFF light would come on .. So my analysis is that my 100 lb wife is shifting in the seat on the curves and fooling the sensors.. There are supposedly 4 in the 4 corners of the seat.. so I would think the weight would increase on some and decrease in others.. but still overall, it would think someone of enough mass is there.

If we were to get in an accident while rouding the corner (which I would think is a popular mode of accidents).. she would go thru the windshield ?

Can this really be how its supposed to work ? Is there a way to make it STAY ON no matter what it thinks ?

i had read to learn about the sensors but it does not talk about any adjustments ..




  • stevecebustevecebu Posts: 493
    If we were to get in an accident while rounding the corner (which I would think is a popular mode of accidents).. she would go thru the windshield ?

    You know I never thought about this but my wife only weighs 36 kilos! The airbag might kill her if it went off, if it worked at all! I know short people who don't weigh much are more likely to be injured by airbags.
    I read that sometime ago.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Our van is the opposite - people in the 2nd row rest their legs on the flat-folding front seat and it complains that the front seat belt is not on. :sick:
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,908
    Well, I doubt she would go through the windshield unless she were not wearing her seatbelt. Honestly, for someone that light, it might be better for it not to employ. I think the sensor only affects the dash-mounted airbag, so the side and curtain airbags would still employ to protect her from side impacts.

    Can anyone confirm that is accurate?
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Some vehicles have multi-stage air bags that deploy with less force when they sense a smaller occupant (less weight) on the seat.
  • I made a formal complaint to the today. I URGE YOU ALL to make your complaints formal and your voice HEARD. I have been on the phone sick w/ SOA, and want some resolve. My complaint was as follows:

    Since purchasing my vehicle brand new on 7/4/05, the front passenger occupant detection system fails to activate the front airbag for passengers who are both larger and heavier than the purported cutoff of 80-pound children. The passenger is 5'3", 105lbs, yet the airbag light goes to the "off" position intermittently despite the passenger sitting straight. The airbag also sometimes fails to arm upon start up of the car, and will remain "off" for more than 15 minutes while the car is moving. The car was also involved in a safety campaign, in which my passenger seat wiring was already checked by the dealer and found to be routed properly, which may have affected the airbag if routed improperly. Thus, the wiring is a non-issue. The fault is in the passenger sensing equipment. Attempts to bring the car to the dealer to be checked with diagnostic equipment, ended in being told that the system is "working as designed". I contacted Subaru Corporate and local dealer on 10/18/07, who told me that nothing can be done to fix/change the situation, as the system cannot be adjusted, nor do they perceive a problem with the system. I already explained to Subaru that a number of other known owners of 06-08 Forester models have the same problem, and that 130lb passengers still have the same problem. I have concluded that while the intent of Subaru's design was good, the design is flawed, as the sensor pad is not sensitive enough for many passengers, and the intermittent-nature of the sensor is quite dangerous should a frontal-impact occur. This problem has existed on my car for over a year in which I started taking notice, and there is no known fix, nor have I been told that Subaru is admitting to a problem or seeking a solution. This is a big liability and safety concern of mine, and hope to find some resolution.

    I have been told that the same sensor system is used in all 06-08 imprezas, 06-08 foresters, and the current generation legacy. Spread the word, everyone please make a complaint to! Thanks for your support.
  • If you have this problem, you're definitely not alone... I am part of a subaru forester owner's forum. Please read through when you have time, to share the journey of me and some others.
  • p0926p0926 Posts: 4,423
    It's just my personal opinion but if you're properly belted in, a frontal impact airbag offers limited added protection(however, I can see real value in side impact airbags). So while I agree that Subaru should ensure that the passenger seat airbag works as advertised, I don't see it as a huge safety concern.

  • I'm not sure if it's the case, but it may be that if the sensor is in the "off" position, neither the front, or the side airbag may work. In that cased you're screwed.
  • p0926p0926 Posts: 4,423
    I'm fairly certain that the side airbags aren't passenger dependent. The reason the front one is, is due to the danger of the airbag causing more damage to the occupant than the actual accident. Yet another reason I don't get too excited about them.

  • Regardless: the Subaru system is supposed to protect adults. A 105lb individual qualifies as one. A child <80lbs doesn't. If the system works sometimes, and sometimes not, that's unexcusable. Your argument of whether or not an airbag is important is a tangent here, while still a worthy discussion and I respect your opinion regarding their usefulness. The subject of this thread is regarding a system that was designed poorly and does not protect and individual that it was supposed to. The system is supposed to protect a properly seated 80lb or more individual.
  • patch3patch3 Posts: 1
    We own an 07 XT Sports and have been fighting Sub of America about this problem for some time now. My wife (125lbs, 5'4") constantly has the airbag sensor going on and off all the time. Scares the hell out of both of us. It has even gone out on me a few times and I'm 160lbs. This is a system that is suppose to work all the time. My Acura RSX never had any trouble and it was also weight sensitive. My Honda S2000 is the same way and she never has trouble with that sensor.

    As for the comment above stating that if you have your seatbelt on you shouldn't need the airbag, I urge you go go on youtube and search Forester crash test. Watch that front dummy after it hits the wall and tell me that you don't want the airbag to go off in a frontal impact.

    This is incredibly dangerous and Subaru has know about this issue for over two years now, as I'm unfortunately now finding out. I too have filed a complaint with the NHTSA.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,908
    I found it to be exactly the opposite on our '07 Outback. My wife would transport two children, ages 7 and 9, home from school last spring. Initially, the 9 year old sat in the front and the 7 year old in the back due to space constraints introduced by having our 3-year-old in one back seat with one of those bulky car seats. The 9-year-old weighed approximately 75 pounds. For the first few days, everything was fine. Then, the boy started noticing the sensor engaging when she was driving over bumpy roads (which includes just about every one in Fairbanks, Alaska!). So, for fear the airbag might employ should an collision occur, she started stuffing them all three in the back. I am not sure which option was less safe for the children, but there is no question about which was less comfortable! ;)

    There was one time when I saw the air bag turn off while I was sitting in that seat, and I was removing my wallet from my back pocket (taking weight off the seat). So, as far as I can tell, that system was working properly. Road conditions will affect the sensors.

    You might find out the actual weight setting on it. For example, not all 80# of an 80# person rests on the seat. And, each person's weight distribution is different. Is the setting 60#? 50?
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    On my 05 Legacy GT my wife who weighs in at about 95lbs sometimes has it on sometimes off. Ours is fairly accurate as when she lifts her feet and sits firmly in the seat it works w/o issue. The few times that it didn't work, she went inside and found she weighed in at just under 90lbs which IIRC is the cutoff.

    As was stated above, not having the airbag deploy in my opinion is a good thing as long as you are wearing your seatbelts you are likely to be as good or better off w/o the airbag.

  • Correct me if I'm wrong - I thought the major driving force for air bags was to protect those nitwits who have an aversion to buckling up for safety. And that if you are buckled up, you really don't get a whole lot more protection from an airbag. And if you still insist on not buckling up, you may even be at risk for serious injury anyway because of the likelihood that you will submarine under the bag upon impact.

    I have seen some comments on the capability to "calibrate" the sensor with a 90-llb weight on the seat. Any thoughts on using, say, a 60-lb weight?
  • p0926p0926 Posts: 4,423
    Correct me if I'm wrong - I thought the major driving force for air bags was to protect those nitwits who have an aversion to buckling up for safety. And that if you are buckled up, you really don't get a whole lot more protection from an airbag.

    That's essentially correct. Airbags were originally designed to protect an unrestrained occupant. I do know that they've been refined over the years and that while a seatbelt alone will protect you from injury and save your life in many instances, the airbag in conjunction with the seatbelt probably does reduce the odds of injury (like whiplash) even more.

    With the first generation airbags, it wasn't that uncommon for one to actually injure the occupant and in rare cases, kill them (victims were almost exclusively petite women and small children) but I'm pretty sure those issues have been resolved by reducing the force with which the airbag deploys. However, there's apparently still a danger hence the minimum weight limit.

    On the otherhand, side-impact and roll-over airbags are virtually always a good to have feature.

  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    I recently did a defensive driving course, IIRC they said there hasn't been a single death in an automotive accident in X years where the occupant was wearing a seatbelt. Pretty amazing statistic.

  • p0926p0926 Posts: 4,423
    They had to qualify that statement somehow because for certain people still die on a far to regular basis even when wearing seatbelts. You collide head on with another vehicle at highway speeds and neither seatbelts, airbags nor guardian angels are likely going to help you survive.

  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,908
    Yeah, I was going to say the same thing. There must have been some qualification attached to that statement. I can think of a couple crashes locally that killed belted occupants in the last year or less.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    Perhaps it was only in NJ, but IIRC it was from the national safety council. I didn't catch all the details so it's definitely viable that there was a footnote.

  • This is terminology SOA uses to describe vehicle equipment which is intended to detect front seat passenger and arm air bag. My experience with an '06 Forester 2.5
    X is similar to that reported by others, specifically a 120# 5'5" female often looks at "pass airbag off" light. After multiple trips to dealer and communication with SOA, I also have complained to NHTSA. I consider it incredible that SOA is unwilling/unable to correct this situation.
  • I bought a 2008 Subaru Impreza in July. After taking it back to the dealer 3 times they said that the front seat passenger air bag was designed not to activate with less than about 125 pounds on the seat. My wife is 5'4" and between 120 and 130 pounds. She is not petite or child sized. The air bag sometimes is on and sometimes is off. It changes randomly and unpredictably. I have complained to NHTSA (complaint # 10245216), Subaru Customer Service (complaint# 1-112807041) , the dealer, the president of Subaru America (Mr. Kunio Ishigami) and have sent a letter to the President of Fuji Heavy Industries (Mr. Ikuo Mori). I would not have bought the car if I had known it would not be safe. The air bag in the 2009 Forester I tested worked perfectly so I know Subaru can design a safe airbag system. If you consider passenger air bags important for safety, don't buy an Impreza.
  • sildogsildog Posts: 50
    We just realized that our Impreza has the same issue. My wife normally drives the car, but recently, she spent some time in the passenger seat - and the airbag light indicates "off" most of the time. She is 5-4, 110 pounds. Our dealer is planning to "re-program" the system, but I have little hope that this is going to resolve it - unless this involves putting a weight on her seat.

    I guess I'll keep you posted.
  • ttutttut Posts: 17
    My 09 Outback has the same problem!!!
  • alphie1alphie1 Posts: 3
    About 24 months back our '06 Forester was problem for us bigtime. Dealer made extraordinary efforts, zone rep got involved, a generous offer was made to trade the car which I refused since the '08 had same system. Ended up trading the '06 for an early '09. After 18 months and about 16,000 miles the '09 has no problem. Interesting to note that '09 owners manual spends a few pages talking about pax air bag arming while the '06 manual gave the subject short shrift. IMHO this is a very unfortunate situation and I am really sorry to hear folks are still having the problem. Good luck, but based on my experience, I doubt Subaru will be willing/able to correct if it is same situation that existed before.
This discussion has been closed.