How Side Curtain Airbags Work

Availability and Cost of Side Curtain Airbags

Thanks to the extremely competitive nature of the auto industry and increasingly strict federal safety regulations, consumers who are interested in buying a vehicle with side curtain airbags have a lot of choices.

Cars equipped with side curtain airbags have a little emblem near the roof or pillar to identify their presence, much like those found on steering wheels, dashboards and seats. These emblems may carry the acronyms SRS (Supplemental Restraint System) or SIR (Supplemental Inflatable Restraint). Since the NHTSA's 2007 decision to increase side impact collision standards, these emblems are going to be an increasingly common sight. According to airbag manufacturer Autoliv, side curtains are available in more than 60 percent of new vehicles in North America and Europe, and that number will steadily increase until side curtains become customary to comply with the 2013 side impact standards [source: Autoliv ].

There are only a few major OEM suppliers of side curtain airbags, so prices are pretty consistent and profit margins for the suppliers are slim. This keeps costs down for car buyers. Side curtain airbags cost between $50 and $100 each to supply to automakers; variations in price depend mostly upon the size of the vehicle [source: Automotive News]. Large SUVs and crossovers with third-row seating will have more expensive airbags than a small sedan would, because larger airbags require more materials and sometimes use additional deployment modules. NHTSA estimates that when side curtain airbags become standard to meet the new side impact regulations in 2013, the airbags will add about $33 to the overall cost of the vehicle. [source: Benton].

Side curtains are slightly more expensive from OEM suppliers than traditional chest airbags (which cost about $50 apiece, on average) [source: Automotive News]. Since automakers all have unique ways of "bundling" safety features, the cost to consumers can vary. Except for some side impact and curtain airbags, most airbag systems aren't generally treated as a source of profit. The benefit to automakers comes in the form of positive publicity from good safety ratings.

In the next section, we'll show you some actual safety tests with and without side curtain airbags.