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How To Keep A Pesky Air Bag Out Of Your Face

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So Olga is interested in disconnecting her air bag. It isn’t difficult any mechanic can do it.

But any mechanic who will do it is an idiot. “I wouldn’t touch one,” says Larry Perry, our own Magic Mechanic. “Too much liability.”

There are plenty of people in Olga’s situation. Experts suggest that if you aren’t sitting at least 10 inches from the air bag, you are too close, especially if your car is equipped with an older design air bag, as Olga’s Beretta is. Those air bags only know one speed of deployment, and that’s fast and hard. Newer, smarter air bags, installed in most vehicles after 1998, can recognize the force of a crash and know whether to deploy at full force for bad crashes, more gently for less serious crashes, or not at all.

If we agree that Olga’s situation needs rectifying and I can’t fully agree without seeing the car and where she’s sitting and talking to her doctor there are two solutions.

One, install a key operated air bag on/off switch. If Olga just disconnected her air bag, then sold the car, she could conceivably be liable if someone was hurt driving it someone who might have been hurt less had the air bag been working. With a properly labeled on/off switch, her liability is reduced.

Or two, install “pedal extenders.” These are devices that bolt onto the brake, clutch and accelerator pedals, moving their surface up however many inches you need. They’ve been used for decades by very short people. More and more new vehic pandora charms le manufacturers are following Ford’s lead and equipping new cars and trucks with power adjustable pedals, but you can’t put those on older cars.

The good thing about pedal extenders is that they are temporary. Remove them and the car is as it was, if you want to sell it. Also, you do not need permission from the government, as you do to install an air bag on/off switch. More about that in a moment.

The bad thing about pedal extenders is that they can feel awkward, I’m told. And if you have a taller person who also drives the car, they can feel really awkward. They can be removed and reinstalled, but it takes too long to do that regularly.

The air bag on/off switch is not difficult to install, but you don’t want to do it yourself. Even a “smart” air bag deploys with incredible force, and you don’t want to mess with one. And even if it deploys while you are working on it and you don’t get hurt, replacing a deployed air bag is expensive. Depending on what kind of car we’re talking about, it can cost $2,000.

To have a switch installed, you will ne pandora charms ed permission from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Or, manufacturers and installers of air bag switches usually have the forms.

How long does it take to get the form approved? “It can take a week,” says Raymond Goheen, president of Airbag Options, “or it can take five or six weeks, depending on how backed up they are.” Goheen says that NHSA pretty much rubber stamps the applications. “As far as we can tell, everybody who asks for permission to install a switch is approved.”

Goheen’s company has a technician in Tampa who will make house calls in Central Florida. To install a switch to turn off the driver’s side air bag costs $375. Switches for both air bags, $575. It generally takes less than an hour.

The NHTSA Web site gives phone numbers for companies that install air bag switches, including a couple in Florida. According to NHTSA’s most recent records, from December of 1997 to November of 1999, permission was given to install 3,222 air bag switches in Florida, the third most behind California and Ohio. Among all those askin pandora charms g permission, 77 percent did so because they sat too close, six percent cited “medical reasons,” and 16 percent cited both.

As for pedal extenders, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety lists a phone number 800 823 0427 to call for information. Anyone handy with tools should be able to install them. Be aware, though, that it will take some re training of your feet after decades of knowing just where the brake and accelerator pedals are, your feet will have to remember where they are after the pedals are extended.