Will these airbags work in vintage vehicles?

November 1, 2010 | By Richard Prince


A reader recently inquired about retrofitting airbags into an older vehicle. There is a company called Am Safe that makes airbag retrofit systems for general aviation aircraft like Cessnas and Pipers.

They have systems that fit a two or three-point harness that blow up from the lap and for four and five-point systems that blow forward from the shoulder belt.

They have video on their Web site showing deployment and installation. These systems have gone through rigorous FAA certification so they will work well and be extremely reliable.

It should be reasonably easy to install these in an older car; however there may be significant engineering issues of which I’m not aware. If you have not been a buyer of airplane parts then prepare for sticker shock times two.

However, if you want it bad enough there may be a solution if you can find a local dealer who will sell you a system and help you out with installation.


Am Safe is the leading manufacturer of safety and securement equipment for aerospace, military vehicles and commercial ground transportation vehicles, such as buses and shuttle vans. They are the

leading makers of OEM aviation airbag systems and, as you correctly point out, they do manufacture self-contained airbag systems to retrofit into aircraft that were not originally equipped with airbags.

While it is theoretically possible to install one of the Am Safe systems in a vintage vehicle, you cannot and should not install one.

You should not install one because you may be injured or even killed if the inflator is not properly handled and installed. You may also be injured by the system if it deploys in an accident in an environment that it was not designed for.

Even if you don’t want to listen to these warnings, you cannot install an Am Safe system because you can’t buy one. The systems are sold by and installed by a network of authorized dealers and they will not sell systems that they do not also install, and they will not install systems in automobiles or anywhere else that the systems are not designed and certified for.

Whether it’s an Am Safe aviation airbag system or an OEM automotive airbag setup in a new car, every aspect of the system, including the shape, size and placement of the airbags, the volume and speed of inflation, the type and location of sensors, and the software associated with the sensors is engineered and tested for very specific applications.

This makes designing an aftermarket system for vintage vehicles particularly challenging because a system designed for one vehicle may not function correctly in another and it is very difficult for the manufacturer to carefully control where its systems end up, as well as the integrity of system installations.

With aircraft it’s considerably easier because the FAA closely regulates all aspects of airplane maintenance and modification, including certifying the technicians who are allowed to do the work.

So, unfortunately, at the moment there is no easy way to install an airbag system in a collectible car; but all hope is not lost. Am Safe is well aware of the demand for self-contained systems designed for vintage vehicles and at some point they may make the huge investment required to design, test and certify such systems. If you want to encourage them to bring vintage vehicle retrofit systems to market, contact them at 1043 N. 47th Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85043; amsafe.com.