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I recently bought a new 2011 Mazda3. Everything about it has been great so far, except one glaring detail. When my 87 pound girlfriend rides in the passenger seat, the "pass airbag off" light comes on.

I complained to the dealer and asked them to adjust the seat sensors. They called Mazda, and were told the sensors couldn't be changed. Officially, the airbag should activate for anything heavier than 66 pounds, but apparently there are multiple sensors and the weight is not being distributed to all of them by my gf's skinny butt. The dealer then suggested she ride in the back, or sit on a heavy plate or something, which was insulting. They passed the buck and told me to call Mazda myself.

Before I wade into that bureaucracy, I want to do more research. I did find a similar complaint here: http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems/complain/complaintsummary.cfm?odi_id=10402674&prod_id=1035768&cmpt_id=257&type=1 But it seems like there was no resolution.

Getting to my questions:

  • Am I right to be angry about this and demand action from Mazda? After all, my girlfriend is a 23 year-old adult. She's definitely petite but not the only woman of this weight in the world.
  • Then again, is an airbag really necessary for someone of her weight? It seems to me someone of lower weight has less momentum in a crash and therefore might not need an airbag, assuming their seatbelt was on. I don't know enough about the science behind this though. (She's 5'-2")
  • Assuming I do want the airbag to be active for her, and that Mazda doesn't help me out, is there any way I could modify the seat/sensor myself to make it stay on for her?

UPDATE: So it's a definite no on modifying anything. I'll call Mazda on Monday and see if I can get anywhere, and also contact the salesman who sold me the car, to see if he can help push anything forward. I'll update this question with whatever happens. Thanks for the help so far!

UPDATE 2: I called customer relations today and explained the issue. All the woman did was to create a case and then recommend I get it serviced "to check for defects". I asked her what I should do if it turned out to be a defect with the design, and she said nothing could be done. She did admit there had been a number of similar complaints throughout the past year, so it sounds like a moderately widespread issue.

I will go ahead a schedule a service appointment to have the seat looked at, even though I already know it's a design flaw - that way they can't stall with that option. After that, I'm not really sure where to head with this. It seems incorrectable, but then my options are only:

  • Put my GF in danger by continuing to drive around with a deactivated airbag.
  • Give up this car, everything about which I've been loving except this.

Both options seem outrageous to me, so I want to keep pushing this - but I don't know how exactly. Is Mazda legally bound to anything here? The dealer told me the airbag is supposed to be on for anyone above 66 pounds. Is this law, or just specification? How hard would it be to force a recall? (I'm guessing hard, but not impossible)

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I am having the same problem with my boyfriends mazda, as I weigh maybe 96 pounds. The dealers wont take it seriously. My concern is the manual says if the air bag is disengaged then the seatbelt locking mechanism is also not working, so not only will I not have an airbag in a crash but the seatbelt won't lock and stop me from hitting the dash(which I have already done once when braking suddenly. Took it to a different dealer today and I;m hoping they do something, but seeing as I said 'So I might die if in this car because of your safety features" and he said yes I doubt he obviosuly cares. –  user1134 Oct 17 '11 at 19:15
    
@SiobahnEaton - Thanks for your comment. It's reassuring that other people are experiencing this issue (though I'm sorry you are). I've been busy with my job and haven't had time to explore new options after the useless call with customer relations. I'm still not going to give up though - it angers me especially how these dealers are treating the issue. And this information about the seatbelt not locking is downright scary. –  Paul Bellora Oct 22 '11 at 23:30
    
@SiobahnEaton - I actually had my gf test the seatbelt locking while she sat in the seat (by having her pull it, not slamming on the brakes :) ) and it seems to work fine. Can you confirm it doesn't work for you? What page of the manual did you see that info? –  Paul Bellora Oct 26 '11 at 18:41
    
Is there some way to turn if on or off? I know on my boys benz you can turn the passenger bag onor off. –  user1430 Jan 18 '12 at 22:25
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4 Answers

Her weight doesn't really have much to do with the necessity of an airbag- I'd say it'll still be a massive improvement in the safety for the passenger if it goes off for a light passenger.

I would also strongly recommend against trying to modify the airbag sensors yourself, as you might cause a lot more problems that you'd solve that way.

Which IMHO leaves complaining to the dealer, the regional Mazda offices and Mazda themselves as probably the most viable option. Plus, if the 'airbag must be active for passengers over 66 pounds is actually a law and not just a recommendation, I'd use that as additional leverage.

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I agree. Do not mess with any safety related systems ever. –  FossilizedCarlos Aug 13 '11 at 21:19
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You should never mess with the safety systems, ever. How tall is your GF? If she's short enough (I believe under 5') the air bag could be dangerous, given that it will hit her at an unsafe position. Given that, it may be better that the airbag is in fact off.

Supposing she's of average height, you've only got two real next steps. Push the dealer harder, talk to their regional manager, etc. OR go straight to Mazda corporate.

I wouldn't expect much from any of them though given the fact that a) it would require re-engineering the senors or overriding them in some fashion and b) admitting a potentially expensive mistake throughout the US.

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she's 5'-2", so I guess I should go ahead with contacting them –  Paul Bellora Aug 14 '11 at 0:51
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To be honest, I'd complain to Mazda anyway, simply because of the dealer's attitude - Insulting your customers is a very easy way to lose business, and it looks bad for Mazda to have their franchisees behaving like that.

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Just thought I'd post how we resolved this issue: my girlfriend eventually figured out that if she pushes her elbows into the back of the seat while sitting, the airbag activates and the warning light goes off. It only seems to be necessary once, and then the airbag is active for the rest of the drive until I restart the engine. Now she just does this whenever I start my car.

So instead of it being just an issue of weight, it's really a combination of weight/skinniness that keeps these sensors higher up in the seatback and to the side from triggering. I'm guessing the height is a factor to filter out children, but I'm not sure why Mazda put them so far apart.

Anyway, given that we found a way to trick the car into saving my girlfriend's life it doesn't feel worth it dinking around with corporate any more - seems like they're not going to care until some unlucky person gets hurt. I at least hope they've taken enough notice to fix the issue in future designs - yo Mazda, not everyone in the US is huge okay?

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