Technology Update: 2003-2004 Vehicles – Part 1

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SUBJECT: 2003-2004 Model Vehicles, Part 1 of 2
TOPIC: New Technology Features Update
OBJECTIVE: Update responder awareness of new technology features of selected 2003 and 2004 model year vehicles.
TASK: Given selected 2003 and 2004 vehicles, identify critical safety-related features and describe how the presence of these new features influences fire, rescue, or medical procedures at vehicle crash or fire scenes.

We're still only midway through 2003, but some model year 2003 vehicles have been on the street for almost a year now. Beginning in April of this year, new 2004 models rolled into dealerships across the country. Many critically important new innovations, safety features and changes in safety equipment designs have appeared. The most significant new 2003 and 2004 changes are highlighted in this brief overview. A trip to the local new-car dealership will enlighten concerned responders further.

The Honda Element

Honda introduced a new vehicle called the Element. It looks like a cross between an SUV and a van. The body panels are all composite material similar to that of a Saturn vehicle. Of the four doors, the front two are front-hinged. Honda calls the two smaller rear doors "cargo doors." They are rear-hinged and open an unusual 90 degrees to the vehicle.

Like a typical third or fourth door, the Element's rear seat passenger doors latch to the roof rail, rocker channel and front doors. Make sure your personnel are familiar with rear-hinged third- and fourth-door designs and procedures for forcible entry.

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Photo by Ron Moore
A driver's eye-view inside this Lexus GX400 SUV shows the new trend within 2003 and 2004 models to locate roof airbag system airbag IDs on the inside trim of the A-pillar. The ID states "SRS Curtain Airbag."

A-Pillar Airbag IDs

Many of the 2003 and 2004 models locate their roof airbag IDs on the front A-pillar. BMW has always done this since they introduced the first roof-mounted airbag system in the 1998 model year. Responders must remain aware of this and closely scan the inside trim of the A-pillar when scanning for airbag IDs. With this crop of new vehicles, the A-pillar may be the only place where the vehicle will tell you that it has a loaded airbag in the roof.

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Photo by Ron Moore
This passenger-side view of a Mercedes E-class sedan clearly shows that the stored gas cylinder for the roof-mounted airbag system is attached directly to each A-pillar; exactly in our "cut zone."

Airbag Stored Gas Inflator Module On The A-Pillar

Mercedes and BMW 2003 and 2004 models continue to have stored gas inflator modules for the roof-mounted airbag systems located on or near the front A-pillars. (Described in February 2003 University of Extrication column.) Mercedes E-class sedans physically secure the inflator right to the A-pillar exactly in our roof removal cut zone. The BMW stored gas cylinder is a little lower, actually inside the dash and instrument panel. The teaching point is to "strip the trim" before you do a roof cut.

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Photo by Ron Moore
This view of a 7-series BMW in a body shop actually shows three loaded airbags: the door airbag, the passenger frontal airbag and the roof-mounted airbag with its stored gas inflator module mounted near the base of the A-pillar.

Once you see these systems, you can work around them. You just have to know they're there. Surprises stink on the rescue scene.

Roof Airbags In SUVs

Ford continues to offer roof airbags in its popular Expedition. It's the only SUV in its class to have such a system. The "Integrated Safety Canopy System" uses advanced sensors to deploy one or both side-curtain airbags in certain side-impact collisions or rollover events. The airbag covers approximately two-thirds of the first- and second-row side window openings. It stays inflated for a longer duration to provide enhanced head and shoulder protection and, along with seatbelts, helps keep occupants inside the vehicle.

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Artwork Courtesy of Ford Motor Co. ©2003
Artist’s rendition of a deployed roof airbag on a Ford Expedition.

The teaching point for responders is that SUVs have roof airbags and secondly, any deployed roof airbag will be in the way as patient care is provided. It is safe to physically cut the deployed roof airbag open to move or remove it from your patient work area.

Infiniti FX45

A new addition to the 2003 Infiniti line-up is the FX45. It is a four-door SUV that continues the trend to merge sedans, station wagons and SUVs into one vehicle. The teaching point about this SUV is that it has standard seat-mounted side-impact airbags for front occupants along with roof-mounted airbags. Responders should realize by now that side-impact airbags in doors, seats, and/or the roof are a reality in all classes of vehicles; sedans, station wagons, minivans, SUVs and pickup trucks.

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Photo by Ron Moore
The Infiniti FX45 SUV is a new introduction for Infiniti and includes seat-mounted airbags along with roof airbags.

Roof Airbags In Minivans

The 2004 Toyota Sienna minivan comes equipped with a complete roof airbag system along with seat-mounted side-impact airbags. To identify the presence of the roof airbag system, responders will see two airbag IDs along the headliner near the top of the B- and C-pillars.

Several makes and models of 2003 and 2004 vehicles provide dual airbag IDs similar to the Sienna. This is a good thing. The teaching point here is that minivans can have roof airbags. Scan every vehicle, every time.

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Photo by Ron Moore
Dodge Ram pickup trucks with roof-mounted airbag systems will have their oval-shaped airbag ID button along the headliner, just behind the sunvisor as can be seen in this photo.

Roof Airbags In Pickup Trucks

Dodge introduced the first roof-mounted airbags in a pickup with its 2002 model Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 series. That $490 optional safety feature continues through the 2003 and 2004 pickup truck models. The airbag ID is on the A-pillar. Again, scan every vehicle, every time.

To be continued with Part 2


Ronald E. Moore, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a battalion chief and the training officer for the McKinney, TX, Fire Department. He also authors a monthly online article in the Firehouse.com "MembersZone" and serves as the Forum Moderator for the extrication section of the Firehouse.com website. Moore can be contacted directly at Rmoore@firehouse.com.

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