Technology Update: 2003-2004 Vehicles – Part 2

June 1, 2003
SUBJECT:2003-2004 Model Vehicles, Part 2 of 2TOPIC:New Technology Features UpdateOBJECTIVE:Update responder awareness of new technology features of selected 2003 and 2004 model year vehiclesTASK: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.

Audi has offered the TT Roadster convertible for several years. It has a fixed rollbar system. A new convertible has joined the line-up, the 2004 Audi A4 Cabriolet. In addition to the seat-mounted side-impact airbags, this car has an "active rollover protection system." We know these systems generically as deployable rollbars.

Photo by Ron Moore The 2003 Audi A4 Cabriolet convertible joins the ranks of such vehicles as Mercedes, BMW and Volvo vehicles with deployable rollbar systems.

Hidden behind the rear-seat headrests on the Cabriolet is a narrow panel with small print that states, "Do Not Cover." Nothing about being careful that a giant hoop of steel can shoot up right into your face. Just a consumer warning about covering the panel. Responders beware. The deployable rollbars get their power from the airbag circuitry so be careful. Instead of "don't cover" think of "don't hover." Stay away from the area directly above a loaded deployable rollbar system.

Photo by Ron Moore A close-up look at the Audi deployable rollbar system shows that there is no identification of the system for responders, just the "Do Not Cover" warning for consumers.

Hidden Seat Airbag IDs

Photo by Ron Moore The seatbelt on this 2003 Chrysler Town & Country minivan completely hides the airbag ID for the seat-mounted airbag inside this passenger seat.

More examples appear throughout the 2003 and 2004 lineup where the airbag ID for a seat-mounted airbag can be completely hidden by the seatbelt system. Unless a responder physically moves the seatbelt one way or the other when scanning the outboard edge of a seat for airbags, the ID may be completely missed.

Photo by Ron Moore With the seatbelt moved to the side, the airbag ID is clearly visible. Consider it the routine when scanning for airbags; move the belt.

All Belts-To-Seat

Ford's 2003 model F-series pickups are the fastest-selling pickup trucks in the United States. A new seatbelt design for the 2003 models mimics the General Motors design that has been out for several years.

Photo by Ron Moore The new F-150 seatbelt pretensioner system is designed into the female buckle unit. When fired, the buckle lowers to snug the seatbelt. The front seatbelt system on this 2003 F-150 pickup shows the new Ford design, integrated into the seat itself. The rear outboard seatbelts are the more familiar design.

The seatbelt system is integrated into the seat itself; not directly attached to the vehicle in any way. As the seat moves forward or rearward, the seatbelt move with it. The pyrotechnic seatbelt pretensioner unit is in the female seatbelt buckle. Upon frontal airbag deployment, the pretensioner will fire and pull the buckle down several inches, removing slack from the seatbelt system just as the airbags begin deploying.

A Single Seat Airbag

Since the 2000 model year rollout, the newly styled Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo are the only vehicles on the road today with only one side-impact airbag. This odd number of side airbags continues with the 2004 models. The driver’s seat has an airbag within it; the passenger front seat doesn’t.

Photo by Ron Moore The XC-90 is Volvo’s new SUV for 2003. It is the first vehicle ever with a boron steel reinforced roof structure. It also does not have an ID for the two roof-mounted airbag systems.

The teaching point is that a responder making patient contact through the passenger’s side door will not see a seat airbag ID because there isn’t one. This may lead to the assumption that there are no side-impact airbags in the vehicle at all. Wrong! With these vehicles, you’ll have to recognize this challenge and scan the driver’s side to see the airbag ID.

Dual-Stage Frontal Airbags

Photo by Ron Moore Dual-stage airbags will not be identified or appear any differently than conventional airbags whether they are loaded or deployed.

Some advertise it, some don’t, but there are a huge number of 2003 and 2004 models out there with dual-deployment or dual-stage frontal airbags. These systems contain two “charges” inside each airbag inflator module; one big and one small. Depending upon factors such as the speed of the vehicle at the moment of collision and whether the front seat occupants are or are not belted, the airbag will fire off one or both charges. Yes, that means that even a deployed airbag can now fire a second time while you’re inside attending to your patient or ripping the car apart. You just can’t trust any airbag anymore, not even a deployed one!

The Boron Steel Reinforced Roof Structure

Volvo’s brand new 2003 SUV, the XC-90, is provided with an industry first, a Rollover Protection System with a Boron steel-reinforced roof structure. We’ve dealt with boron steel for several years in vehicles. The Volvo door collision beams have been this way since the mid-1990s. It is a high-strength, low-alloy metal that is extremely resistant to cutting. Many hydraulic power rescue tools will not cut through this type of steel. Reciprocating saws, even with the best blades available, can’t even scratch this stuff. Roof evolutions such as flapping or total removal may not be possible on this vehicle. Do you have a tool to cut boron?

No Airbag ID!

I knew it had to happen sooner or later; I was shocked to have such a safety-oriented manufacturer be the first. The first vehicle has arrived in the United States that has an airbag system without any airbag ID. It’s the Volvo XC-90 SUV we’ve just been talking about. It has tons of safety equipment designed into it as mentioned previously, but what is unique is that for the first time, a roof airbag system is installed and there is absolutely no roof airbag ID anywhere in or on the vehicle. The new teaching point that this brings to the table is the reality that now there may be an airbag without any ID. Beware!

Photo by Ron Moore A view of the headliner inside the Volvo XC-90 SUV shows that there is no roof airbag ID anywhere on the vehicle.

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.

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 "MembersZone" and serves as the Forum Moderator for the extrication section of the website. Moore can be contacted directly at [email protected].

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