Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist based in San Francisco. Ed enjoys sports of all kinds and is a part time stand-up comedian.


He can be reached at era39@aol.com.

Friday, 10 April 2020 11:04

TechZone Founder Looks Back at the History of Airbag Systems

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In the early 1990s, an engineer named Douglas C. Hansen was working for an aerospace firm developing a solid propellant design for airbag inflators for a wide range of applications.

During this time, he discovered there was a lack of understanding regarding airbag systems, how they operated, how they should be correctly handled and how to repair them.


Driven by his discovery and pending legislation that eventually required all vehicles to be equipped with driver and passenger airbags, Hansen and his wife, Victoria, founded Airbag Service, known now as TechZone, in 1992.

Although inventors and car manufacturers began experimenting with airbag designs as early as the 1950s, it wasn’t until the mid-1970s they were widely used in passenger vehicles in the U.S., and not mandated until 1999.


Hansen opened his first TechZone location in Seattle, WA, and then franchised the business in 1995. At its peak, the company was active in 45 cities, and still operates in 10 to 12 cities through franchises and a handful of affiliates.


In the early years, there was literally no competition in the airbag service business, but those times have definitely changed.


“In the beginning, there were more cars on the road without airbags and there was a lot of fear and confusion,” Hansen said. “Shops were worried about how to fix them right and there were a lot of inaccurate repairs happening.


"This problem has re-emerged recently, with these new cars with ADAS systems, because they are highly complex and require a fair amount of training to work on them properly.”


Hansen saw an opportunity in this exploding market and jumped on it 28 years ago when it was in its infancy.


“We were early adopters back in 1992 and even earlier than that,” he said. “We discovered that most body shop owners or managers didn’t know how to fix airbags at that time and very few were even familiar with automotive diagnostics.


"We realized that a big part of our job was going to educate these collision repair professionals and gleaning as much information from the OEs as we possibly could. There was a lot of misinformation and guesswork out there about what was important to make these airbag systems work correctly.”


A lack of information from the car manufacturers was a huge problem during the formative years, but Hansen wasn’t easily dissuaded.


“We struggled to find out what was required to fix these systems. The OEs surely weren’t making it easy because they wanted the dealerships to get the work," Hansen said. "We had to make deals with our local car dealership networks and actually go to them and run copies of the OE repair information. They did not want the information out of their sight.


"So, we would sit in a van in their parking lot with a copy machine and an extension cord to build a good base of proper repair knowledge. Eventually, we were able to get the airbag manuals through the aftermarket, but up until then it was a struggle and most of the service manuals back then were pretty weak.”

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