Can you retrofit safety features in your car?

Most car makers offer safety features such as ABS, ESP and airbags only in the top-end variants of their cars. This applies more to cars that are in the price-sensitive end of the market such as hatchbacks, premium hatchbacks, entry-level sedans and midsize sedans.

A common query often posted on CarToq is whether safety features can be retrofitted onto a lower variant of a car, as buyers see the premium charged on the top-end variant of a car as a bit too much. Some buyers may want only the safety features but not other features such as fancy infotainment systems and keyless ignition.

CarToq takes a look at some of the key safety features in cars and whether these can or cannot be retrofitted into a lower variant of a particular car model.

There are some cars that offer ABS and airbags in all variants of their cars – such as the Honda Jazz, Honda City, Ford Fiesta and Renault Scala. But with the others, the lower variants either lack one or both features. There’s also ESP (electronic stability program) that’s offered with some cars such as the Ford Fiesta automatic, Mahindra XUV500 W8, Hyundai Elantra and a few others among the reasonably priced vehicles (below Rs. 15 lakh).

ABS with EBD

Can you retrofit safety features in your car?

ABS (anti-lock braking system) is now an essential safety feature in cars and should ideally be made standard, as Indian traffic speeds have increased. ABS allows some amount of wheel movement under panic braking, preventing the wheels from locking up, and allows you to steer around an obstacle. The ABS system uses sensors at each wheel to judge if any wheel is locking up and modulates braking pressure to that wheel. EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) is an integral part of good ABS systems, which modulates the braking pressure between the front and rear of the car for better braking. Brake assist is another feature used by some cars where panic braking will result in more brake force and quicker reaction time.

A basic four-channel ABS system costs between Rs. 25,000 – Rs. 30,000 over a car with a standard braking system. However, this cannot be retrofitted into a car, as the total costs would be quite high. If you wanted to retrofit a simple ABS system to your car, you would need to change the brake calipers, brake lines, brake master cylinder and a few other components. If you account for the cost of these parts and the ABS system along with labour charges, it would be in excess of Rs. 50,000 for a premium hatchback like the Swift or slightly lower for a Maruti Wagon-R.

Instead, it is better to opt for the option pack or the higher end variant straight from the factory, as these costs are already factored into the cost of building the car – you don’t have to buy these new components or pay extra labor. Hence it’s not advisable.


Electronic Stability Program (ESP)


Electronic stability programs are of various types. There are those that work in conjunction with ABS systems and can control wheel speed independent of driver input and then there are relatively simple traction control systems that can sense when a car is skidding or wheel is spinning and cut power from the engine to regain traction. The Mahindra XUV500 and Ford Fiesta automatic have this kind of a system that moderates engine power to the wheels.

Retrofitting an ESP system is again not a simple affair. An ESP system uses a separate ECU and sensors at each wheel, as well as gyroscopic sensor (to prevent rollover), and is connected with the fuel injection system to cut power or moderate power as needed to the engine, independent of a driver’s throttle inputs. Installing an ESP system would require complex wiring and changing of parts which would cost at least Rs. 50,000 and would still have reliability issues.



Can you retrofit safety features in your car?

Airbags are a supplementary restraint system (SRS) that inflate upon impact and can cushion an occupant, preventing major injuries in a crash. Not all cars can have airbags, as the dashboard, steering wheel, pillars and seats need to specifically designed to accommodate airbag systems. In cars where airbags are present in the top-end variants and not present in the lower variant, one cannot just install an airbag. It will involve placing sensors behind the bumper, and embedding an airbag in designated slots – which would mean replacing the steering wheel and dashboard.

A car with airbags costs an average of Rs. 30,000 over a model without airbags (two airbags – driver and passenger) and if you include the cost of changing the parts such as steering and dashboard, it will cost over Rs. 50,000 to do aftermarket. Again it’s better to just buy the model that already has airbags factory-fitted.

Overall, if safety is a primary concern, it is better to buy a car variant that offers these systems ex-factory rather than try retrofitting them. Retrofits are expensive and may not even be reliable.