Despite more than 1 million potentially deadly airbags still on Australian roads, some owners are refusing to bring their cars in for a free airbag replacement. Picture: Supplied.
Despite more than 1 million potentially deadly airbags still on Australian roads, some owners are refusing to bring their cars in for a free airbag replacement. Picture: Supplied.

Time to heed the warnings over airbags - critical danger

THE video is chilling. A man in his 20s looks down the barrel of the camera and says calmly: "I lost my eye because of a defective airbag. Take your car in today so this doesn't happen to you."

That video, from the US, is just one example of the increasingly desperate measures car makers are taking to get motorists to bring in cars with defective Takata airbags.

A Takata airbag victim in the US warns others of the dangers, so they too don't lose an eye. Picture: Supplied.
A Takata airbag victim in the US warns others of the dangers, so they too don't lose an eye. Picture: Supplied.

Australia's car industry is about to ramp up its awareness campaign after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission introduced the first ever compulsory recall in February.

To date, the call for action has fallen on too many deaf ears. Most people don't think it will happen to them.

They're dead wrong.

Depending on the type of airbag, there is either a 1 per cent chance or a 50:50 chance they will spray shrapnel when deployed in a crash.

To date there have been 23 deaths and more than 200 serious injuries worldwide; in Australia there has been one confirmed death and one serious injury but there may have been more.

More than 100 million cars are affected worldwide, including more than 3 million in Australia. So far about 1.6 million have been fixed locally.

The recall involves 24 brands from Ford to Ferrari, although Honda and Toyota have the highest number of affected airbags, with more than 1 million between them. There are more to be added.

In some cases there is a wait on replacement parts, leaving some drivers anxious. Then there are instances where parts are in stock but customers can't be located, don't want to bring their cars in or are ignoring multiple recall notices.

Airbags might look like pillows in the advertisements but they are explosive devices. Takata airbags with degraded material can explode with too much force, spraying shrapnel from the steering wheel hub as it disintegrates. Picture: Supplied.
Airbags might look like pillows in the advertisements but they are explosive devices. Takata airbags with degraded material can explode with too much force, spraying shrapnel from the steering wheel hub as it disintegrates. Picture: Supplied.

Motoring classifieds website Carsales.com.au has been cross-checking vehicle identifier numbers (VINs) on recall lists with cars advertised by private sellers. When they get a match the seller is notified immediately.

"We have about 65,000 private used cars listed at any one time. We knew a lot of people didn't know their cars were affected, and that the industry was struggling to find certain cars," says Carsales.com.au strategy director Agostino Giramondo.

"We've had a lot of good feedback. Most people are unaware their car was affected."

In some cases, it's a matter of life or death.

In April last year, a 21-year-old Northern Territory woman was seriously injured when the airbag of her Toyota RAV4 ruptured in a crash. In July, a 58-year-old Sydney man died in a "minor vehicle accident" when he was struck by metal shrapnel "likely from the airbag inflator housing" of his Honda CR-V.

The owners of both vehicles had been contacted numerous times to have their airbags replaced.

A technician disassembles part of the dashboard to get access to the passenger airbag in a Honda. Picture: Supplied.
A technician disassembles part of the dashboard to get access to the passenger airbag in a Honda. Picture: Supplied.

There have been other incidents that slipped under the radar because no one was killed or injured.

In 2016, two passenger airbag inflators ruptured after being removed from BMWs.

Last year, three airbag inflators recovered from local cars ruptured during testing, while a passenger airbag ruptured when a car recycler dismantled a Honda Civic.

The ACCC has introduced stiff penalties of up to $1.1 million per offence for brands that do not have a 100 per cent completion rate by December 31, 2020.

There are exemptions for cars that have been dismantled, although manufacturers are trying to recover those airbags as well, in case they end up being used as spares.

Some cars will need to come back for a second airbag replacement because manufacturers are installing new airbags with the same explosive material until new stock becomes available.

The stopgap measure, while not ideal, is regarded as safe because the airbags take years to deteriorate.

From the end of this year, new-car dealerships are banned from selling vehicles that have not had Takata airbags replaced. Until then, they must make the customer aware of the defect and stick a warning label on the windscreen.

The same ban applies to used car lots attached to new car dealerships.

However, the requirements for independent used dealers (accounting for more than two-thirds of the market) are less stringent.

A NSW wholesaler and used-car dealer, who asked to remain anonymous, believes the ACCC ban is unenforceable on independent used-car operators.

"I've not received any notification whatsoever from the ACCC," said the 30-year veteran of the trade. "I answer to Fair Trading and as far as I'm concerned I'm allowed to sell these cars, either to the public or to other dealers.

"Of course, if I knew they had Takata airbags, I would try to get them fixed. But the ACCC can't stop me from selling these cars or trading them with other dealers.

"How am I supposed to know there is a ban on the sale of these cars? I reckon most used car dealers would have no idea. There's been no formal notice or bulletin of any type whatsoever."

A Honda owner brings her car in to get fixed during a two-day visit by technicians to Thursday Island in 2017. Picture: Supplied.
A Honda owner brings her car in to get fixed during a two-day visit by technicians to Thursday Island in 2017. Picture: Supplied.

In Japan, the government is about to take the most drastic measure yet. From next month, it will "reject" the registration renewal of vehicles with faulty airbags.

Australia is yet to follow suit because vehicle registrations are the responsibility of the states and territories.

Federal assistant minister Michael Sukkar, who announced the compulsory recall, has written to state and territory ministers outlining a "number of strategies (they) may wish to consider in support of the recall".

Among the proposals is "preventing registration or transfer of ownership of vehicles that have not had their faulty airbag replaced by the requisite date".

If parts are delayed then the car is exempt from the registration or sale ban. To date, no state or territory has taken up the offer. Sources say they are scared of a voter backlash.

There are no restrictions on private sellers of used vehicles, other than a requirement to inform the buyer the airbag still needs replacing and to obtain their address.

However, these requirements, buried in a 71-page document, are not public knowledge. Cars with faulty airbags are likely being bought and sold with both parties unaware of the dangers.

Manufacturers are prioritising older vehicles with more volatile airbags. Newer cars are in theory less vulnerable.

Meanwhile, whether you're buying or selling a car, doing a quick check online could save your life, or someone else's.

Not all airbags are created equally. Some have a 50:50 chance of spraying shrapnel while others have a 1 per cent chance. Picture: Supplied.
Not all airbags are created equally. Some have a 50:50 chance of spraying shrapnel while others have a 1 per cent chance. Picture: Supplied.

 

DEADLY SERIOUS:

The so-called Alpha airbag is the most deady of those being recalled. Experts say there is a 50-50 chance of the airbag disintegrating if deployed.

This compares to a 1 per cent chance of incorrect deployment in a crash of the 1.4 million other types of Takata airbag still waiting to be replaced.

In the United States, buyers are advised to stop driving their cars if they have an Alpha airbag.

There are still 24,364 Alpha airbags on the road in Australia waiting to be replaced. Five manufacturers are involved in the recall. They are:

BMW

3 Series (2001-2003)

Honda

Accord, CR-V, Civic, Accord Euro Jazz and MDX (2001-2003)

Jazz (2004)

Mazda

Mazda6 and RX-8 (2002-2007)

Nissan

Pulsar, Patrol, Navara, X-Trail, Maxima (2000-2004)

Toyota

Corolla, Avensis Verso(2000-2004)

Echo, RAV4 (2002-2003)

Some car makers are embarking on special missions to far flung places, such as Thursday Island, to locate and fix faulty airbags. Picture: Supplied.
Some car makers are embarking on special missions to far flung places, such as Thursday Island, to locate and fix faulty airbags. Picture: Supplied.

 

 

DON'T TAKE A PUNT:

Some car brands have gone to extreme lengths to find affected vehicles, hiring private investigators to door-knock, and even cross-checking registrations with toll road operators to determine whether cars are still in use.

In November last year Honda flew two technicians to Thursday Island, in Torres Strait, to fix 15 cars. There have since been similar missions to fix handfuls of cars in Norfolk Island, Mount Isa and other remote towns across Australia.

 

 

 

TAKATA AIRBAGS BY THE NUMBERS:

More than 100 million cars worldwide.

More than 3 million cars in Australia, one in seven vehicles.

More than 1.6 million cars fixed so far.

More than 1.4 million cars outstanding, with more to follow.

24: the number of brands caught up in the recall so far.

 

HOW THEY ARE TRACKING:

Audi

40,106 cars affected

0 per cent fixed, about to start recalling cars

0 Alpha airbags

 

BMW

136,437 cars affected

44 per cent fixed so far, about to add a further 100,000 cars

3483 Alpha airbags, 77 per cent fixed so far

 

Citroen

3292 cars affected

0 per cent fixed, about to start recalling cars

0 Alpha airbags

 

Chrysler-Jeep

43,649 cars affected

39 per cent fixed

0 Alpha airbags

 

Dodge Ram (2004-2010)

Unknown private imports affected

Unknown private imports fixed

0 Alpha airbags

 

Ford

109,159 cars affected

1 per cent fixed so far, but ramping up now

0 Alpha airbags

 

Ferrari

Unknown number of cars affected but 1306 vehicles have been sold locally in the period concerned

0 per cent fixed, about to start recalling cars

0 Alpha airbags

 

Holden (including Opel and Saab)

333,011 cars affected

0 per cent fixed, about to start recalling cars

0 Alpha airbags

 

Honda

436,921 cars affected (with 661,102 inflators)

89 per cent of cars fixed so far

48,503 Alpha airbags, 85 per cent fixed so far

 

Jaguar-Land Rover

17,454 cars affected

0 per cent fixed, about to start recalling cars

0 Alpha airbags

 

Mazda

292,182 cars affected

86 per cent fixed so far

5117 Alpha airbags, 83 per cent fixed so far

 

Mercedes-Benz

85,000 cars and vans affected

0 per cent fixed so far, about to start recalling cars

0 Alpha airbags

 

Mitsubishi

235,151 cars affected

61 per cent fixed so far

0 Alpha airbags

 

Nissan

289,700 cars affected

66 per cent fixed so far

31,100 Alpha airbags, 31 per cent fixed so far

 

Skoda

17,666 cars affected

0 per cent fixed so far, about to start recalling cars

0 Alpha airbags

 

Subaru

279,931 cars affected

55 per cent fixed so far

0 Alpha airbags

 

Tesla

1265 cars affected

0 per cent fixed so far, about to start recalling cars

0 Alpha airbags

 

Toyota-Lexus

580,492 cars affected

72 per cent fixed so far, more about to be added

26,959 Alpha airbags, 76 per cent fixed so far

 

Volkswagen

102,353 cars affected

0 per cent fixed so far, about to start recalling cars

0 Alpha airbags

 

Figures compiled by News Corp Australia, up to date as of 26 April 2018.

 

IMPORTANT LINKS:

 

Future Takata recalls

 

List of cars recalled so far, including Alpha airbags

 

The Alpha airbags