The massive global car recall over faulty airbags is still a deadly problem in Australia

Photo: Ferrari.

More than 1.4 million cars in Australia still haven’t had a potentially deadly airbag replaced, eight years after the world’s biggest safety recall was announced, according to Choice.

Even cars that had the problem fixed may need a second recall, because similar problems have emerged with the replacement airbags.

The revelations come after a Sydney man became the first Australian to die because of the faulty airbag, which can fire shrapnel into the car when it deploys. The fault in the Japanese-made Takata airbag sparked a massive global car recall in 2009.

NSW police say the death of a 58-year-old man, Huy Neng Ngo, in Sydney’s western suburbs, was most likely due to a faulty airbag after his Honda CRV collided with another car on July 13.

A 21-year-old woman was seriously injured in April when the airbag exploded during an accident in Darwin, firing a shard of metal into her face. The airbags fire shrapnel into the cabin when they deploy and have now been linked to 18 deaths and nearly 200 injuries globally.

Consumer advocacy group Choice says that while 13 manufacturers and more than 60 car models, including Ferraris, were involved in the recall, more than two-thirds of the 2.3 million cars recalled in Australia still haven’t had the faulty airbags replaced.

The cars involved in the recall. Source: Choice.

Choice says Toyota, which recalled 529,000 cars, has replaced the airbags in 31%, while just 12% of 234,000 affected Mazda cars have been fixed. One manufacturer told Choice they’d be “lucky” if more than half their cars had the airbags replaced.

Choice says by April this year, the airbags had been replaced in just 661,750 affected cars in Australia. That figure has now reached 850,000.

More alarmingly, Choice says some car companies replaced it with the same defective Takata airbags and will have to be recalled again.

The replacement was treated with a water-absorbing chemical designed to address the problem, but it was subsequently found that they too may also degrade over time. This means some cars subject to the recall may need have to have their airbags replaced again in around six years.

The claims have sparked an investigation by the government watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which said today that it was seeking clarification from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development (DIRD), which is overseeing the recall, and car manufacturers.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said his organisation will closely examine the current recall strategies employed by DIRD to ensure each manufacturer is complying with its obligations under the Australian Consumer Law.

“We would have very serious concerns if manufacturers were found to be misleading consumers about their car’s safety in breach of their obligations under consumer law,” he said.

“Our advice to consumers is not to panic, but to visit the Product Safety Australia website to see if their car is affected by the recall and if it is, to contact their car’s manufacturer immediately.”

Choice says some manufacturers installed new iterations of the recalled airbags as a temporary fix and when the company checked recently, BMW, Toyota, Lexus, Mazda and Subaru confirmed they made identical replacements, which means the cars will need to be recalled again.

Most other manufacturers declined to share this information with the public, Choice said.

Takata, which recently filed for bankruptcy after being handed a $US1 billion penalty handed down by the US Department of Justice, expects the recall won’t be completed at least until 2020.

The ACCC is urging all drivers to check if their car’s airbag is has been recalled online at productsafety.gov.au. The manufacturers involved include Honda, Toyota, BMW, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Lexus, Jeep, Nissan, Chrysler, Ferrari and Dodge.

The ACCC says that due to the availability of stock worldwide, retrofitting issues and the availability of authorised technicians able to fit airbags, progress on the recall was initially slow but is improving over time as stock becomes available.

Sims says car manufacturers believe there is now sufficient stock available for affected cars to be fixed.

“Do not ignore or delay responding to a letter from your car’s manufacturer or retailer asking you to have your car’s airbag replaced. The airbags degrade over time and can become lethal by misdeploying and firing metal shards at the car’s occupants,” he said.

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