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Takata airbag recall: what you need to know

Thousands of cars still listed as critical

non-deployed_takata_airbag
Last updated: 18 March 2020

Need to know

  • There are still thousands of Australian vehicles listed as 'critical' on the Takata airbag recall list, and more models have been added
  • It's important to check the recall lists regularly in case the status of your vehicle has changed, and don't ignore any correspondence from your car manufacturer
  • The ACCC has also issued a warning about a critical safety risk with Takata NADI 5-AT airbags, which are not captured in the current compulsory recall but are under voluntary recall

The ACCC has warned that there are still over 10,000 vehicles with defective Takata airbags classified as 'critical', and they should not be driven.

"Classification as 'critical' means manufacturers have assessed these airbags as being particularly unsafe. A Takata airbag misdeployment can result in death or serious injury, even in a minor collision," says ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard. 

Major car makers including BMW, Holden, Honda, Lexus, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota have cars on the critical list. The ACCC says drivers are entitled to have their vehicles towed to the dealership by the manufacturer and have the airbag replaced for free. They may also be entitled to a loan vehicle while the airbag is replaced.

A Takata airbag misdeployment can result in death or serious injury, even in a minor collision

ACCC deputy Chair, Delia Rickard

"We encourage all drivers to check if their vehicle is affected, even if they have checked before, and to act immediately to have their airbag replaced," says Rickard.

Rolling recall

Just because you have checked the recall list once, doesn't mean your vehicle wont appear on it in future. The number of cars on the critical list may increase as manufacturers continue to review the safety risks. 

"More vehicles can be added to the critical category at any time, and we're urging consumers not to ignore recall messages from manufacturers to get their airbag replaced," says Rickard.

Our advice is to check the lists regularly to see if your vehicle's airbag is in need of replacement or has been identified as critical.

What are NADI 5-AT airbags?

Recently the ACCC issued a new warning about a critical safety risk concerning vehicles fitted with a different type of faulty Takata airbag that uses NADI 5-AT propellant.

Like the previously recalled ALPHA airbags, these airbags may misdeploy, propelling metal fragments into the vehicle and causing injury or death to the occupants. There is also a risk these airbags may under-inflate. 

But NADI-5 AT airbags are only subject to a voluntary recall at this point in time, not captured under the current compulsory Takata recall. This means that services such as ismyairbagsafe.com.au may not display these vehicles. 

About 78,000 vehicles manufactured by Audi, BMW, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Toyota between 1996 and 2000 are affected. 

Some car manufacturers are offering buybacks of vehicles fitted with these airbags as replacement parts may not be available. 

The ACCC advises people to stop driving these vehicles until the faulty airbags are replaced. 

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Background to the Takata airbag recall

How many cars are affected?

The Takata airbag recall is the largest vehicle-related recall in Australian history, affecting four million cars including the Mercedes-Benz C Class, Toyota Rav 4 and Yaris and the Holden Barina and Cruze, among many more. 

There are still around 250,000 airbags scheduled to be replaced by December 2020. 

The Takata airbag recall is the largest vehicle-related recall in Australian history

Of greatest concern are the alpha airbags installed in certain Honda, Nissan, BMW, Toyota, Mazda and Lexus cars with models sold between 2001 and 2004. 

Manufacturers of these vehicles must offer to send a technician to you or arrange for these cars to be towed to the place of airbag replacement, or for a similar arrangement so that you do not have to drive these cars. 

In 2019, ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard warned , "Make no mistake, these airbags can kill ... If your car contains an alpha airbag, it should not be driven."

"The airbags degrade over time and can become lethal by misdeploying and firing metal shards at the car's occupants," says Rickard.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries also has an online tool that allows you to enter your car's number plate and find out if your airbag needs to be replaced. But it should be noted that vehicles affected by the latest recall might not be included in this tool.

Can my car have a Takata airbag and not be recalled?

The recall has been made compulsory by the federal government, but prioritises the oldest and most vulnerable airbags, so cars younger than six years old may not be repaired until December 2020, which is when the recall is scheduled to be completed.

Takata, a Japanese safety-parts manufacturer, has had its defective airbags installed in more than a hundred million cars worldwide. These airbags use ammonium nitrate to inflate, but the chemical compound degrades when it's exposed to moisture. In a defective Takata airbag deployment, the ammonium nitrate burns aggressively, shattering its metal canister and shooting shards of metal at the people seated in the car.

In a defective Takata airbag deployment, the ammonium nitrate burns aggressively, shattering its metal canister and shooting shards of metal at the people seated in the car

Have these airbags led to injuries or fatalities?

There have been 29 reported deaths and over 320 reported injuries globally linked to Takata airbags. The serious injuries so far include the loss of eyesight, facial injuries, lacerations to the face, neck and body, severed vocal cords, spinal damage and head injuries that include brain damage.

In Australia, a 21-year-old woman was hospitalised in a serious condition for months in April of 2017, and in the following July, a 58-year-old man was tragically killed. Australia is one of three countries where Takata airbags are known to have misfired, along with the United States and Malaysia. 

In a defective Takata airbag deployment, the ammonium nitrate burns aggressively, shattering its metal canister and shooting shards of metal at the people seated in the car

But it's possible the tally of victims is under-reported because first responders and investigators might not trace the injuries and fatalities back to the airbag in a serious crash.

How did this happen?

A US Department of Justice ruling in January 2017 said Takata "repeatedly and systematically falsified critical test data related to the safety of its products". This fudging of paperwork meant the airbags – which don't meet the standards set by manufacturers – were fitted in cars that were sold worldwide for more than a decade.

Since July 2018, all manufacturers have been required to have accurate, up-to-date information available on their own websites detailing which cars are affected and their recall status, including VIN lookup information.

It's hardest tracking down older cars – which are also the cars that are most vulnerable

Manufacturers have been contacting affected owners mostly by mail. Many of the manufacturers we spoke to say it's hardest tracking down older cars – which are also the cars that are most vulnerable. This is because they change owners when sold or end up in wrecking yards. If you bought a used car, check the model on the Product Safety Australia website or by directly contacting the manufacturer.

Do I need to pay for a Takata airbag replacement?

The recall is free as the cost is covered by the manufacturer.