ACCC investigates Takata airbag recall following CHOICE findings

Car makers told us they are producing like-for-like replacements of recalled airbags.

Revelations of car makers swapping recalled Takata airbags with identical, defective replacements have sparked an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The action comes less than 24 hours after CHOICE shared findings from a protracted investigation that found car makers are struggling to cope with the recall in Australia, resorting to the like-for-like replacement of defective airbags in an effort to lower the risk of injury or death.

Honda, BMW, Subaru, Toyota and Lexus are among the car companies that confirmed to CHOICE they are making like-for-like replacements of defective Takata airbags, with many other manufacturers declining to share this information with the public.

"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," says Rod Sims, the chair of the ACCC.

"Car manufacturers and retailers must let consumers know when they are having their car's airbag replaced, what type of airbag it is being replaced with, and if it is likely to be the subject of another recall down the track," he adds.

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The death of a 58-year-old Australian on 13 June was linked to a defective Takata airbag, while a 21-year-old woman was sent to Royal Darwin Hospital for more than two months after the Takata airbag in her car shot a piece of metal at her face.

These incidents contribute to the growing number of 180 injuries and 18 deaths caused by the airbags, which harm the very drivers and passengers they are designed to protect.

The ACCC is "urgently seeking" information from the government body overseeing the recall, the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, and from more than a dozen car manufacturers affected by the recall.

Approximately 2.3 million vehicles are affected in Australia as the airbags have been fitted in almost sixty models of cars, including those sold by Honda, Toyota, BMW, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Lexus, Jeep, Nissan, Chrysler, Dodge, Ferrari and Mazda.

It is estimated more than 850,000 vehicles have had their airbags replaced since 2009. 

The worldwide recall of a hundred-million Takata airbags has proven to be a logistical nightmare. A parts shortage, retrofitting issues and the availability of authorised technicians able to fit the airbags has resulted in the recall spreading over years.

Recall letters seen by CHOICE suggest customers are being asked to wait six months for parts to be available. Takata estimates the recall won't be complete until 2020, claiming its bankruptcy filing will have little impact on it meeting the deadline.

The ACCC claims car manufacturers now have sufficient stock to fix affected cars, however more vehicles will be added to the growing list of those recalled.

In the three months since CHOICE began investigating Takata airbags in April 2017, approximately 250,000 additional cars have been fitted with replacement airbags, though a further 200,000 were recalled by manufacturers.

Little awareness of the Takata recall – which in Australia, affects 21 times more vehicles than the VW dieselgate scandal – has meant many people aren't taking their cars to manufacturers upon being told parts for their car are available.

Of the 2.3 million cars recalled, replacement airbags have been installed in 34%.

The fault with Takata airbags is believed to develop over a period of time due to exposure to moisture. Some replacement airbags have been treated with a drying agent, known as desiccant, but these too may degrade, requiring an additional recall for the airbags.

"If consumers have already had their airbag replaced, they should contact their manufacturer for advice as to what kind of airbag it was replaced with and how long it is expected to last," says Sims.

List of Australian vehicles affected by the Takata airbag recall.

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