The proposal to make the recall mandatory comes as eight car makers – in
addition to the 14 already implicated – failed to voluntarily recall more
than 800,000 cars that are also fitted with the potentially fatal airbags.
Yesterday afternoon Michael McCormack, the Federal Minister of Small Business, put into motion the steps needed to introduce a compulsory recall
of Takata airbags, a product safety scandal that has grown to affect 2.49
million cars in Australia since 2009.
"Today the Australian government is taking further action to ensure the
safety of Australian consumers and safety on our roads," says Minister
McCormack, though the proposal remains a draft and could still be
The right to a tow, a loan car or a refund
The actions proposed in the draft recall notice, if they were to come into
effect, would see the time people have to wait for a replacement airbag
slashed, arrangements made for a tow, the issuing of loan vehicles and car refunds being offered based on the current market value.
The fault with Takata airbags, which have killed 19 people globally and
injured 207 people in the US alone, develops over time. A customer's right
to a loan car, tow or refund would depend on the type of airbag and its
The most dangerous variant of the airbag, "alpha" inflators, will
have to be replaced within one day of a customer contacting a car maker for
a repair. A tow truck will have to be dispatched to take the car to the
dealership, or a qualified technician will have to replace the airbag on
site. And if it takes more than 24 hours for these airbags to be replaced,
an acceptable loan car will have to be provided. Otherwise, the customer
will be entitled to a refund.
Alpha airbags sustained a number of defects when they were being
manufactured and are between 11 and 18 years old. These airbags were found
to be responsible for eight-out-of-the-ten fatalities caused by Takata
airbags in the US, as of June 2017. "The risk [of a misfire] is immediate,"
the draft mandatory notice warns. And the failure rate of these airbags –
found in cars offered by Honda, Toyota, Lexus, BMW, Nissan and Mazda – is
as high as 50%.
There's 877,000 cars fitted with Takata airbags that have not yet been voluntarily recalled by eight other car makers
But alpha inflators only account for 50,134 of the remaining 1.5 million
cars recalled that have not yet been repaired. Whether the remaining "beta"
airbags will be repaired within a month depends if they are more than five
Testing has found Takata airbags turn dangerous at the earliest when they
are six years old. Airbags that are five or older will have to be fixed
within one month after a driver contacts their car maker. If the actual
repair takes more than a day, or the car maker can't schedule the repair
within one month, they will then have to provide a loan car or offer to
reimburse travel costs, and if they cannot provide either, give those
customers who ask a refund of their car.
All other Takata airbags will have to be repaired before they turn
six years old or before 31 December 2020 – whichever comes first. Car makers
have until the date set in the draft recall notices issued to customers to
sort out the repairs.
The case for a mandatory (compulsory) recall
Six months was the common wait time for customers to have their cars fixed
under the recall, but CHOICE has come across dozens of cases where people
were waiting a year or even two. Car makers were (and still are) swapping
defective Takata airbags with identical replacements, as CHOICE revealed in its investigation, and they were not telling customers these dangerous
substitutes will also need to be recalled. The recall notices issued to
customers were often jargon-laden and tended to understate the risks of
injury or death; some didn't disclose the fatal risks altogether. The NSW
man who was killed by a Takata airbag in July did not answer any of the
five recall notices mailed to him by Honda.
"The suppliers of the recalled vehicles with Takata airbag inflators...have
not taken satisfactory action to prevent these goods causing
injury...despite the lengthy period which voluntary recalls have been in
place," the draft mandatory notice says.
It fired with such force that a piece of metal 5cm long was found on the roof of a nearby building
There are 2.49 million cars from 14 manufacturers affected by the
recall of Takata airbags, as of August 2017. Honda, which started the
recall in 2009 and is the car brand with the highest Takata
fatality rate, has the highest completion rate at 78.3%. But the industry's
recall efforts as a whole have lingered, with an average completion rate of
38.5%. The major car maker with the lowest repair rate has only fixed 17%
of its affected cars.
And this does not include the 877,000 cars fitted with Takata airbags that have not yet been voluntarily recalled by eight other car makers. Ford,
Audi, Jaguar, Volkswagen, GM Holden, Porsche, Mercedes Benz and Tesla have
cars sold in Australia fitted with these airbags, but have not launched
recall campaigns because these airbags were manufactured in Germany. This
is despite six of these airbags rupturing from August 2016 to May 2017, in
countries that include Italy, Spain, Portugal and Turkey.
The affected car models offered by the eight car makers are not yet known,
CHOICE understands, as information on the recall is still being compiled by
More airbag misfires, more deaths and more serious injuries
The number of people killed and injured by Takata airbags has continued to
rise. There have been 19 documented deaths globally and 207 injuries in the
US alone. "Many of the incidents involving a fatality have occurred at a
low speed," the report says, "and due to the nature of the injuries, first
responders have thought vehicle occupants had been shot or stabbed due to
the shrapnel wounds".
Australia is one of three countries where a Takata
airbag misfire caused a fatality, after the United States and Malaysia. The
tally of victims is likely to be under-reported because first responders
and investigators might not trace the injuries and fatalities back to the
airbag in a serious crash. The serious injuries so far linked to the airbag
scandal 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.
A third (and previously unreported) airbag rupture happened in Australia in the year before the first local injury and death. In
September 2016, an airbag from a BMW was being safely disposed of when it
misfired. It fired with such force that a piece of metal 5cm long was found
on the roof of a nearby building. Fortunately, no one was hurt –
Car makers will have to locate and destroy Takata airbags that have been
removed from cars to be sold both at wreckers and online. A database
tracking the airbags will have to be established, and car makers will have
to put into place processes to sort out disputes with unhappy customers.
Template communication drafted by the government will have to be used by
car makers – and they won't be allowed to soften the language.
The draft notice doesn't guarantee a mandatory recall and any of these
recommendations – made by the dedicated ACCC task force – could be
ditched. Car makers and other stakeholders have 10 days to write to the
ACCC in an effort to hold a conference on the proposals. Then, in the
"coming months", a final recommendation will be made by the competition
watchdog to Federal Minister McCormack, where it will be determined if a
mandatory recall will take effect.