A mandatory recall on Takata airbags could happen in the next month

Car makers' woeful communication and long wait times raise concerns at the ACCC.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will reveal next month – upon the findings of its investigation – whether a mandatory recall of Takata airbags is necessary.

The revelation was made before a House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics yesterday afternoon.

A mandatory recall would allow the federal government to define how car makers handle the recall, give the ACCC the power to issue penalties and treat breaches as criminal offences.

It could also result in cars no longer being fitted with Takata airbags – even the revised iterations that are being used as replacements – if a court deems they are potentially faulty.

Takata has until 2019 to prove replacement airbags containing a drying agent are safe for use in the long term. If it cannot, these airbags will need to be recalled too.

The ACCC revealed it anticipates to make a recommendation based on its findings to federal minister Michael McCormack on whether a mandatory recall is necessary next month, but the timing could be delayed if some carmakers are granted more time to provide the competition watchdog with an update.

"Our main purpose is to get those airbags out of those cars," says Timothy Grimwade of the ACCC, who is overseeing the eight-person task force investigating the recall. "We're also looking to see if there's been any misleading behaviour."

The ACCC asked car makers for an update on the recall on 24 July. Some of the carmakers have asked for an extension. If the ACCC denies their requests, the carmakers will have to provide the ACCC with answers by 23 August. 

The questions aim to clarify the types of airbags being used as replacements in the recall, the progress made by each car maker, how long customers are having to wait for a repair and what customers are being told.

Drivers affected by the recall are receiving one of three replacement airbags. Currently a revised version of a Takata airbag that features a drying agent is being used, as well as airbags from other manufacturers. CHOICE understands identical replacements of the defective airbags – which were carried out by Honda, Toyota, Lexus, Mazda, BMW and Subaru – are no longer being used.

Carmakers claim there is now enough replacement stock to carry out repairs, but early indications from the ACCC's investigation suggest otherwise.

"We're still receiving complaints and reports that consumers are having to wait for their airbag replacement on the basis that there isn't enough stock," says Grimwade.

Car owners are commonly facing wait times of six months, though they tend to be worse for people living in regional Australia.

Concerns have been raised about the information that affected drivers are receiving from car makers about the recall. "What does concern us is the communication that is being provided to consumers," says Grimwade, "because it appears to be none."

This week CHOICE revealed cars from Honda, BMW, Toyota, Lexus and Nissan still had an early version of Takata airbags installed, for which the risk of a rupture was as high as one-in-two. The 50,000 affected drivers had no way of knowing if their car contained these 'alpha' inflators.

The lack of communication is a particular concern for drivers who had the defective airbag in their car replaced with an identical, defective model, as they may ignore future recall notices thinking they have already fixed the problem.

Correction, 22 August: An earlier version of this article attributed a quote to Rod Sims, chair of the ACCC. Sims was present and spoke on the issue; however, the quote concerning a lack of communication from carmakers was said by Timothy Grimwade, the ACCC representative leading the task force.

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