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Time ticking on Takata airbags

While COVID-19 travel restrictions remain in place and many cars sit in driveways, another potential threat still looms – a faulty Takata airbag.

The first recall of Takata airbags was announced in 2008. It refers to the potential of some of these airbags to deploy during a crash with too much explosive force. When this happens, the casing ruptures and propels metal fragments through the airbag, possibly causing serious or fatal injury.

The problem led to the largest international automotive recall to date. As they’ve aged and deteriorated over time, more airbags have been recalled. There’s been an estimated 100 million vehicles affected worldwide, including 3 million in Australia alone.  

They’re now connected to the deaths of at least three drivers on Australian roads, the most recent triggering a separate recall.

By the end of March 2020, car manufacturers had replaced 3.62 million airbags in Australian cars. But this means that 230,000 faulty airbags still remain as a potential threat.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued another reminder to have the dangerous airbags replaced. And it has renewed pressure for car brands to complete all replacements by the end of this year. 

Some states and territories are making moves to have vehicles deregistered if owners don’t take action to have the airbags replaced.

Which cars are affected?

There are two priority recalls of faulty Takata airbags. The first is the mandatory recall affecting a large number of car makes and models. These have been recalled in stages based on risk.

To see if your vehicle has a potentially faulty airbag, visit ismyairbagsafe.com.au and type in your registration number. A quick 30 second check could save you or your passenger from serious injury.

Late last year, the ACCC announced a separate, voluntary recall of Takata NADI 5-AT airbags installed in cars manufactured between 1996 and 2000. It’s estimated that about 78,000 vehicles across eight brands are affected in Australia: from Audi, BMW, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Toyota. 

It’s with this last recall that things get complicated.

The NADI 5-AT airbag – to sell, or not to sell?

While many of these vehicles may no longer be in service, a substantial number are expected to be registered and still in use.
These may be a beloved late 90s sportscar, like a Toyota Celica, a faithful Pajero beating about the bush, or one of many BMW 3 series still going strong. 

The problem is that the faulty airbags in these cars cannot yet be replaced, unlike the other recalls, because the replacement parts for them aren’t available anymore. Owners can’t simply remove the airbag either, as the car may not comply with minimum safety standards. 

A reminder: the ACCC specifically advises not to disconnect, disable or remove a NADI 5-AT airbag.

It’s possible manufacturers may offer an owner a loan or hire car, reimbursement for alternative transport, or another arrangement. But it’s most likely they would instead offer to buy the vehicle for a negotiated price that reflects its market value. 

Of course, for owners who don’t wish to sell, this creates a dilemma. But this dilemma isn’t for drivers to resolve – they have a right to expect a fair deal.

With the car market experiencing its worst conditions in decades, dealers might be especially interested in attracting new sales. However, if you’re not satisfied with what’s being offered by the dealer, you should contact the manufacturer. If you’re still unsatisfied, contact the ACCC.

The safety of drivers and passengers is the number one priority. If you own one of these cars and haven’t had the airbag problem rectified, we urge you not to drive it if possible. Consider borrowing a car or using alternative transport options.

For more information, please visit the Product Safety Australia website of the ACCC.