Cars

50,000 Australian cars contain Takata airbags shown to fail in up to 50 per cent of tests

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Fifty thousand Australian cars still contain early “alpha” versions of Takata airbags, which have the potential to rupture in one in two cases. 

Toyota, Lexus, BMW, Honda and Nissan vehicles all contain the potentially lethal airbags. They have been shown to fail in 50 per cent of laboratory test deployments, compared to the one-in-400 failure rate of most Takata airbags, consumer group Choice has reported.


Infographic: Why the Takata recalls are a big deal

Thousands of Australians are driving cars that could be time bombs.

The manufacturers are among 14 affected in Australia by a worldwide recall of Takata airbags, which have now killed 18 people and injured more than 180 worldwide.

“Alpha” airbags are between 11 and 16 years old. While most have already been recalled in 150,400 vehicles, 51,136 still remain, with Choice alleging most car owners will have been uninformed, despite car makers “being aware of the increased risks for at least a year.”

“It is deeply concerning that Toyota, Lexus, BMW, Honda and Nissan are still to inform car owners of the heightened risk they face,” Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said.

“It is clear car companies have failed to effectively alert tens of thousands of consumers … under the current voluntary recall. It’s time the federal government initiated a mandatory recall,” Mr Godfrey said.

In a statement, Honda Australia said the “alpha” inflator recall was “defined by a particular manufacturing defect and this information has been passed on to our customers. This included warnings about the risk of potential death and injury from the faulty airbags.”

A Nissan Australia spokeswoman said “Nissan aimed to bring the swiftest possible resolution to this issue for our customers and is focused on the removal of all recalled airbags.”

In June last year the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a critical warning on Takata’s “alpha” airbags, in which it outlined that testing revealed “rupture rates as high as 50 per cent in a laboratory setting”.

Eight of the 10 fatalities linked to Takata airbags in the US have been caused by alpha inflators.

In Australia the recent death of 48-year-old Huy Neng Ngo was likely caused by a faulty Takata airbag, but it was not an “alpha” inflator.

ACCC deputy chairwoman Delia Rickard said the consumer watchdog was aware of the “alpha” subset and considered the US rupture test results “very concerning”.

“We’re urgently carrying out a safety investigation to really understand the adequacy of the recall so far and whether a mandatory recall is needed,” she said.

“It’s important to realise there are more than 1 million cars worldwide affected, only three airbag makers in the world and each model car has its own airbag.”

Consumers have reported waits of up to six months to receive a replacement, but Ms Rickard said manufacturers now said they had adequate supply.

“I have some concerns about people with alpha airbags and we want them to act urgently by contacting their manufacturer to order a replacement,” Ms Rickard said. 

“If they couldn’t do that immediately, personally I would be asking for a loan car or rental vehicle.”

A Toyota-Lexus spokesman said “alpha” airbags were being replaced as a priority. 

“Out of approximately 27,010 Toyota and Lexus vehicles fitted with alpha inflators …19,098 have had Takata alpha airbags replaced as part of the recall.”

He said Toyota Australia had remedied 30 per cent of vehicles containing all Takata airbags, and confirmed there was sufficient stock to rectify all vehicles fitted with Alpha inflators.

BMW did not respond to Fairfax Media by time of publication.

Last month Choice reported at least five Australian car manufacturers had recalled their vehicles over the dangerous airbags, only to refit them with a similarly faulty product.

Australian consumers can check most cars affected by the Takata airbag recall on ACCC Product Safety Australia. The site will be updated on Tuesday to include those models that contain “alpha” airbags.

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