Australian drivers could be sitting behind the wheel of “ticking time bombs” after car makers were found to be refitting vehicles with the same brand of potentially faulty airbags at the centre of a global recall.
Consumer watchdog Choice said Toyota, Mazda, Lexus, BMW and Subaru had been refitting recalled vehicles with Takata airbags — the same brand linked to 18 deaths worldwide.
“With 2.3 million vehicles in Australia requiring their potentially lethal Takata airbags to be replaced, it’s clear the car companies are under pressure to fulfil their obligations under Australian consumer law,” Choice spokesperson Tom Godfrey said.
“However, refitting vehicles with the same dangerous airbags still leaves people driving ticking time bombs.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is investigating the claims made by Choice.
About 100 million vehicles around the world have been recalled since 2009 amid safety concerns relating to dodgy Takata airbags, which can explode and launch metal shards that can puncture people’s eyes, face, neck, and chest.
More than 2.3 million vehicles in Australia were subject to the recall, with 850,000 already having had their airbags replaced.
A 58-year-old man who died in a crash in Sydney on Friday is suspected to be the 18th person to have lost their life as a result of a dodgy Takata airbag after he was struck in the neck by a small fragment.
A 21-year-old woman also suffered serious injuries when a faulty Takata airbag failed to deploy properly during a crash in Darwin in April.
Choice discovered car makers were refitting Takata airbags in recalled vehicles after questioning 14 manufacturers in Australia.
Many confirmed that a percentage of the vehicles were refitted with like-for-like replacements and would need to be recalled again, Mr Godfrey said.
However while Toyota, Mazda, BMW, Lexus and Subaru told Choice they installed identical airbags in recalled vehicles, rivals Nissan, Honda and Mitsubishi — which also have vehicles affected by the recall — did not respond to the watchdog’s inquiries.
Choice wants laws introduced to ensure companies involved in product recalls use safe replacements, and fines for those that fail to do so.
“By introducing and enforcing a general safety provision, the regulator would be able to take swift and meaningful action against companies who knowingly put lives at risk,” Mr Godfrey said.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims urged all drivers to check if their vehicle’s airbag was subject to the Takata recall and demanded car makers inform consumers of the type of replacement airbags they were installing.
The ACCC was also seeking information from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, which is monitoring the recall, about what information it requires car makers and retailers to give consumers about car airbags.
“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,” Mr Sims said.