Car makers Toyota and Lexus have refitted cars in Australia with the same brand of potentially faulty airbags linked to the deaths of 18 people around the world.
The competition watchdog has launched an investigation after consumer group Choice warned Australian drivers could be sitting behind the wheel of “ticking time bombs” because several car makers had refitted vehicles with Takata airbags despite them being subject to a global safety recall.
More than 2.3 million vehicles in Australia were subject to the recall originally issued back in 2009, but only 850,000 have had their Takata airbags replaced after some were found to explode and eject dangerous metal shards.
Toyota and Lexus on Monday confirmed they had used Takata airbags as temporary replacements in some cases and would have to again refit those vehicles.
“This action provided safety for a number of years, however, due to exposure to the environment over time, these airbags will need to be replaced again,” they said.
Choice said Mazda, Lexus, BMW and Subaru had also refitted Takata airbags.
However, rivals Nissan, Honda and Mitsubishi, which also had vehicles affected by the recall, declined to tell Choice about their replacement airbags.
A Honda spokesman told AAP the car maker had “not refitted Takata inflators ‘like for like’ on Honda vehicles”. Comment was being sought from the other manufacturers.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims urged drivers to check if their vehicle was subject to the recall but not to panic if they had received a Takata replacement as it usually takes about six years for them to deteriorate.
In the meantime, the ACCC and federal government are demanding car makers make it their top priority to replace the faulty airbags.
Mr Sims said while some consumers had faced lengthy delays in getting replacements due to a lack of airbags and people to fit them, that was no longer the case.
“This needs to be fixed and fixed as fast as possible and they need to actively get in touch with people,” he told reporters.
Mr Sims said car makers found not to be doing enough to replace the airbags could be forced by the ACCC to issue a mandatory recall.
Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said while manufacturers were under pressure to replace the airbags, “refitting vehicles with the same dangerous airbags still leaves people driving ticking time bombs”.
A 58-year-old man who died in a crash in Sydney last Friday is suspected of being the 18th person globally to have died as a result of a dodgy Takata airbag after being struck in the neck by a small fragment.
A 21-year-old Darwin woman also suffered serious injuries when a faulty Takata airbag didn’t deploy properly in April.
Choice wants laws to ensure companies involved in product recalls use safe replacements, and fines for those that don’t.
State and federal consumer affairs ministers are due to discuss introducing new laws on selling unsafe goods in August.