Why are Takata airbags being recalled?
Takata, a Japanese safety-parts manufacturer, has had its defective airbags installed in more than a hundred million cars worldwide. These airbags use ammonium nitrate to inflate, but the chemical compound degrades when it's exposed to moisture. In a defective Takata airbag deployment, the ammonium nitrate burns aggressively, exploding its metal canister and shooting shards of metal at the people seated in the car.
Have these airbags led to injuries or fatalities?
There have been 19 documented deaths globally and 207 injuries in the US alone linked to Takata airbags. Documented serious injuries so far include the loss of eyesight, facial injuries, lacerations to the face, neck and body, severed vocal cords, spinal damage and head injuries that include brain damage.
Australia is one of three countries where a Takata airbag misfire caused a fatality, after the United States and Malaysia. The tally of victims is likely to be under-reported because first responders and investigators might not trace the injuries and fatalities back to the airbag in a serious crash.
You can read more about Choice's Ongoing Investigation here.
How did this happen?
Takata "repeatedly and systematically falsified critical test data related to the safety of its products", according to a US Department of Justice ruling in January 2017. This fudging of paperwork meant the airbags – which don't meet the standards set by car manufacturers – were fitted in cars that were sold worldwide for more than a decade.
How do I know if my car has Takata-manufactured airbags?
The first step is to identify if your car is affected by the recall. A list of the vehicles currently on recall is available on the Product Safety Australia website. This list of affected cars is constantly growing – during our two-month investigation, 200,000 more cars were – so it's wise to check every few months.
How will I hear if my car is recalled?
Manufacturers have been contacting affected owners, mostly by mail. Many of the manufacturers we spoke to say it's hardest tracking down older cars – which are also the cars that are most vulnerable. This is because they change owners when sold, or end up in wrecking yards. If the car you own was purchased second hand, check if it's on the recall list by visiting the Product Safety Australia website or by directly contacting the car's manufacturer.
Is the recall free or will it cost me?
The cost of the recall is free and covered by the manufacturer.
How many cars are affected?
The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development tells CHOICE 2.49 million cars are affected by the recall of Takata airbags as of September 2017, making it the largest vehicle-related recall in Australian history. The recall first started with 4200 Honda cars in 2009, but widened to cover cars sold by different manufacturers in 2013. Since then, 950,000 cars have had replacement airbags installed.
Can my car have a Takata airbag and not be recalled?
Yes, there are 877,000 cars fitted with Takata airbags that have not yet been voluntarily recalled by eight other car makers. Ford, Audi, Jaguar, Volkswagen, GM Holden, Porsche, Mercedes Benz and Tesla have cars sold in Australia fitted with these airbags, but have not launched recall campaigns because these airbags were manufactured to more stringent standards in factory based in Germany. This is despite six of these airbags rupturing from August 2016 to May 2017, in countries that include Italy, Spain, Portugal and Turkey.
The affected car models offered by the eight car makers are not yet known, CHOICE understands, as information on the recall is still being compiled by government authorities.
How often do the airbags rupture?
Tests were conducted by US safety body, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in September of 2016. Out of 245,000 airbags tested, 660 deployed defectively.
The frequency of a defective deployment depends on a number of factors. Investigations concluded that the ammonium nitrate propellant deteriorates as it ages, and that this process happens quicker in climates that are hotter and more humid (characteristics not uncommon to the Australian outback). Takata claims it can take 12.5 years for the airbags to turn dangerous, while the NHTSA estimates it takes six years in the worst of scenarios.
This differs for Alpha model airbags, which can rupture in up to 50% of deployments.
What are Alpha model inflators (airbags)? Should I stop driving my car if it has them fitted?
Alpha models are first-generation versions of Takata airbags that sustained a range of defects at the time they were manufactured. They are among the oldest, are most susceptible to degradation and have a significantly higher rate of rupturing upon deployment.
These airbags can rupture in up to 50% of deployments, compared to the 0.27% of ruptures that happen to the airbags manufactured to specification.
An estimated 155,000 of these airbags have been recalled as early as 2009, but there is still 50,134 cars driving with these airbags as of September 2017, in more than two dozen models offered by Honda, Toyota, Lexus, BMW, Mazda and Nissan.
These airbags were responsible for eight-out-of-ten Takata related deaths in the US as of June 2017. CHOICE reported extensively on alpha airbags, the faults they sustained and the risks they pose here.
Should I ask to have my Takata airbag disabled?
No. Airbags are a vital piece of safety equipment. The NHTSA estimates they saved 2,400 lives in 2014 alone. For every 400 Takata airbag deployments, one ruptures. This means the airbag functions as designed in 399 of cases.
However, these statistics relate to all Takata airbags other than early model Alpha inflators. Alpha inflators rupture in one-of-two airbag deployments, and if you drive one of the remaining 12,300 Hondas they are still installed in, it is advised you do not drive it whatsoever, unless it is to a Honda dealership for a repair.
How long will I have to wait for a replacement airbag?
A parts shortage, retrofitting issues and insufficient people trained to install the airbags has resulted in extended waiting periods. Most of the recall notices we've seen suggest the wait is at least six months, though many people have to wait longer.
Car companies will not offer loan cars in most cases. When they do, they are usually to people who drive cars with airbags that have a higher probability of dangerously deploying. People unhappy with the wait should lodge a complaint with their state's Fair Trading body.
CHOICE would like to avoid a similar situation happening in the future and is lobbying for a safety provision in the Australian Consumer Law that protects all customers.
Help us make products safer: sign our petition to demand stronger consumer protection law.
Could my airbag be replaced with a new version of the recalled airbag?
Defective Takata airbags have been replaced with identical defective Takata airbags, in some cases. This is being used as a temporary fix, swapping older airbags that have likely degraded with fresh iterations, in a move to lower the risk of a defective deployment. These airbags too will have to be recalled again.
Car manufacturers including Toyota, Lexus, Subaru, Mazda, BMW and Honda have confirmed they made like-for-like replacements in a fraction of cars. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles confirms Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep cars will not need to be recalled again. Most other car companies chose not to share this information when we asked.
Will I get a refund or loan car under the compulsory recall notice that's been drafted by the government?
The steps to make this recall compulsory have been put into motion by Michael McCormack, the Minsiter of small business, but it's still a draft at the moment. The good news is the draft suggests those affected by the recall will face shorter waiting times, arrangements made for a tow, refunds for affected cars and the issuing of loan vehicles, depending on the type of airbag found in your car and the efforts made by your car manufacturer. A decision on whether this recall will be made mandatory is expected later this year in December.
When is the recall likely to be complete?
Takata says the recall will be complete by 2020, but this is an estimate.
Read Choice's full investigation into Takata
Update, 25 Sept: This FAQs was updated to reflect the increasing number of fatalities and injuries. We also added information on the compulsory recall notice that has since been drafted. Click Here
Fair Trading. (2017). The recall of Takata airbags: what Australians need to know. Retrieved from https://www.choice.com.au/transport/cars/general/articles/takata-airbags-what-you-need-to-know-in-australia-230717
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