Takata airbag scandal: 68,000 owners refuse repairs, new warning to passengers

An alarming number of owners are refusing to have deadly Takata airbags replaced free of charge, as figures reveal up to 300,000 airbags could still be in circulation after being ticked off the list.

EXCLUSIVE

More than 68,000 car owners are ignoring recall notices or refusing to have potentially deadly Takata airbags replaced free of charge – and authorities are powerless to compel customers to get their cars fixed.

The alarming revelation – six weeks before the deadline to have all 3.9 million airbags in about 2.9 million cars replaced or accounted for – has prompted the automotive industry to issue fresh warnings for passengers to pause and check registrations on IsMyAirbagSafe.com.au before they accept a ride.

The website will alert users within a few seconds to vehicles that have not had their potentially deadly Takata airbags replaced. The Takata recall affects 18 popular car brands in Australia. The complete list of affected cars is here.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which is overseeing Australia’s largest recall, said “to date, 68,262 consumers have failed to respond to recall messages and have not taken action to seek a replacement inflator”.

Research by CarAdvice across Australia’s biggest car brands found one owner in NSW refused to have the Takata recall done after being contacted 37 times by the manufacturer. Another customer, in Queensland, refused the recall after 46 approaches by the manufacturer.

Hundreds of motorists who “refused” the Takata airbag recall have been approached more than two dozen times. The majority have been contacted at least 10 times, car company sources claim.

Although there are no specific guidelines, each car company must demonstrate to the ACCC they have made “numerous reasonable efforts” to locate and account for each faulty airbag and contact each owner.

However, the ACCC and car companies are powerless to force owners to have their airbags replaced, even though it is free of charge. CarAdvice understands the Federal Government could pass legislation to compel owners to have cars equipped with a replacement airbag, but it is yet to do so.

Most attempted contacts of “owner refusals” (as the industry defines them) were via email, mail, phone calls, text messages – and face-to-face door knocks.

“Some owners ignore the recall notices and then suddenly pop up, while others flat out tell our technicians to leave them alone,” said one industry insider who has been working closely with their brand’s Takata airbag recall team.

“One owner didn’t want to get his car fixed because he didn’t plan to re-register it for a few months, even though we said we would send a technician to his address and the work would be done in 15 minutes.”

Industry experts believe many motorists are unaware of the risks – in many cases there is a 50:50 chance of a faulty airbag spraying shrapnel if deployed in a crash. To date, there have been more than 30 deaths and 300 serious injuries worldwide, including two deaths and a number of serious injuries in Australia.

The car industry believes some reluctant owners could be concerned authorities may discover a vehicle is stolen or rebirthed (given a new, false identity). Some owners may not have legal ownership of a vehicle but have it in their possession.

The automotive industry is increasingly concerned about the thousands of vehicles that may slip through the cracks, as the 31 December 2020 deadline approaches.

The ACCC says it is searching for the last 110,000 airbags in approximately 90,000 vehicles.

However, 68,262 owner refusals are included in close to 300,000 cars which have been either approved or are in the process of being ticked off the list under Section 5 (3) guidelines.

The ACCC says there have been 264,114 vehicles approved under the Section 5 (3) process (see table below). A further 47,066 are currently under assessment.

Number of airbags affected Number approved under Section 5 (3) Percentage approved under Section 5 (3) Airbags yet to be accounted for or fixed Percentage of total to be accounted for
Audi 38,582 2144 5.5 per cent 5198 13.4 per cent
BMW 182,705 16,095 8.8 per cent 4455 2.4 per cent
Citroen 3156 135 4.2 per cent 50 1.6 per cent
Fiat-Chrysler-Jeep 33,229 3460 10.4 per cent 37 0.1 per cent
Ford 82,322 7579 9.2 per cent 3933 4.8 per cent
Holden 292,820 37,289 12.7 per cent 72 0.02 per cent
Honda 402,341 25,897 6.4 per cent 11,332 2.8 per cent
Jaguar-Land Rover 17,514 311 1.7 per cent 409 2.3 per cent
Mazda 271,448 18,108 6.7 per cent 9001 3.3 per cent
Mercedes-Benz 114,097 7965 7.0 per cent 9305 8.2 per cent
Mitsubishi 158,047 19,659 12.4 per cent 1 0.0006 per cent
Nissan 316,216 60,800 19.2 per cent 19,323 6.1 per cent
Skoda 17,427 228 1.3 per cent 444 2.5 per cent
Subaru 270,210 15,140 5.6 per cent 4552 1.7 per cent
Toyota/Lexus 589,000 42,721 7.2 per cent 10,180 1.7 per cent
Volkswagen 99,229 6538 6.6 per cent 12,474 12.6 per cent
Ferrari 1196 NA NA 22 1.8 per cent
McLaren 329 NA NA 4 1.2 per cent
Tesla 1261 NA NA 96 7.6 per cent
Total 2,801,551 264,114 9.4 per cent 90,888 3.2 per cent

Source: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Section 5 (3) data current to 4 November 2020. Completion data current to 30 September 2020.

Under the recall guidelines, car companies can mark an outstanding vehicle off their list if it has been unregistered for two years or more, under a provision called Section 5 (3). However, these vehicles could end up back on our roads or used as spare parts – including for airbag replacements.

Section 5 (3) covers vehicles that are no longer registered, have been written off, sent to a scrapyard – or the owner has refused a replacement airbag.

While the car industry continues to track down owner refusals, some are concerned about cars on the unregistered list that may reappear on our roads or be broken down into used spare parts.

Most states have introduced registration renewal bans or registration transfer bans for cars equipped with “critical” airbags, but this does not include all types of faulty Takata devices.

The automotive industry is privately frustrated by state registration authorities which are yet to expand their restrictions on cars equipped with all types of faulty Takata airbags.

A statement by the ACCC said: “The ACCC considers registration sanctions a key tool to encourage owners to action airbag replacements. We continue to liaise closely with state and territory registration authorities to encourage them to refuse registration renewal or to de-register vehicles affected by the Takata compulsory recall. As recommended by the ACCC, all state and territory registration authorities have introduced registration sanctions, although the approach varies depending on each individual registration authority.”

Car company data obtained by CarAdvice shows that some brands have a better clearance rate than others due to the age of vehicles affected and the number of airbags in each affected vehicle.

Also complicating the issue, cars equipped with two airbags have a higher clearance rate than older cars which were often equipped with only one airbag. The manufacturer gets two airbags off its list having found one car, versus one airbag off its list having found an older car.

For example, in the case of one major automotive brand, it had a 54 per cent clearance rate for cars that were between 15 and 20 years old, and a 96 per cent clearance rate for cars that were four to seven years old, because it is easier to track down newer vehicles.

As reported earlier, it is unclear whether the Takata airbag recall will be extended beyond the 31 December 2020 deadline.

“We will do whatever it takes to get these potentially deadly airbags off the road,” said the chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, Tony Weber.

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