The recall affects approximately 21,500 Great Wall SA220, V200 and V240 utes, and X200 and X240 SUVs, as well as around 550 Chery J3 hatchbacks and 1700 J11 SUVs. The Chery J1 hatch is not affected by the recall.
The components in the affected vehicles will not be replaced immediately, however, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) satisfied that as the asbestos is bound into the gaskets in the vehicles’ engine and exhaust systems, it does not present any risk to consumers during use of the vehicle. It insists, however, that servicing the vehicles’ engine and exhaust systems could disturb the gaskets, and warns owners against performing do-it-yourself maintenance.
“There is no asbestos-related health risk to the driver or any passengers who use the vehicle,” the ACCC explained in a statement. “The gaskets are tightly embedded in the vehicle and present no hazard during normal operation of the vehicle.
“Caution must be taken if carrying out maintenance. Procedures have been prepared and implemented to ensure that the gaskets are handled correctly by mechanics during maintenance of the vehicles.
“Any work involving these gaskets should be carried out by an authorised [Chery or] Great Wall dealer or a licensed motor mechanic who has been made aware of these procedures.”
Daniel Cotterill, spokesman for Ateco Automotive, the local importer of Great Wall in Australia since 2009 and Chery since 2010, said the distributor supported the decision by the ACCC for the components containing asbestos to be replaced only as and when they needed replacing, rather than for all the components to be replaced immediately.
Cotterill said an independent occupational health and safety specialist found there was "negligible" risk to service technicians given the "very small" amount of asbestos present in the components.
He insisted that if owners were concerned about the presence of asbestos in their vehicles, however, they could arrange with Chery or Great Wall to replace all the of affected parts free of charge.
Ateco has instructed all Chery and Great Wall dealers to ‘stop sale’ of affected vehicles and is recalling the gaskets that were distributed as spare parts. It has also ensured all newly supplied vehicles and replacement gaskets are asbestos-free.
Ateco says a letter will be sent to affected owners explaining that the gaskets will be replaced during normal in-service operation as and when it is required.
Owners are encouraged to contact Chery or Great Wall if they have any concerns about the presence of affected gaskets in their vehicles.
Ateco has prepared a safety training video and other materials to instruct automotive repairers on the safe handling and disposal of the gaskets, and has arranged for warning stickers to be placed in the engine bays of affected vehicles.
Customs and Border Protection officers first detected asbestos in imported spare parts from the two manufacturers earlier this year, prompting a safety investigation involving the ACCC, Ateco, the WorkCover Authority of NSW and the Department of Workplace Relations.
The importation and use of asbestos has been banned in Australia in 2004. Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance that was widely used commercially because it possesses a number of desirable properties including its sound absorption qualities; high tensile strength; heat, fire and electrical resistance; and affordability.
Prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibres can lead to serious illnesses, including lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said the automotive service industry was experienced in managing this risk, as vehicles sold in Australia prior to 2004 often featured gaskets that contained asbestos.
"Consumers and automotive repairers must be made aware that the risk may be present in these much newer vehicles,” Rickard said. “This is the focus of the recall campaign.
“The ACCC will monitor the recall and Workplace Health and Safety Authorities will monitor the workplace safety issues.”
The recall is the latest blow to the reputation of Chinese vehicles in Australia. Since their introduction three years ago, Australia’s three Chinese brands have been involved in eight safety-related recalls: four for Great Wall, three for Chery and one for Geely.