Most states have imposed registration renewal bans on cars with unrectified ‘Alpha’ type Takata airbags. Now there are calls to include the remaining 1.3 million cars with faulty ‘Beta’ airbags.

Car companies are calling for registration bans to be expanded to include the remaining 1.3 million vehicles equipped with dodgy Takata airbags in addition to 12,000 currently under a compulsory recall because tens of thousands of customers are refusing to have them fixed.

In September last year South Australia became the first state to ban the registration renewal of cars equipped with the “Alpha” type Takata airbags, which have a one-in-two chance of spraying shrapnel when deployed in a crash.

The same policy has since been adopted by every other state except Victoria and NSW, where more than half of the remaining 1.3 million recalled airbags are located.

While the rego ban prompted a spike in the number of cars being brought in to have both types of Takata airbags replaced free of charge, authorities in Victoria and NSW are still monitoring the situation.

Several leading car companies now want to go one step further and impose registration bans on all remaining Takata airbags, including the later Beta type.

Testing has found Alpha airbags have a 50:50 chance of spraying shrapnel when deployed in a crash versus 1 per cent of Beta airbags.

However there are far more Beta-type Takata airbags in circulation, making them equally as dangerous.

The most recent figures show 12,000 Alpha type Takata airbags in Australia are awaiting replacement (from a pool of 115,000 vehicles) versus 1.3 million remaining Beta type Takata airbags requiring replacement (from a pool of 3.8 million vehicles).

Globally, 24 people have died and more than 260 people have been seriously injured as a result of faulty Alpha and Beta type Takata airbags.

In Australia to date, the one fatality in Sydney in July 2017 (in a Honda CR-V) and one serious injury in Darwin in April 2017 (in a Toyota RAV4) involved cars equipped with the Beta type Takata airbag.

Mitsubishi, Honda, Nissan and Mazda now say they want the registration ban to be expanded to include Beta type Takata airbags.

Toyota, Holden, Ford and the peak industry body, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, stopped short of calling for a ban but said they would support further measures to encourage customers to bring in their cars for repair.

“The focus on Alpha airbags may have made some people feel if they don’t have an Alpha airbag then there is not as great a risk,” said Mitsubishi Australia spokesman Karl Gehling.

“Given the sheer numbers of Beta airbags the risks are still very significant, especially for vehicles that are six years or older. Owners should treat all Takata airbags as a substantial risk. They should not be looking at them as one being safer than the other.

“A faulty airbag doesn’t discriminate based on your location in the car. Airbags if they rupture could injure anyone in the vehicle. If it injures the driver and they are incapacitated, it could have a potential flow-on impact.”

Alarmingly, there is a large proportion of customers who refuse to have their airbags fixed even though the replacement devices and loan cars are free of charge.

“A worrying number of owners are willing to risk driving a car with a potential deadly airbag,” said Mr Gehling.

“Some people outright refuse (to have their airbag replaced), some people will say ‘yes’ over a six or 12 month period but have no intention of getting the recall work done,” said Mr Gehling. “There are some people who ask us not to contact them anymore.”

Car makers are also trying to recover airbags from unregistered vehicles including from wrecking yards so they don’t end up back in circulation.

“In some cases we have sent up to nine letters to individual recipients. Then we go through dealer databases for the last known contact with that car,” said Mr Gehling. “We have also knocked on the doors of hundreds of houses across Australia in an attempt to get cars fixed, including offering people a free loan car and returning their car the same day.”

Mitsubishi said the proposed rego ban would not apply to vehicles whose replacement airbags are not in stock; the industry is prioritising the oldest and most volatile devices.

“However, after you’ve received a minimum of three notifications and you haven’t taken action for 12 months, continuing to attempt to make contact is not going to change that,” said Mr Gehling.

“The emphasis should swap from being notified about the recall to having justification as to why you should be allowed to continue to drive the vehicle when it poses a risk to the driver and anyone else in the vehicle, especially as the risk becomes greater as the car ages.”

Nissan spokeswoman Karla Leach said the company “would fully support a nationwide change to the vehicle registration process, where impacted vehicles must have their Takata airbag replaced before they can re-register their car”.

“The annual vehicle registration renewal is an excellent opportunity to again communicate the details of this safety recall to customers, and refusal of registration is the only way to guarantee that either the airbags are replaced or the vehicle cannot be driven on the road.”

Mazda spokeswoman Sonia Singh said: “We are currently at a 91.7 per cent completion rate. Reaching customers to repair the remaining 8.3 per cent has proven extremely difficult. As the safety of our customers is our first priority, we would support the rego renewal ban being extended to Beta airbags”.

Representatives for Honda Australia have door-knocked more than 7500 customers over the past two years in attempts to locate and replace faulty airbags. However, only one third of customers agreed to the repair, another third refused the replacement airbag, and the remaining third could not be located.

Honda says it door-knocked some customers up to four times and visited their last known address at different times on different days, including outside of business hours.

A statement from Honda said it would “welcome additional state-based registration sanctions. We have been calling on state governments to take action for some time now. The lack of action from the NSW and Victorian governments is particularly disappointing given the majority of unrepaired airbags reside in these two states”.

Market leader Toyota stopped short of calling for a ban on registration renewals but said: “Whether Alpha or Beta, our objective is to repair all faulty Takata airbags in Toyota and Lexus vehicles and we support any initiative that encourages motorists to get faulty Takata airbags replaced”.

Holden spokesman Daniel Cotterill said the company is “working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure that the Takata recall process runs as smoothly and quickly as possible. Holden is open to other measures to help ensure a response from owners of vehicles subject to an active recall”.

Ford Australia spokesman Martin Gunsberg said: “If we aren’t able to update all affected vehicles by the end of the mandatory recall, moving to a registration restriction could help to ensure as many vehicles as possible are repaired”.

Lenore Fletcher, the spokeswoman for the peak industry body, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, said: “The intervention by some states to limit registration renewals has been a significant factor in getting certain cars fixed. There has been a spike in responses since the introduction of the registration renewal ban. Further down the track it may be a great assistance to the industry to expand the ban to include cars equipped with the so-called Beta airbags.”

Authorities in NSW and Victoria still refuse to issue a registration renewal ban on vehicles equipped with unrectified Alpha type airbags let alone consider a ban on Beta type Takata airbags even though both jurisdictions have highest number of potentially deadly airbags.

The most recent figures as this article was published show NSW has 395,800 Beta airbags and 4000 Alpha airbags yet to be replaced; Victoria has 372,000 Beta airbags and 3800 Alpha airbags still awaiting replacement.

Between them, NSW and Victoria account for more than half the remaining 1.3 million airbags yet to be replaced nationally.

A statement from VicRoads’ Director, Road User and Vehicle Access, Roger Chao, said: “Driver safety is paramount, and we take issues of vehicle safety very seriously. We continue to work closely with the ACCC and other States and Territories to assist manufacturers in contacting owners of affected vehicles, and are considering all options to ensure vehicles are safe on our roads.”

NSW Roads and Maritime Services said it is “considering options to help owners of vehicles with the highest risk Alpha Takata airbags comply with the recall,” and that the most up-to-date owner details of affected vehicles are being provided to manufacturers.

However, the industry says the “stand back and wait approach” by NSW and Victoria could have deadly consequences.

“The car industry is going above and beyond to locate vehicles but at some point we need help from government authorities to compel people to take action,” said a senior car company executive who asked to remain anonymous.

“No-one wants to see another death or serious injury as a result of these airbags. Governments who so far are refusing to issue rego renewal bans and yet say they care about road safety could fix this problem with the stroke of a pen and help us get these cars fixed as soon as possible.”


Takata airbags: the tally for the major brands (at time of publication)

Toyota/Lexus:

  • Total vehicles affected: 582,764
  • Airbag inflators affected: 669,892
  • Vehicles fixed so far: 431,820
  • Inflators replaced so far: 518,948
  • Inflators yet to be replaced: 150,944 (including 84,793 inflators scheduled for future recall)
  • Vehicles yet to be fixed: 150,944
  • Alpha airbags: 26,988
  • Alpha airbags replaced so far: 22,779
  • Alpha airbags yet to be replaced: 4192

Honda:

  • Total vehicles affected: 436,965
  • Airbag inflators affected: 715,085 (including 46,531 inflators scheduled for future recall)
  • Vehicles fixed so far: 408,870
  • Inflators replaced so far: 631,610
  • Inflators yet to be replaced: 83,745 (including 46,531 inflators scheduled for future recall)
  • Vehicles yet to be fixed: 74,626 (including 46,531 vehicles scheduled for future recall)
  • Alpha airbags: 48,513
  • Alpha airbags replaced so far: 44,127
  • Alpha airbags yet to be replaced: 4386

Nissan:

  • Total vehicles affected: 295,936
  • Airbag inflators affected: 379,003
  • Vehicles fixed so far: 139,736
  • Inflators replaced so far: 207,459
  • Inflators yet to be replaced: 171,544
  • Vehicles yet to be fixed: 156,200
  • Alpha airbags: 31,131
  • Alpha airbags replaced so far: 23,518
  • Alpha airbags yet to be replaced: 7613

Mazda:

  • Total vehicles affected: 292,940
  • Total airbag inflators affected: 415,228
  • Vehicles fixed so far: 268,538
  • Inflators replaced so far: 376,253
  • Inflators yet to be replaced: 38,975
  • Vehicles yet to be fixed: 24,402
  • Alpha airbags: 5117
  • Alpha airbags replaced so far: 4559
  • Alpha airbags yet to be replaced: 558

Mitsubishi:

  • Total vehicles affected: TBC
  • Total airbag inflators affected: 235,151
  • Vehicles fixed so far: TBC
  • Inflators replaced so far: 207,598
  • Inflators yet to be replaced: 27,553
  • Vehicles yet to be fixed: TBC
  • Alpha airbags: 0
  • Alpha airbags replaced so far: 0
  • Alpha airbags yet to be replaced: 0

Subaru:

  • Total vehicles affected: 282,971
  • Total airbag inflators affected: 282,971
  • Vehicles fixed so far: 259,544
  • Inflators replaced so far:259,544
  • Inflators yet to be replaced: 23,427
  • Vehicles yet to be fixed: 23,427
  • Alpha airbags: 0
  • Alpha airbags replaced so far: 0
  • Alpha airbags yet to be replaced: 0

Holden:

  • Total vehicles affected: 330,990
  • Airbag inflators affected: 330,990
  • Vehicles fixed so far: 92,426
  • Inflators replaced so far: 92,426
  • Inflators yet to be replaced: 238,564 (including 185,408 vehicles yet to be recalled)
  • Vehicles yet to be fixed: 238,564 (including 185,408 vehicles yet to be recalled)
  • Alpha airbags: 0
  • Alpha airbags replaced so far: 0
  • Alpha airbags yet to be replaced: 0

Ford:

  • Total vehicles affected: 107,401
  • Airbag inflators affected: TBC
  • Vehicles fixed so far: 79,677
  • Inflators replaced so far: TBC
  • Inflators yet to be replaced: TBC
  • Vehicles yet to be fixed: 27,724
  • Alpha airbags: 0
  • Alpha airbags replaced so far: 0
  • Alpha airbags yet to be replaced: 0

Other affected brands:

Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Citroen, Ferrari, Jaguar, Jeep, Land Rover, Lexus, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, Skoda, Subaru, Tesla, Volkswagen


Click here for the full list: https://www.productsafety.gov.au/recalls/compulsory-takata-airbag-recall/takata-airbag-recalls-list

Check if your car is affected: https://www.ismyairbagsafe.com.au

See how the recalls are tracking: https://www.productsafety.gov.au/recalls/compulsory-takata-airbag-recall/takata-recalls-progress-data

This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling