The COVID-19 lockdown measures could have the unintended consequence of slowing the replacement of potentially deadly airbags. 
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The coronavirus outbreak could put the brakes on the fitment of life-saving replacement parts for potentially deadly Takata airbags following job losses in car dealership workshops across Australia.

To keep the doors open amid a sharp downturn in business, an increasing number of car servicing staff and mechanics have lost their jobs or been forced to take leave, making it harder for consumers to book in vehicles for critical repairs.

According to the latest data, from a tally of almost 4 million vehicles nationally, there are still 300,000 equipped with Takata airbags in need of urgent replacement – and 10,000 of 78,000 cars whose airbags are likely so unstable that authorities have ordered them off the road, to be bought back by the car companies.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) had given the car industry until the end of December 2020 to have all potentially deadly airbags replaced or accounted for, but it now seems that deadline won’t be met.

“There is no doubt that the Takata airbag recall will be affected by the delays caused by the coronavirus,” said James Voortman, the CEO of the Australian Automotive Dealers Association (AADA), which represents about 50,000 employees across 3500 dealerships nationally.

“We would expect the ACCC would take that into account when considering whether an extension to the current Takata airbag replacement deadline is appropriate,” said Mr Voortman.

The AADA says car dealers across Australia are allowed to stay open as an essential service, particularly the parts and service departments, though some outlets have scaled back their hours.

“If dealers have the replacement airbag parts in stock, they can still do this work. For many dealerships it is business as usual, anyone who needs to bring in a vehicle requiring an airbag replacement should do so,” said Mr Voortman.

Car dealers contacted by CarAdvice were divided on whether showrooms should stay open.

One suggestion gaining momentum is to keep parts departments, workshops and pre-delivery areas open – and switch to contactless sales enquiries over the phone or via email. New cars in stock could be pre-delivered via the workshop.

“We’ve heard positive reports that the federal government is considering wage subsidies for all businesses, and we are hoping this can assist dealers to retain their staff,” said Mr Voortman.