The car industry is in a race against time to replace 107,000 potentially deadly Takata airbags in the remaining 90,000 cars on Australian roads with a “ticking time bomb”.
Motorists who refuse to take their car in to get fixed face possible registration cancellation – and car companies are up for massive fines if they can't account for all vehicles.
More than half of the outstanding Takata airbags are in cars in just three of Australia’s largest capital cities: Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, with those metropolitan areas accounting for 46,000 vehicles yet to be repaired. The remaining airbags are spread across the rest of Australia.
They are descried by safety experts as "ticking time bombs" because the defective devices can explode with too much force and spray shrapnel – rather than save lives – when deployed in a crash. Furthermore, they deteriorate and become more volatile over time.
Australia’s top consumer watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), has issued a deadline of 31 December 2020 to have all airbags rectified or accounted for – and most state authorities have agreed to ban the registration renewal or ownership transfer of cars that have not had airbags replaced.
Some car companies have hired private investigators and chartered planes to reach remote regions – including small islands in the Torres Strait – because it is too costly or logistically difficult for people to bring vehicles to service centres in regional areas or ship them to the mainland.
Recall warning letters have been issued repeatedly, in up to 18 different languages, pleading with owners to take the matter seriously and pointing out the fitment of the replacement airbag and any associated recall work is free of charge.
Car companies that don’t account for every faulty airbag in Australia face fines, however the ACCC is yet to outline exactly what those penalties will cost.
To date, faulty Takata airbags have been directly attributed to at least two road deaths in Australia and numerous serious injuries.
The defective devices have been linked to at least one other road death in Australia, and are suspected of causing a number of serious injuries before the telltale signs were known. Investigations are ongoing to uncover how many other deaths and injuries may have been the result of a faulty Takata airbag.
Cruelly, the defective airbags can spray shrapnel throughout the entire cabin of the car, impacting unwitting passengers – as well as drivers who may have taken a punt on not getting the recall work completed.
In all, 18 car brands are affected locally – including Ferrari, Tesla, McLaren, Mercedes, Holden, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Subaru and others – and one motorcycle maker, Honda.
More than 100 million cars have been affected by the Takata recall globally – including more than 4 million airbags in almost three million cars in Australia.
It is by far the world’s biggest ever automotive safety recall, attributed to more than 30 deaths and 300 serious injuries globally.
However, authorities and car companies have become increasingly frustrated by a minority of motorists who refuse to have their cars repaired, despite repeated warnings and threats of registration cancellation.
The latest data from the ACCC shows more than 3.7 million airbags have already been replaced in 2.71 million cars in Australia, leaving approximately 107,000 airbags in 90,898 cars still unaccounted for.
In media statement, ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said: “We are concerned about the disproportionate number of outstanding airbags in some communities, including those from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, where there has been less take up of the free replacement service.”
Ms Rickard added: “Manufacturers have found it difficult to reach owners in these communities who may not have been as responsive to the warnings and notices sent to them, calls, text messages or in the case of critical vehicles, in person visits, urging them to get their airbags replaced.”
The ACCC and the car industry have been working to raise awareness, however the message is still not getting through to some vehicle owners.
“It is important that we all help spread the word. Talk to your friends and family about the recall and offer to help them check their car,” Ms Rickard said in a media statement.
“It takes less than a minute, and together by getting the airbag replaced, we can help reduce the number of dangerous airbags in cars on our roads. Anyone whose car is subject to the recall should not delay and contact a dealership to book their car in urgently for a free airbag replacement,” said Ms Rickard.
While there is still a worrying number of vehicles outstanding, the chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, Tony Weber, said: “It is great news that Australian brands have managed to complete so many replacements of these deadly Takata airbags. (The affected car companies) have worked tirelessly and committed significant resources to locate and rectify all vehicles involved.”
However, Mr Weber conceded, “we know that we’re not done yet. Brands will continue to seek out owners of affected vehicles until the entire project is finished and we have accounted for every vehicle.”
Is your car affected? Go to www.ismyairbagsafe.com.au or text TAKATA to 0487 AIRBAG (247 224). Unregistered vehicles can also be checked by contacting the relevant car brand directly via the customer assistance phone numbers listed on their websites.
The car industry is also urging passengers to check the safety of a car they’re about to ride in.
The FCAI says any passenger can also check the status of a friend’s car to see if it’s safe, by entering the vehicle’s registration number and the state or territory where it’s registered on the Takata website “and you can find out straight away if the vehicle has not had its Takata airbag replaced”.
MORE: All Takata news coverage
Takata airbag by postcode: the biggest cities nationally
Vehicles to be Repaired (capital cities)
|Vehicles to be Repaired (by state)|
|Greater Melbourne||525,215||21,145||VIC: 26,262|
|Greater Sydney||508,460||17,550||NSW: 26,197|
|Canberra including Queanbeyan*||55,718||1,827||ACT: 1,704|
*Queanbeyan postcode figures are not included in ACT totals, only for Canberra postcode data.
^Manufacturers are working to determine where these vehicles are and if they are still on the road.
Sydney suburbs with the highest number of potentially deadly Takata airbags
|Vehicles repaired||Vehicles to be repaired|
|Newcastle - Maitland||54,824||1,509|
|New South Wales||26,197|
Suburbs including Lidcombe, Campsie, Lakemba, Chester Hill, Yagoona, Hurstville, Strathfield and Homebush West are also of concern, says the ACCC.
Melbourne suburbs with the highest number of potentially deadly Takata airbags
|Vehicles repaired||Vehicles to be repaired|
|Narre Warren South||5,996||244|
|Melbourne (postcode 3000 and 3004)||4,846||243|
Suburbs including Broadmeadows, Keysborough, Thomastown, Meadow Heights and Campbellfield are also of concern, says the ACCC.
Brisbane suburbs with the highest number of potentially deadly Takata airbags
|Vehicles Repaired||Vehicles to be Repaired|
|Gold Coast - Tweed Heads||74,369||2,554|
The Brisbane and Gold Coast suburbs of Inala, Eight Mile Plains, Calamvale, Woodridge, Coopers Plains as well as Robina are also of concern, says the ACCC.