No Quick Fix for 53 Million Defective Airbags

Dealers and motorists forced to wait for up to 12 months for replacement parts

It’s the mother of all recalls – more than 53 million airbags worldwide and 600,000 in Australia.

The number of cars caught up in the world’s biggest recall continues to balloon and the sheer size of the recall means that some Dealers are powerless to fix customers’ cars.

The Takata airbag recall has dominated headlines around the world and highlighted the downside of an increasingly globalised car industry. When a leading global supplier’s components fail, the fallout is spectacular.

Customers are left driving cars that are potential timebombs and some manufacturers won’t have the necessary parts to fix the problem until next year.

‘Replacement parts are presently being prepared and, due to the number of vehicles impacted globally, it is anticipated that sufficient parts will be available to commence recall repairs by early next year,’ said Toyota’s media statement.

Honda became the latest brand to announce a widening of the recall, adding 18,210 Accords made from 2001 to 2006 and 3030 MDX family SUVs made from 2003 to 2006 to the list of more than 20 popular makes and models.

Meanwhile Chrysler also increased the number of 300C sedans to be recalled locally, from 4500 to 5500.

The temptation is to provide the customer with a quick fix, but the executive director of the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce, Geoff Gwilym, warns against any ‘attempt to disable, deactivate or remove airbags’.

‘Airbags are not a discretionary item of equipment and cannot be simply turned off and on again. The mechanism is technically sophisticated and forms an important part of the vehicle’s engineering.’

If the airbags in a car were deliberately tampered with, the car would be deemed unroadworthy, he said, and any mechanic who carried out the work could be liable.

‘In addition to the legal implications, a professional vehicle technician will not deactivate airbags as they are aware of the risks to the vehicle occupants,’ said Mr Gwilym.

Apart from the customer service and safety ramifications of the Takata recall, there could be a flow-on effect on used car yards, as buyers are being warned to check if a car is subject to the recall notice before buying.

Dealers could be forced to park some used cars on their lots until parts become available.

The majority of motorists and affected Dealers have no option other than to wait up to a year before the airbags are replaced – because the supplier at the centre of the crisis can’t build them fast enough.

Takata, which supplies 20 per cent of the car industry’s airbags, admitted in a recent US hearing this week the problem was more widespread than it had claimed for years.

The faulty airbags, which can explode if deployed in a crash, have so far claimed six lives overseas. No deaths or injuries have been reported in Australia.

Legal experts say motorists have little choice but to endure the painstaking wait for the replacements, and they can’t sue the car companies unless someone dies or is seriously injured from the defective airbags.

The crisis has left drivers with the unenviable task of taking the risk and driving their cars or — if they can afford it — park their recalled car until new airbags become available.

So far, authorities in the US and Australia have not ordered the recalled cars off the road.

The odds of being killed are difficult to calculate. Not all of the airbags in the more than 53 million cars are defective.

But internal testing by Takata over the past six months found 265 of 30,000 recalled airbags had ruptured — or less than 1 per cent.

That may sound like good odds, until you realise it still leaves 530,000 cars around the world — and at least 6000 in Australia — with airbags that could potentially kill.

The car brands affected include Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors.

Adding to the recall drama, the car industry will struggle to contact owners of the affected vehicles because most cars are no longer with the original buyers, given that they are typically made between 2003 and 2007 and now on the used-car market.

At first it was thought only airbags fitted to vehicles with long term exposure to humidity were most at risk.

But this week Takata doubled the number of airbags recalled after determining humidity may not have been the only contributing factor.

In the faulty airbags, the propellant in the inflator deteriorates over time, making it more volatile and prone to explode with too much force when deployed in a crash, blasting occupants with shrapnel.

Toyota believes the problem is caused by moisture intrusion into the airbag inflators.

‘If this happens, this could potentially make the inflator assembly prone to rupture during an accident, increasing the risk of injury to the occupant.’

Josh Simons, a partner from Thomson Geer, a competition and consumer law firm, says there may be little action motorists can take now that the car companies involved have issued recalls.

‘Consumers now have an obligation to take reasonable steps to protect themselves, but car companies are not off the hook,’ said Mr Simons.

‘They must fix the product, and they may still be liable if a death or serious injury does occur as a result of a faulty airbag.’

Even then, however, car makers may not be entirely to blame should the worst happen.

Given that the Federal Government must be notified of all recalls, Mr Simons says ‘it is up to the relevant minister to decide if the recall action taken is reasonable’.

As the car industry is grappling with the biggest recall it has ever faced, some customers are demanding replacement vehicles until the new airbags arrive.

‘If the car has a major defect, you’re entitled to a replacement or a refund — at the customer’s choice — depending how old the cars is,’ said Mr Simons.
‘If a customer wants a replacement or a refund it has to be a reasonable period of time from the date the car was purchased new.’

However, the definition of a ‘reasonable period of time’ is open to interpretation and depends on the circumstances of the particular goods involved, says Simons.

‘If you bought a used car from a business, potentially you have rights (to a replacement or refund) against the business you bought the car from,’ said Mr Simons.
‘If you bought a used car privately, you have no recourse against the person who sold you the car, but you may still have rights against the car manufacturer.’


News Limited
CarsGuide Team

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