This is one product recall that’s not over-inflated

This is one product recall that’s not over-inflated


OUR friends at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) are looking out for us again. You might remember they released a report late last year that looked deeply into the issues around getting our cars serviced by non-manufacturer service people; now they’re onto the car makers to get them to sort out the escalating nonsense about airbags.

One would have thought this is a fairly straightforward situation. If you’ve fitted, even unwittingly, a device to your car that could in some circumstances not actually make the occupants safer, as intended, but grievously wound or even kill them, then you’d move quick-smart to make it right. 

‘If you find out your car has such an airbag fitted you should stop driving immediately – hopefully you’re not sitting at 110km/h on a freeway when you get the news.’

Like if you’d installed what amounts to a hand grenade right in the middle of the steering wheel, for example. An airbag deployment is a sufficiently shocking and violent event already, without adding shrapnel into the mix.

About four million cars in Australia alone are being recalled to have airbags made by the Japanese company Takata replaced. The list grew significantly last month when the ACCC added a million new cars to the list, and there may be more to come.

Not all of the replacements are as urgent as others and it’s only a relatively small number of cars that have the very worst airbags fitted.

But it’s such a big product recall that there aren’t enough replacements to go around. So some manufacturers have replaced old faulty airbags with new faulty airbags, as a stop-gap measure, and will replace the new faulty airbags with new non-faulty airbags a bit later.

This isn’t as dumb as it sounds – the problems the airbags are being recalled for typically do not manifest themselves for about six years, or sometimes longer. So a new faulty airbag fitted today will be good for half a decade, giving manufacturers some breathing space to co-ordinate the recalls more efficiently.

But there’s a small number of drivers for whom this is a massive headache (hopefully not literally) right now – those with so-called “alpha” airbags. You can read the full list of those here. There’s an estimated 25,000 alpha airbags in cars still out there on the roads, so make sure yours isn’t one of them, ladies.

The ACCC recommends that if you find out your car has such an airbag fitted you should stop driving immediately – hopefully you’re not sitting at 110km/h on a freeway when you get the news.

While the alpha airbags affect only certain models of mostly Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda and BMWs, once you look at the full recall scenario it starts to get a bit complicated. There’s an “active recall” list, of about 2.8 million cars; and a “future recall” list. 

If you’re on the “active recall” list, the ACCC says you should check now to see if your vehicle has been recalled. 

“These recalls affect a large number of car makes and models and a small number of motorcycles,” it says.

If you’re on the “future recall” list, you’re not subject to an active recall but the ACCC says you will be in future. It advises that you make sure the manufacturer has your current contact details, so they can let you know. The ACCC also recommends subscribing to its update service.

One of my cars has been in for an airbag replacement, and it was no real hassle – it was done to coincide with a scheduled service, so the service took slightly longer than it otherwise would have but cost me no more. A couple are on the future recall list, so I’ll stay posted. A number don’t appear on any lists – and a few won’t appear, because they’re too old to even have airbags.

Ferrari, McLaren, Jaguar, Lexus, Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Tesla…all these carmakers, and others, are on one recall list or another, and if your car is on any list but you haven’t heard from your dealer or manufacturer, it’s time to make a phone call. 

Don’t call while driving, though. The last thing you want to do is test your airbag out before it’s been replaced.