Kiwi motorists facing airbag ‘time bomb’
Tens of thousands of New Zealand vehicle owners are putting themselves at risk by not bothering to fix faulty airbags in their cars.
More than 140,000 Kiwi vehicle owners have been advised by letter that replacement inflators have arrived in New Zealand as part of a worldwide recall involving faulty and potentially lethal Takata airbags.
But fewer than 50 per cent of the owners have bothered taking in their vehicles for the fix – despite the fact some of them have received the same letter up to five times urging them to get the job done.
This is so frustrating officials so much that they have established a joint Motor Industry Association and New Zealand Transport Agency working group that will meet next week to work out ways to force the motorists to make their vehicle available for the fix. A likely outcome may be an immediate change to the rules so that affected vehicles can be ‘‘ban flagged’’ when checked for their next warrant of fitness – this would give owners 20 days to get their airbags fixed, or fail their WoF, which would ban them from being driven.
‘‘This Takata airbag issue is a time bomb waiting to blow,’’ said MIA chief executive officer David Crawford.
‘‘The longer time goes by, at some point in the future one of these faulty airbags is going to go off poorly.
‘‘We are progressively getting the replacement inflators. But how many times should the car companies write to the vehicle owners – and then have to wait? We argue that once all reasonable steps have been taken to get the affected cars in for the fix, we should then be able to issue the flag at WoF time.’’ Millions of airbags supplied by Japanese automotive parts manufacturer Takata Corporation have inflators containing ammonium nitrate, a chemical which causes a small explosion that inflates the airbags. Some of the airbags can inflate with too much force, blowing apart the inflators and sending shards of metal flying at drivers and passengers.
This has caused dozens of injuries and at least 19 deaths worldwide – including one in Sydney in July.
As a result, in the largest automotive recall in history close to 100 million vehicles worldwide are having their inflators replaced, including at least 300,000 in New Zealand. Almost all the car companies are affected, including Toyota, Mazda, Honda, Nissan, BMW and Subaru, and they are all now recalling vehicles to get replacement inflators installed.
The sheer size of the worldwide recall, and the fact it involves thousands of different vehicle makes and models, means the supply of replacement parts is a slow process.
In New Zealand, it is estimated it will be at least another year before sufficient supplies arrive for the recall to be completed – if the vehicle owners can be bothered taking their cars in to be fixed.
‘‘That’s the big frustration. The industry has sent out 140,000 letters – which obviously indicates that many replacement parts have arrived – but we’re not getting the response from the vehicle owners, and that means the recall close-out rate is running at less than 50 per cent,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘We’ve reached the stage where we don’t want to give the vehicle owners a choice any more. Either they have the fix done, or a hold is put on the vehicle at WoF time.’’