Car makers Honda, Toyota, Lexus, BMW and Mazda have all been named and shamed by CHOICE in the 2017 Shonky awards.
The consumer watchdog has slammed the manufacturers for “repeatedly failing to disclose a safety device that can actually kill you”.
They’re referring of course to the recall of Takata airbags, the largest recall in Australian automotive history.
The recall affects 100 million vehicles worldwide and has resulted in more than 180 injuries and at least 18 deaths so far.
The 2.35 million cars affected in Australia span 70 models that are sold by 14 manufacturers.
“There isn’t a part of this recall that doesn’t leave us concerned, but the dubious honour of a Shonky specifically goes to five car makers because they failed to be upfront with their customers about the dangers,” CHOICE said.
“Honda, Toyota, Lexus, BMW and Mazda didn’t tell drivers they’d been provided with a temporary fix, and failed to let a number of them know they were driving around with lethal ‘alpha’ inflators.
“Where other car makers, such as Subaru and Nissan, did either one or the other – these five car makers are guilty of both.”
CHOICE says a parts shortage has led to car makers replacing defective airbags with the exact same models that will also need to be recalled down the track.
But it says the car makers – including Honda, Toyota, Lexus, BMW and Mazda, as well as Subaru – failed to tell customers they’d received an airbag replacement that comes with the same design faults.
“Withholding this information could see upcoming recall notices ignored as owners think they’ve already taken their car in for a ‘fix’.”
CHOICE goes on to say it is unclear how many cars have been serviced with like-for-like replacements for defective Takata airbags.
About 850,000 vehicles have had their airbags repaired.
“Our investigation suggests roughly 100,000 have received like-for-like replacements, and that some car makers are still swapping defective airbags with identical models.
“But perhaps the most concerning part of this recall has to do with ‘alpha’ inflators. These are early versions of Takata airbags that sustained numerous defects when manufactured.
“Takata airbags can rupture in approximately one in 400 cases, but alpha versions of the airbag can misfire in up to one in two deployments.”
When CHOICE revealed in August that alpha inflators were still fitted to some 50,000 cars in Australia, the car makers responsible made no discernible efforts to inform affected drivers of the increased danger.
It says the Australian arms of Honda, Toyota, Lexus, BMW and Mazda, as well as Nissan, hadn’t mentioned alpha inflators (or PSDI inflators, as they are technically known) on company websites, dedicated recall sites or news sites.
The recall notices posted to Product Safety Australia did not detail the higher risks of an airbag rupture; some manufacturers didn’t even recognise the potential risk of death.
Nor did these companies issue media releases in an effort to reach the remaining owners.
“We can think of a number of reasons why car makers chose not to let customers know,” CHOICE said.
“Airbags firing shrapnel at drivers can’t be good for the reputation. Then there’s the added cost of offering a loan car or a tow, just as Honda is doing in the US. But the problem with this school of thinking is that none of these reasons put the safety of customers first.”