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August  2018

How does the Alpha type Takata airbags compulsory recall relate to the wider Takata recall and to the issue of disconnected airbags in some vehicles?

The compulsory recall for Alpha type Takata airbags has been ordered by the Minister of Commerce & Consumer Affairs, Hon Kris Faafoi. For more information about this recall, see the government's recalls website(external link).

The Alpha airbags are a subset of the wider Takata recall – as the name suggests, they were an early type of airbag made by the company. Given the higher risk with Alpha airbags, they are subject to compulsory recall with specific requirements, but all vehicles subject to the global Takata airbags recall are still subject to a voluntary recall by suppliers.

Public concerns about the time taken to complete the wider Takata recall in Japan led, in about 2015, to manufacturers offering customers there the option to disable passenger-side airbags. There are likely to be Japanese imports in New Zealand with disabled passenger-side airbags, which is a safety concern and means these vehicles do not meet New Zealand requirements. Information on this issue and what to do is available here.

Why is the wider Takata airbags recall taking so long? How many vehicles remain affected?

While any delay with a safety recall is disappointing, the sheer scale of this worldwide recall – which could affect up to 100 million vehicles worldwide – and the limited supply of replacement airbags (meaning manufacturers have not been able to produce enough to keep up with demand) means it is logistically challenging and cannot be carried out quickly. Many countries are facing the same issue.

We are working with the industry and individual manufacturers to ensure as much as possible is being done to complete recalls. Vehicle manufacturers are completing recalls as stocks become available.

The total number of vehicles in New Zealand affected by the wider recall is reported at 586,963 (500,949 non-Alpha and 86,014 Alpha). As at mid-August 2018, 45 percent of all Alpha airbags and 42 percent of non-Alphas have been replaced.

Has the Transport Agency’s advice about the wider recall changed?

No - we recommend vehicle owners:

  1. Act promptly on all recall notices they receive from manufacturers.
  2. Find out if their car is affected – the best way to do this is by contacting an official dealer for the make of the vehicle (there’s also information on the government’s recalls website(external link) and on the Rightcar website(external link))
  3. Get passenger side airbags reconnected if they have been disconnected.

Cars with non-Alpha Takata airbags are still considered safe to drive until suppliers are able to complete the voluntary recall for them in future, as only a small percentage of the potentially faulty airbags are likely to malfunction in a crash.

Why are some owners who have already had their vehicles’ airbags replaced being contacted a second time about replacement?

Vehicle owners should act promptly on all recall notices. This includes where Takata airbags have been replaced previously – in some instances the initial recall was completed by replacing older Takata airbags with newer ones. The newer Takata airbags were at the time the only replacements available. They are less prone to failure, as the age of airbags is a contributing factor, but are still potentially defective, so it’s necessary to replace them again. While this may be inconvenient for vehicle owners, it’s important to remove the risk.

It’s also important to note that recall notices may only refer to one airbag – either the driver’s side or front passenger’s side – for recall and replacement. Vehicle owners may therefore receive at a later date a second recall notice about the other airbag. Again, it’s important that vehicle owners act on all recall notices. The reason airbags may be recalled separately is that driver’s side and passenger’s side airbags are completely different components and require different installation – and replacements may at that time only be available for one type.

How do I find out more about the compulsory recall for Alpha type Takata airbags?

Information about the compulsory recall is available on the government’s recalls website(external link). You can also search for affected vehicles on the Rightcar website(external link). Questions about the compulsory recall should be directed to the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment.

Following is some further general information about Alpha type airbags.

What’s the risk with Alpha type airbags?

Alpha type Takata airbags are older and have a design fault that means they pose the most severe risk of misdeployment. Alpha airbag inflators may fail in a crash and explode, sending fragments at vehicle occupants. Failure of the airbag may cause serious injury or death.

The risk of Takata airbag failure is 1 in 400, while the risk for Alpha type airbags has been reported as being as high as 1 in 2 in some situations overseas (in worst case scenarios, generally involving older vehicles with long-term exposure to hot and humid environments such as in the tropics - while New Zealand is not in these highest-risk areas, Alpha airbags still have an increased likelihood of failure).  

How can I find out if my car is fitted with Alpha type Takata airbags?

Owners of affected vehicles will be contacted by the vehicle supplier to arrange replacement.

If you want to find out whether your vehicle is affected in the meantime, search on the Rightcar website(external link).

How many cars are fitted with Alpha type Takata airbags in New Zealand?

Total Alpha airbags affected by the compulsory recall are now reported at 86,014, with 38,238 completed (airbags replaced).

There are around 3.3 million vehicles (registered passenger cars/vans) in New Zealand, so the number of affected vehicles remaining represents a small percentage of cars (around 2.6 percent of all NZ cars). However, given the increased risk of failure of Alpha airbags, it’s important those vehicle owners act promptly on the recall.

Why isn’t a Warrant of Fitness (WoF) affected if a vehicle is subject to this recall, especially if it has an Alpha airbag?

WoF inspectors are not required to check for recalls. WoFs ensure vehicles meet required safety standards – as part of determining that a recall is the most appropriate response to a particular issue, the risk to safety from these airbags has already been assessed as not sufficiently great that a vehicle should be unable to be driven until the issue is fixed.

We are investigating whether the WoF system could be used to provide additional education to vehicle owners about this recall.

If I think/know my vehicle is fitted with an Alpha airbag, is my car safe to drive?

Recalls are issued where there are potential safety ramifications but no immediate risk to safety. Affected vehicles have not been required to be taken off the road at this time, after consideration of a range of factors. However, all Alpha airbags should be replaced as a matter of urgency.

Are there enough airbags available to complete the recall for Alpha airbags?

The advice we’ve received from the industry is that there are currently sufficient stocks of airbags in New Zealand to replace all Alpha airbags.

Sourcing airbags in order to meet demand for the wider recall will continue to be an ongoing issue, so vehicle manufacturers have systems in place to work through the recalls as stocks become available.

Can affected vehicles be imported into New Zealand?

No – vehicles subject to this recall that have not been remedied (that is, had their Alpha airbags replaced in the country of origin and proof of this has been accepted) are prohibited imports and are subject to seizure by the New Zealand Customs Service. Affected vehicles also cannot be registered or sold in trade in New Zealand.

Vehicle importers need to be aware of the following:

  1. The compulsory recall covers all imported vehicles – it doesn’t just affect Japanese used imports.
  2. Where importers are looking to bring vehicles offered at auction in Japan into New Zealand, the Rightcar website contains clear guidance and tools for finding out about specific vehicles(external link)
  3. We suggest you engage an industry organisation to assist you, as the process can be complex.
  4. You can also refer to the following technical bulletins in the Transport Agency’s vehicle inspection portal (VIRM): border inspection processes(external link) and entry certification processes(external link). Specific questions should then be directed to the manufacturer’s representative for the make of the vehicle you want to import.