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Last updated: 25 May 2020

Is the compulsory Alpha airbags recall still running? Can vehicle owners still get airbags replaced at no cost?

While the completion date for the Takata Alpha airbags compulsory recall has passed (on 31 December 2019), the recall is still in effect and the Transport Agency has taken further action to ensure Alpha airbags are removed from vehicles.

Affected vehicles will now fail warrants of fitness (WoFs). Because all other options have been exhausted, we needed to look at other ways to address this serious safety issue.

If your vehicle is affected, you can still get the airbags replaced at no cost by the vehicle manufacturer. We urge you to contact the manufacturer now, before Alpha airbags cause you to fail a WoF.

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 was ordered by the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Hon Kris Faafoi. For more information about this recall, see the Government’s recalls website.

Recalls.govt.nz – Takata airbag information(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 Takata airbag recalls and what to do

Why is the wider (non-Alpha) 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 was initially reported at 575,981 (82,984 Alpha and 492,997 non-Alpha). As at December 2019, around 88 percent of those Alpha airbags and over 64 percent of non-Alphas had 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 Vehicle Recall Safety 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.

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 is much higher, especially in hot and humid environments. While New Zealand isn’t in the highest risk area in terms of climate, the increased likelihood of failure means Alphas are being addressed more urgently.

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

You can search on the Vehicle Recall Safety website(external link)

This contains a list of vehicle makes affected by the compulsory recall and then allows you to search for specific vehicles by registration plate or VIN.

Who will pay for replacement of airbags under compulsory recall?

There will be no cost to vehicle owners for parts or labour when replacing airbags under compulsory recall. Manufacturers have agreed to absorb these costs, even if not legally obliged to, as part of their commitment to keeping New Zealanders safe.

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

Total Alpha airbags affected by the compulsory recall are reported at around 81,000, with over 71,000 completed (airbags replaced) as at December 2019.

Not all vehicle makes have vehicles under compulsory recall – for a list of makes see the Vehicle Recall Safety website(external link)

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 0.3 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 are affected vehicles failing WoFs?

This is a significant safety issue and we need to look at new approaches to ensure the remaining vehicles have their airbags replaced, now the recall period has finished.

The recall period ran for more than 18 months. Over that time there was widespread media coverage and advertising, and multiple attempts at contact with owners were made by manufacturers and then the Transport Agency.

Despite this, we know a small proportion of the originally affected vehicles did not have their Alpha airbags replaced. Because age is a contributing factor to the risk posed by Alpha airbags we can’t afford to allow these vehicles to stay on the road indefinitely. The recall was the most appropriate response at the time, and the most appropriate response for the remaining vehicles is to now stop them getting a WoF.

It’s important to note that WoFs will only be affected by Alpha type Takata airbags (ie vehicles under compulsory recall) – there are currently no plans for WoFs to be affected by non-Alpha Takata airbags (ie vehicles under the wider voluntary recall).

Why weren’t warrants of fitness (WoFs) affected before now?

WoFs ensure vehicles meet required safety standards and inspectors are not required to check for recalls (although we did ask WoF inspectors to provide an extra service to their customers by checking for this recall). Recalls are issued where there are potential safety ramifications but no immediate risk to safety. In 2018, a range of factors were considered and a recall was determined to be the most appropriate response to the Alpha airbags issue – rather than taking over 80,000 vehicles off the road or making this issue a WoF fail item.

Now the recall period has finished, it was timely to take another look at the most appropriate response.

Won’t failing a WoF catch out vehicle owners who haven’t heard about the recall?

Yes – it’s likely some people, despite considerable efforts by the government and manufacturers, will be unaware their cars are affected and will be surprised when they can’t get a WoF.

We’ve done as much as we can to inform these people and we’re only taking action to block WoFs because we’ve exhausted all our other options for getting vehicle owners to ensure their vehicles have had these potentially dangerous airbags removed.

We’re aware that failing a WoF (and not being able to legally drive until the airbags have been replaced by the vehicle manufacturer, who will determine a suitable time at one of their workshops, and the vehicle has been rechecked and passed by the WoF site) will inconvenience these owners. However, that inconvenience is outweighed by the safety risk posed by Alpha airbags.

Won’t some people who’ve recently bought a second-hand vehicle be caught out by this at WoF time?

Yes, some people might be surprised when their vehicle fails a WoF due to Takata Alpha airbags – however we encourage anyone looking to buy a used car to do some research by checking websites such as Rightcar or having a pre-purchase inspection carried out. Finding out a vehicle is under compulsory recall before you buy it will save you inconvenience later.

What should I do if I fail a WoF as a result of this recall?

You can’t legally drive without a valid WoF.

You’ll need to have the Takata Alpha airbags replaced before you can get a WoF. Contact the manufacturer to make an appointment to have the Alpha airbags replaced. There will be no cost for parts or labour. Manufacturers’ contact details are provided in the flyer below.

When the airbags have been replaced, ask the manufacturer’s workshop to email confirmation to the Transport Agency. Then take your vehicle back to the WoF site for rechecking. Note – you should allow time (1-2 working days) for the Transport Agency to receive the email and update the system.

WoF fail due to Takata Alpha airbags – advice for vehicle owners [PDF, 40 KB]

What should I do if I think my vehicle has already had Alpha airbags replaced but then I fail a WoF?

You should contact the manufacturer to discuss (the flyer above has contact details). The recall may not have been completed for your vehicle – the question ‘Why are some owners who have already had their vehicles’ airbags replaced being contacted a second time about replacement?’ above contains information about why this might be the case.

I’ve had Alpha airbags replaced and now passed a WoF but my vehicle is still listed on Rightcar/Vehicle Recall Safety website as under recall – why?

We’re updating these websites as we receive information from manufacturers as part of reporting requirements.

We recommend owners ask the manufacturer’s workshop for a workshop report for their records when airbags are replaced. This can help in cases where they’re selling a vehicle and need to show prospective purchasers that the recall has been completed – buyers can also contact the manufacturer to confirm the replacement has happened.

I’m buying a car and the seller says the airbags have been replaced but that doesn’t match the vehicle information online – how can I be certain?

The information on the Vehicle Recall Safety or Rightcar websites may not have been updated yet, or the vehicle may only have had one airbag replaced and still need the other airbag replaced for the recall to be closed. Contact the manufacturer to confirm whether the vehicle has any Alpha airbags still under recall.

Even if the Vehicle Recall Safety website hasn’t been updated to show a completed recall, you should be fine at WoF time, as this system is generally updated more quickly.

Is the recall information still on Rightcar?

We’ve upgraded some of our websites and the recall information has been moved to the Vehicle Recall Safety website. The easiest way to access the Alpha recall information (and info about the wider non-Alpha recall) is through the Vehicle Recall Safety website(external link)

However, if you search a particular number plate on Rightcar it will tell you if that vehicle is affected by this recall.

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

The level of risk from Alpha airbags increases over time so it’s now even more important to get them replaced. While there’s no need to be alarmed, we urge you to contact the manufacturer as soon as possible to make an appointment.

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

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

Sourcing airbags in order to meet demand for the wider non-Alpha 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 (see below).

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 Vehicle Recall Safety website(external link) 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.

Can affected vehicles be sold?

Vehicles under this compulsory recall that have not had the airbags replaced cannot be legally offered for sale by a vehicle trader as defined in the Motor Vehicle Sales Act 2003(external link)

While vehicles under the compulsory recall can be offered for sale by someone who is not a vehicle trader (such as a private individual selling the family car), we recommend you get the airbags replaced before you sell the vehicle and advise prospective purchasers that this has been done – they’ll be able to check this on the Vehicle Recall Safety website(external link). We’re encouraging potential purchasers to find out whether a vehicle is affected by this recall as part of their pre-purchase checks.