Australian consumer watchdog investigates air bag recall

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SYDNEY (AP) — Australia's consumer watchdog said on Monday it was urgently seeking information from the government regulator and car manufacturers after a magazine reported that recalled Takata air bags were being replaced by faulty air bags.

Australian consumer magazine Choice discovered car makers were refitting faulty Takata air bags in recalled vehicles as a temporary solution after questioning 14 car manufacturers in Australia.

Many confirmed that a percentage of the vehicles were refitted with like-for-like replacements and would need to be recalled again, Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said.

The Japanese company's air bag inflators have been linked to 18 deaths around the world by firing metal shards when deploying, including a man killed this month near Sydney.

Takata uses the explosive chemical ammonium nitrate to inflate air bags in a crash. But research has shown that the chemical can deteriorate over time when exposed to high humidity and temperatures. That can cause it to burn too fast and blow apart a metal canister, spewing out hot shrapnel.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the consumer watchdog, said some of the 2.3 million recalled cars in Australia had been fitted with Takata air bags treated with a water-absorbing chemical designed to address the problem. But these may also degrade and the air bags may need to be replaced in six months, the commission said in a statement.

"Car manufacturers and retailers must let consumers know when they are having their car's air bag replaced what type of air bag it is being replaced with and if it's likely to be the subject of another recall down the track," the commission's chairman Rod Sims said.

Automakers in the U.S. have been replacing Takata ammonium nitrate inflators with like models for several years, knowing that the replacements will have to be recalled and replaced second time. Lab tests show that it takes at least six years for the ammonium nitrate to deteriorate. So the theory is a new inflator that eventually could become dangerous is safer than an old inflator with potentially deteriorating ammonium nitrate.

Earlier this month Takata added 2.7 million vehicles from Ford, Nissan and Mazda to the U.S. recall list even though they had inflators with the water-absorbing chemical called a dessicant that previously were thought to be safe. Tests done by Takata found that for the first time, a type of inflator with the dessicant showed signs of deterioration and could pose a safety risk. Not all types of Takata inflators with the dessicant have deteriorated.

Ford and Mazda are disputing the recall, saying none of their inflators with the dessicant has ruptured.

The Australian commission was seeking information from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, which is responsible for automobile safety standards, what information manufacturers and retailers were required to give customers about their air bags.

Sims said he would consider recommending the government upgrade the current voluntary recall to a mandatory recall, if the manufacturers were not correcting the faults quickly enough. Around 36 percent of the recalled cars in Australia covering 60 makes and models had been rectified, Sims said.

Takata's headquarters in Tokyo issued a brief statement about the case, saying, "We pray for the victim and offer condolences to the family members. If the recall applies to a vehicle you own, please contact your dealer."

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