Takata airbags being recalled after being ‘fixed’
JANE Toakley is a model "recall citizen". She should be, she's had a lot of experience.
Her 2011 Corolla Hatch has been the subject of three recalls in the past two years. In July 2016 it was recalled on a leaking fuel tank issue, then in December 2017 it was subject to the worldwide Takata airbag recall. Most recently - in March this year - she received another letter regarding a recall on the previous airbag recall.
A Toyota spokesperson confirmed in a statement that Ms Toakley was not alone in having her car recalled again after the Takata airbag was "repaired" in the first national recall of the product.
The spokesperson said 48,000 Toyota cars have been recalled for a second time, with a letter sent to affected customers indicating their repair may have been installed incorrectly.
For context, Toyota and Lexus are just two of the brands affected by the worldwide Takata recall issue.
In Australia, these two brands alone have recalled over 580,000 cars in the original Takata recall. There around three million cars across all brands affected in Australia.
Out of that number, Toyota have replaced around 416,000 airbags (around 71 per cent of their affected cars).
But 48,000 of those 416,000 customers received the second recall notice (around 11 per cent).
"The second recall is in relation to the possibility that incorrectly fitted passenger front airbags pose a risk to drivers if deployed, due to the likelihood the airbags would not fully inflate," it said.
Toyota would not provide any more information on how the recalled airbags came to be fitted incorrectly despite repeated questioning by news.com.au.
They did state, however, that the second recall was "not related to 'like for like' replacements under the Takata recall campaign".
With the original Takata airbag recall now affecting across upwards of 4 million Australian cars across a number of brands, it's edifying to plot out what the actual experience of being recalled multiple times is like. For the average car owner the experience is inconvenient enough that it will go to the bottom of a daily "to-do" list.
Ms Toakley's ongoing experiences are a testament to that.
HOW LONG DOES A RECALL REPAIR TAKE?
On the initial airbag recall in December last year (then classified as "voluntary") Ms Toakley couldn't get an appointment at her closest dealer and had to take her from Bondi to Artarmon, crossing a significant area of Sydney. Given she was going to have to try to get to work that day, she inquired about a courtesy car.
"The answer was always 'no'" she says.
With regard to courtesy cars, Choice spokesperson, Tom Godfrey says the current guidelines on courtesy cars were relevant to compulsory recalls only.
"You may be entitled to a loan car if the repair takes longer than 24 hours, your nearest repairer is more than 250km away or if you are elderly or have a disability," he said.
250km is beyond the city limits of all major Australians cities. So, basically nobody in a metropolitan area is getting a courtesy car.
With no provision for a courtesy car, Ms Toakley cleared her day of work and arranged for a friend (who lives on that side of Sydney) to meet her at the dealership and pick her up.
"When I got there at 9am there were about 20 cars in the queue ahead of me. It took me a while just to get to the front of the queue."
Ms Toakley's car was stamped in at 9am and out at 2pm.
Most recently, when her car was recalled yet again for an airbag issue, Ms Toakley endeavoured to make the soonest possible appointment.
"We were going away and leaving the car with our 18-year-old daughter. I didn't want anything happening while she was driving it."
Again, trying to get a timely and convenient appointment at the local dealership proved difficult. She was told the inspection and repair could take "up to three and a half hours" (despite the recall notice quoting "1.5 hours") and again, there was no effort on Toyota's part to atone for the ongoing inconvenience.
Regarding the disparity in time quotes, a Toyota spokesperson said: "The repair time will take approximately 1.5 hours. However, depending on the dealer's work schedule, it may be necessary to make a vehicle available for a longer period of time."
Then there was this - the available appointment offered was at 11.30am but Ms Toakley wasn't allowed to drop her car at the dealership any earlier. This again meant rearranging her entire work day to accommodate Toyota's recall schedule.
"I remembered asking for a courtesy car last time and they wouldn't budge. This time I asked about a cab charge to get me to work and back and they refused. When I spoke to the workshop they said, 'Oh you'd have to talk to Toyota about that' and then Toyota said, 'You'll have to talk to the workshop'."
This accountability to-and-fro is the result of a business structure where the supplier, in this case Toyota, is not carrying out the day-to-day facilitation of the recall.
"A supplier is the company who manufactured the vehicle, a dealer is where you bought it," according to the ACCC's website.
The ACCC fact sheet on Takata airbags goes on to say: "A dealer is not a supplier for the purposes of the compulsory recall obligations, but a supplier may use its dealer network to perform some of the actions required by the compulsory recall."
So, when you book your car in to get a recalled safety feature fixed, you are talking to the dealer. Which is why their care factor regarding your convenience can be lacking: they didn't create this issue, but now they're the ones dealing with it on a day-to-day basis.
In the end, Ms Toakley booked the next available Saturday appointment she could get, took her car in at 8.45am and waited two hours in a nearby cafe before being called to collect her car at 10.45am.
Not a big deal, but the whole experience speaks to the wider issue: safety recalls and their facilitation should not be the consumer's problem.
WILL PEOPLE IGNORE THE RECALL?
Gabrielle Bates, a freelance copywriter from Stanmore has continued to drive her Nissan Micra with its faulty airbag since she got the recall notice back in 2015.
"I don't have time to sit around for the hours it will take to fix the thing." she said. "If they have sold me a faulty product, they should bloody well come to me. In the meantime, I've decided to drive carefully, just like in the airbag-free olden days."
Ella Walsh, a publishing executive from Clovelly, waited nine months to get the first recall done on her Toyota Avensis. She has also since received a second recall notice on the recall.
Regarding the first recall she said: "I didn't understand that not getting it replaced might kill us. Which is why we didn't rush to get it done. We just added it to the long list of things to do and finally got it sorted about nine months later."
WHERE DOES THE BUCK STOP?
So if the consumer has been notified in writing that their car is dangerous, does that pass the liability on to them?
Jonathan Brown from the Consumer Action Law Centre says "no."
"In the event of an accident and subsequent injury involving one of the faulty airbags, a recall notice would not absolve the company of consumer law liabilities." Mr Brown said.
He also agreed that Toyota should be doing more to facilitate the convenience of a repeat recall victim like Ms Toakley.
"If it's their negligence that's caused the problem, from a PR point of view, they'd be very silly not to be very proactive about the facilitation of the recall for customers," Mr Brown said.
From the car manufacturer's point of view, the Takata airbag recall is the first mandatory recall in Australian automotive history. It's unprecedented in both scope and cause. As a result, manufacturers like Toyota do not appear to have the effective contingencies to deal with it quickly. The government has set a deadline for all compulsory recalls to be completed by December 31, 2020.
Should we, the consumers, be more forgiving?
Barbara McKee, a business organisational consultant who works with large corporations finds it difficult to believe that car manufacturers did not have a comprehensive risk management and business continuity planning process for this sort of "catastrophic risk factor".
"With a business as mature in the market as Toyota, you would reasonably expect that they would be able to handle a recall in a way that doesn't alienate consumers or negatively impact their brand value," she said. "The experiences people are having say otherwise."
And while the recall to fix the faulty repair was being classified as having a lower range of urgency than the compulsory recall, the question is: are car safety recalls now so commonplace that consumers are inured to the sense of danger?
When Ms Toakley asked the dealer representative about how urgent the (second) inspection of her faulty airbag was, she was told: "Oh you can drive your car, it's not a problem, we just need to conduct an airbag inspection to make sure it's been installed correctly."
As it turns out, the airbag had not been installed correctly. So in this current car safety matrix, driving around with a regular old faulty airbag is now classified as "not a problem".
How did we get here?