Shock claims as millions of Aussies in Takata class action
Faulty Takata airbags deteriorated and became ineffective to the point they were "like a Mike Tyson punch to the face" in the instance of a car accident, an expert claims.
It comes as the largest vehicle recall in Australian history is about to become the country's biggest class action, as more than two million car owners sue seven leading car makers over the Takata airbag scandal.
Australia's most popular car brand Toyota this week began emailing more than 500,000 customers affected by the recall to gather information ahead of a planned mediation process over the next few months.
Subaru has also emailed customers seeking information.
Mazda, Honda, Volkswagen, Nissan and BMW also face class actions, although other brands affected by the recall have avoided litigation.
The recall involved more than four million airbags locally and more than 100 million worldwide.
A Honda driver in Sydney was killed by a faulty airbag, while more than 20 deaths have been linked to the defect worldwide.
Damian Scattini from Quinn Emanuel, the lawyers acting for the owners, said car makers sold faulty products and were too slow to act when problems first arose more than a decade ago. The firm also alleges car makers engaged in misleading, deceptive and unconscionable conduct.
"When the first recalls were going about, the manufacturers seriously underplayed the risk," he said.
Owners are looking for compensation for distress and disappointment, a decline in value of their affected vehicles and the time, cost and inconvenience of having the airbags replaced, sometimes twice.
Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Mazda have denied the allegations and each said they would defend the action, while Volkswagen said the case was "without foundation" and it "looks forward to demonstrating this in court".
Subaru said in a statement it denied the allegations and was "vigorously defending the matter".
News Corporation has contacted BMW for comment.
Mr Scattini said that although the recall was 95 per cent complete, the saga was not over.
A shortage of replacements due to the sheer size of the recall had meant many owners simply had their faulty airbags replaced by "another faulty airbag, just a newer one," he said.
"That just sets the clock again," he said.
The firm had expert opinion suggesting that the faulty airbags deteriorated and became ineffective earlier than car makers had admitted.
"Before it's dangerous it will be ineffective.
"It's not as they've painted it: 'the airbag's perfectly fine until it blows your head off'. It's a process. Our expert described it as if you have an accident and your airbag has degraded but it's not yet to the point of blowing up … it'll be like a Mike Tyson punch to the face and then it will have deflated in time for you to hit the steering wheel anyway," he said.
He claimed manufacturers involved in the class action chose Takata airbags even though they used ammonium nitrate, which was plentiful and cheap but more volatile and prone to degradation from heat and humidity.
"If you look at Beirut, what happened there, it was ammonium nitrate. That's the stuff that's in your steering wheel. Other manufacturers of airbags refused to use ammonium nitrate because it was bomb-making material and it was dangerous," he said.
Carmakers have replaced roughly 95 per cent of the Takata airbags, but as of June, 150,000 affected vehicles were still on the road.
About 6000 are so dangerous they should not be driven at all.
Many owners have refused to have them fixed and now risk having their registration cancelled.
Originally published as Explosive claims as millions of Aussies in Takata class action