Now that disgraced Japanese airbag supplier Takata has filed for bankruptcy – not an unforeseen development – what will happen to cars in Singapore that are yet to be recalled?
Like everywhere else in the world, many cars here have Takata-made airbags which could send metal shrapnel flying when they deploy. To date, 17 deaths worldwide have been linked to this defect, and with 184 reported injuries in the United States alone.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) says there are about 45,000 vehicles – out of a total of 150,000 affected – which have not been recalled.
The rest have either been recalled or scrapped.
The LTA says it is in contact with motor dealers, who say they are still receiving replacement parts. Parts are also “sourced from other suppliers”.
It adds: “We will continue to work closely with the motor dealers to ensure there is a continuous supply of replacement airbag inflators for all affected vehicles in Singapore.”
Motor firms contacted say pretty much the same thing.
But it is not as simple as it sounds. Firstly, Takata, even when it was financially viable, had trouble churning out parts for up to 120 million vehicles affected by its fatal flaw.
Now that it is bankrupt, how likely is it able to keep up the pace of production?
Secondly, how much longer are motorists expected to go around with what could well be a time bomb strapped to their steering wheel?
The global recall started in 2009, while the Singapore recall was first initiated in 2013.
So, it has already taken quite a while. In Singapore, such problems have a way of solving themselves given time, because most cars are scrapped before they reach their 10th year.
But now that more people are keeping their cars beyond 10 years, the story is different.
The last time The Straits Times did an industry-wide check in June last year, there were still around 51,000 affected cars on the road. Now, there are 45,000.
So the progress is slow, with only about 6000 vehicles fixed in the last 12 months.
Again, that was when Takata was still viable. Now that it isn’t, how much longer will it take to fix the remaining 45,000 cars?
What can motorists do?
Well, they can start by checking if their cars are affected. Go to the LTA’s onemotoring website (www.onemotoring.com.sg), search “vehicle recall”, and there is a portal that allows motorists to do a check on whether their cars are affected by this recall (or for that matter, any safety recall).
If your vehicle is affected, you should have received a notification from your car dealer. But if you have not (perhaps you bought your car from a parallel importer that has since closed down), you should contact the LTA for help.
Or you could have the affected airbags removed from your car. Airbags are supplementary safety restraints. The primary safety restraint is the seatbelt. As long as you belt up, you are quite safe.
In any case, accidents in Singapore tend to be relatively low-speed ones. It would be rare for a crash here to absolutely call for the deployment of an airbag to prevent loss of limb or life.
That’s not saying airbags are never deployed here, or that they are totally unnecessary.
But given the low-speed nature of urban driving, the risk of not having an airbag is acceptable. After all, not all cars have airbags for the driver, let alone the front passenger.
And if your car has a Takata airbag, the odds of injury (or death) may swing in your favour if you remove it altogether.