Fix faulty airbag? Just take it out, some told

Mr Aaron Hia, 32, a product trainer with a car distributor, with his Honda Civic Type R car.
Mr Aaron Hia, 32, a product trainer with a car distributor, with his Honda Civic Type R car.PHOTO: BENEDICT CHIA

Replacement parts hard to find, parallel importer tells owners of vehicles with Takata devices

Unable to get parts for a recall to fix a fatal airbag flaw, at least one parallel importer is asking customers to deactivate or remove the airbags from their vehicles.

This controversial course of action comes years after disgraced airbag maker Takata issued a worldwide recall on defective products which have killed more than a dozen and maimed many others.

Garage R, a parallel importer specialising in high-performance models, has written to owners affected by the vehicle flaw - which could potentially send metal shrapnel into the head and torso of front occupants when an airbag deploys - asking them to remove the airbags.

This, it said, was because the replacement parts were hard to come by and that they were expensive.

Honda Civic Type R owner Aaron Hia, 32, was among those who received the letter. "I was a little upset when I got it. And you had to pay $80 or $90 to remove the airbag."

Mr Hia, a product trainer with a car distributor, said he replaced the car's steering wheel two months ago, and the aftermarket wheel has no airbag. He said he has yet to remove the pas-senger-side airbag. He said the whole issue has been "a real headache".

Ms June Wong, director manager of Garage R, said Takata replacement parts are "very hard to come by... as you know, the company has already gone bust". Also, each replacement costs more than $2,000.

The Takata recall was made more than two years ago. As of now, the LTA said, 80 per cent of the 150,000 vehicles affected here have been rectified or deregistered.

"It frustrates us too," she said. "On the one hand, we want to give people a choice - by bringing in cars not offered by authorised dealers - but on the other, we don't have the resources when these things happen."

Ms Wong said she has removed the airbags on her own Honda Fit subcompact hatchback.

"The parallel importer I bought it from is no longer around," she said.

In response to press queries, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said importers and motor dealers which have imported or sold vehicles affected by safety-related recalls are required to "comply with, and complete the rectification of affected vehicles in accordance with the respective vehicle manufacturers' requirements".

Those which fail to comply with this regulation will be fined up to $2,000 for each vehicle, subject to a maximum fine of $50,000.

The authority said it is aware that some vehicle manufacturers have recommended deactivating or disabling the faulty airbags in the vehicles "as an interim measure if replacement parts are not readily available".

The Takata recall was made more than two years ago. As of now, the LTA said, 80 per cent of the 150,000 vehicles affected here have been rectified or deregistered.

"LTA 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," a spokesman said.

Asked how much time motor companies are given to fix a safety-related flaw, the authority did not respond. Motor firms said there is no fixed time stipulated for recalls to be done.

Honda's authorised agent Kah Motor said more than 85 per cent of its affected cars have been fixed. The remainder, general manager Nicholas Wong said, could include cars whose owners have not acted on the recall letter, or cars which are in transition from one owner to the next.

According to press reports, 19 people have been killed and several hundred injured by Takata airbags in the United States, Australia and Malaysia.

The defective airbags are found in a multitude of brands, including BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Subaru.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2017, with the headline 'Fix faulty airbag? Just take it out, some told'. Print Edition | Subscribe