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ACCC knew about fake airbags | exclusive

ACCC knew about counterfeit Toyota airbags parts but didn’t act, even though it has power to seize them.

Australia’s peak consumer protection authority was told about bogus airbag parts six weeks ago, but has so far failed to take action.

Australia's consumer protection authority has known about potentially deadly counterfeit Toyota airbag parts for the past six weeks -- but has not used any of its powers to stop distribution or take action against the unscrupulous importers.

As reported exclusively by News Corp Australia yesterday, Toyota has embarked on a nationwide search for “thousands” of counterfeit airbag parts, instructing dealers to inspect all vehicles when they come in for routine servicing.

The devices fit most of the 2 million Toyotas sold in Australia over the past 10 years. Internal testing by Toyota in Japan found there were up to four ways the bogus parts could fail to deploy an airbag in a crash. 

Toyota has been forced to take the matter into its own hands because the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has so far refused to take action, even though the Federal Minister has the discretion to order an interim ban.

According to ACCC regulations, the responsible Federal Minister, in this case Bruce Billson MP, may impose an interim ban “where it appears that consumer goods of the kind in question will or may cause injury to any person”.

Toyota Australia has declined to comment on the matter for two days in a row but the dealer bulletin obtained by News Corp Australia says it had taken the matter to the ACCC.

Toyota has been forced to take the matter into its own hands because the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has so far refused to take action

News Corp Australia has been told Australia’s peak consumer protection authority was told about the counterfeit airbags in the middle of June.

A statement from the ACCC said: “When first considering issues that are raised with the ACCC, we will consider whether another regulator has primary responsibility or is better placed to respond to an issue.

“The (Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development) is the specialist regulator for motor vehicle safety, has the technical expertise and stakeholder relationships to enable them to more efficiently manage this issue.”

But when News Corp Australia contacted the Department of Infrastructure, it was told the ACCC would issue a statement on the matter.

Faulty airbag parts would normally prompt a safety recall, but in this instance the counterfeit devices can’t be located because the independent distributor is unlikely to have kept records of who bought the bogus parts.

Some repairers may have not have known they were fakes.

The packaging on the counterfeit airbag parts is so accurate, Customs and Border Protection could not distinguish them from the genuine articles. 

Customs and Border Protection are powerless to intervene once the dodgy parts have been cleared. 

A statement from Customs and Border Protection said: “Importing and selling counterfeit goods is illegal and can result in prosecution.

“Counterfeiting operations are becoming increasingly sophisticated and nearly any type of commodity is now at risk of being copied. As counterfeiting becomes more sophisticated, identifying fake products has also become more difficult. 

“There have been instances where even the rights holder themselves have had difficulty determining whether goods are counterfeit or genuine without detailed testing.

“Many counterfeit items are substandard in quality and have the potential to cause physical harm. Consumers buying counterfeit items are supporting an illegal trade that could result in injury. The sale of counterfeit goods is also often linked to serious criminal activity.”