The NZ Transport Agency is urging the owners of vehicles affected by the global Takata airbag recall to have checks carried out to check their front passenger airbags aren't disabled.
The agency recently discovered that in 2015 some manufacturers in Japan began offering customers the option of disabling front passenger airbags, in response to public concerns in Japan about wait times for replacement airbags as part of the global recall.
Up to 300,000 vehicles in New Zealand have been recalled because of malfunctioning airbags that either do not inflate or fire out pieces of metal when inflated in an accident - injuring people and even causing death.
The modifications carried out on vehicles in Japan involved disconnecting the airbag and placing an extra component into the vehicle's electronics, resulting in the car's self-diagnostic systems registering the disabled airbag as functional.
Due to the way these modifications were done in Japan, invasive visual checks are the only way of determining with certainty if the airbags have been disabled, as the vehicle's dashboard warning lights will not identify the disabled airbags.
Since becoming aware of the issue the Transport Agency has urgently amended the entry certification inspection requirements for used imported vehicles from Japan. From tomorrow these vehicles will be required to undergo a visual check of the airbag connection, which in most cases will involve physically dismantling part of the vehicle to sight the airbag connection.
This morning owners of cars potentially affected by the fault airbags were being told to contact their local dealer or manufacturer to see if their car was affected.
The list that appears on the government recall website includes BMW, Chrysler, Daihatsu, GM, Ferrari, Ford, Honda Isuzu, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, and Mercedes-Benz.
To date there have been no injuries reported in New Zealand as a result of faulty airbags exploding.
Car manufacturers this morning told the Herald they were directly contacting affected car owners but it would take months to fix the problem because there was a shortage of replacement airbags.
"This is the largest recall in history and we simply don't have enough parts," said Mitsubishi head of sales and marketing Daniel Cook.
He said 12,171 Mitsubishi vehicles had been identified in the global recall. They included Lancer (2003-2008), Triton (2006-2014), i-Car (2008-2010) and Pajeros and Delica D5.
About 8000 vehicles with faulty airbags were expected to be replaced this year with the remainder completed by June next year.
Toyota NZ said 82,000 vehicles were caught up in the global recall. Based on the limited supply it was estimated to take up to two years to replace all airbags in affected vehicles.
At this stage 12,879 car owners had been advised that replacement airbags were available.
Toyota would be providing an update to remaining affected customers over the next three weeks.
Their main models affected are new and imported Yaris, Corolla and RAV4, and the imported Ipsum.
There are other models, 21 including the four mentioned, affected in smaller numbers.
Drivers can head to toyota.co.nz/recall to fill out a form and see if their car is subject to the recall.
BMW's New Zealand spokesman Paul Sherley said about 3500 New Zealand new vehicles were affected and 9300 used-imported vehicles.
"All owners of New Zealand-new vehicles have been contacted, and the process to contact the owners of used-imports is also under way," he said.
"Over two thirds of the New Zealand-new cars have had the recall work completed to date."
All owners of New Zealand-new cars have been contacted and BMW are working on contacting the owners of used-imported vehicles.
"The decision of exactly when to have the recall work carried out is really up to the customer," Sherley said.
No new Fords sold in New Zealand are involved in the recall, but owners of imported Fords can head to the safety recalls section of the Ford website to see if their vehicle is being recalled.
Ferrari spokeswoman Catherine Rodwell said the models affected include all Ferrari vehicles manufactured starting from 2008 with regard to Europe, and from 2009 with regard to the US and all other countries, except for the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, Ferrari 599, Ferrari F430 - all versions- and LaFerrari model vehicles.
Mazda New Zealand service campaign manager for service and warranty Jacob Moolman said the affected cars sold in New Zealand were the M6 from 2002-07, the RX8 from 2003-2012, the Mazda 2 Demio from 2007-2014, Mazda T series from 2004-2010, the B series from 2004-2011, and the E series from 2004-2016.
Honda NZ national service manager Bryan Davis said their affected models were Accord, Civic, CRV, Jazz, Legend, Odyssey, Insight, and MDX.
The years were varied. Davis encouraged anyone with an affected model to head to the Honda website, click on service, and enter their vehicle's details in the recalls section to find out if their car needed a replacement airbag.
Motor Industry Association head David Crawford told the Herald last night that there had been a number of accidents overseas in which people had been injured or killed because of the faulty airbags, manufactured by Japanese company Takata.
The Government publishes recall information on its recalls.govt.nz website, which is run by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the NZ Transport Agency, among others.
The website had been down since last night but was now running again, with a warning that heavy online traffic might have impacts.
A spokeswoman initially said the website was subject to scheduled maintenance.
However, she later confirmed the unexpected volume of car owners seeking information overwhelmed the system.
The Herald has received a steady stream of emails from readers concerned about whether their vehicles have been affected.
A full list of makes, models and years affected is being sought.
The faulty airbags had meant that in an accident, they had either failed to inflate fully or fired out bits of metal when inflated.
Crawford said it was important to note that there had been no deaths or injuries related to the airbags in New Zealand or Australia.
"The airbag inflators - there have been less than 200 that have been faulty in 60 million vehicles, so it's a very low percentage.
"The best advice that we can give is that the cars are safe to continue to drive. But they're not totally free from risk.
"So the manufacturers have said because a few have been faulty and we can't tell which ones are faulty and which ones are not, then all of them get replaced.
"And because it affects so many vehicles, it's going to take a little while, logistically, to work through.''
Crawford said the faulty airbags had been reported in countries and places which were very hot and humid for long months - meaning there appeared to be an association with heat and something going wrong with the Takata airbags.
Editor of car review website dogandlemon.com Clive Matthew-Wilson said he was disturbed by the casual attitude from the Government and wider industry over the recall.
"These are airbags that may explode like a hand grenade in a collision, firing pieces of jagged metal at you like a bullet."
He said parts of the country were warm and humid while only a few faulty airbags had been proven to cause deaths, it was highly likely that a number of fatalities caused by these faulty airbags have gone undetected.
"If we were talking about contaminated food or medicine that might cause deaths or injuries, there would be a national outcry, but somehow deadly airbags don't seem to be a high priority for either the Government or the car industry. I find this extremely disturbing," said Matthew-Wilson.
He was also concerned affected manufacturers informed authorities on a voluntary basis.