Car makers Toyota and Lexus have admitted to refitting cars in Australia with the same brand of potentially faulty airbags at the centre of a massive global safety recall.

The competition watchdog has launched an investigation after consumer group Choice warned Australian drivers they could be sitting behind the wheel of "ticking time bombs" because several car makers had refitted vehicles with Takata airbags, despite links to 18 deaths worldwide.

Toyota and Lexus on Monday confirmed they used Takata airbags as temporary replacements in some cases and would have to again refit those vehicles.

"This action provided safety for a number of years, however, due to exposure to the environment over time, these airbags will need to be replaced again," they said.


Choice said Mazda, Lexus, BMW and Subaru had also refitted recalled vehicles with Takata airbags as a temporary measure following a global recall of the devices that began in 2009.

However, rivals Nissan, Honda and Mitsubishi, which also had vehicles affected by the recall, declined to tell Choice about their replacement airbags.

A Honda spokesman told AAP the car maker had "not refitted Takata inflators 'like for like' on Honda vehicles".

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims urged drivers to check if their vehicle was subject to the Takata recall and demanded car makers tell consumers what replacements they were installing.

The ACCC is also seeking information from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, which is monitoring the recall, about what car makers are required to tell consumers about replacement products.

"We would have very serious concerns if manufacturers were found to be misleading consumers about their car's safety in breach of their obligations under consumer law," Sims said.

About 100 million vehicles globally have been recalled amid safety concerns relating to dodgy Takata airbags, which can explode and launch metal shards that can puncture people's eyes, face, neck, and chest.

More than 2.3 million vehicles in Australia were subject to the recall, with 850,000 already having had their airbags replaced.


Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said while car companies were under pressure to replace the airbags, "refitting vehicles with the same dangerous airbags still leaves people driving ticking time bombs".

A 58-year-old man who died in a crash in Sydney last Friday is suspected of being the 18th person globally to have lost their life as a result of a dodgy Takata airbag after he was struck in the neck by a small fragment.

A 21-year-old Darwin woman also suffered serious injuries when a faulty Takata airbag didn't deploy properly in April.

Choice wants laws to ensure companies involved in product recalls use safe replacements, and fines for those that don't.

NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury said the motoring group welcomed the ACCC's investigation and urged car makers to be more proactive in addressing concerns about product recalls.

"It's crucial people have confidence in safety measures like airbags because they can save lives," he said.