4.00pm

UPDATE - Information about problems that led to several hundred Mitsubishi cars being ordered off the road yesterday was previously available on an official Japanese government website, a leading road car safety advocate said today.

The Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA) took the action yesterday, involving 343 imported Galant and Legnum VR4 automatic used cars made in 1996 and 1997, because of a manufacturing fault in the brake system.

Mitsubishi Motors NZ said neither it, nor Mitsubishi in Japan, initially knew any of the affected cars were in this country.

The initial recall in Japan had been made "some time ago".

Clive Matthew-Wilson, editor of The Dog and Lemon used car guide, told NZPA today information about a recall of the affected models in Japan was on the Japanese Ministry of Transport website.

All information about recalls in Japan had to be put on the website, which the LTSA could have been monitoring.

He said that there was a certain amount of difficulty because the website was written in Japanese.

However, he was having the website translated into English which should be available here in two to three months.

Mr Matthew-Wilson accused the LTSA of choosing not to use the website because it would open up a can of worms regarding recalls of imports -- cars first used overseas and then brought into this country.

LTSA spokesman Andy Knackstedt said the organisation was now considering monitoring the Japanese website and was likely to do so.

"If that means having a fulltime person who reads Japanese sitting there reading the website, that's what we have to do," he said.

If the LTSA could not rely on manufacturers always contacting subsidiaries in this country about recalls, it would have to look at ways of getting such information more directly.

"Hindsight is 20/20," Mr Knackstedt said.

He said the problem with the Galants and Legnums was unusual in that most defects that led to recalls happened early in a vehicle's life.

With an average age of seven years, imported vehicles would normally have had any such defects dealt with before being brought here.

About 70 per cent of vehicles newly registered in this country each year were imports, most from Japan.

It was up to dealers importing vehicles to ensure the vehicles had been through the recall process, if necessary, before being brought into this country, Mr Knackstedt said.

"This is the only time we have had to order a large number of any vehicles, that I can remember, off the road."

Part of the problem with Mitsubishi was that for two decades the company in Japan had been hiding defects that should have led to recalls.

Mitsubishi in this country, along with the LTSA and the buyers of the cars affected, were having to deal with the fallout from that.

Early this month overseas news agencies reported that Mitsubishi Motors in Japan announced it had hidden 26 defects in its cars from regulators, in addition to four problems it publicised in 2000.

The automaker said it would immediately start recalling the affected cars, estimated at over 160,000 and most of them sold in Japan.

The newly discovered problems had been the latest for Mitsubishi Motors since it acknowledged in 2000 that it systematically covered up auto defects for more than two decades.

On Monday police raided the home of the former president of the Japanese automaker, who was arrested last week on suspicion of hiding defects.

Katsuhiko Kawasoe, who resigned in disgrace four years ago when the Tokyo-based automaker acknowledged hiding defects, was arrested with five other former Mitsubishi Motors officials on Thursday on charges related to a cover-up of defects suspected in a fatal accident.

Also on Monday, Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus, which was spun off from Mitsubishi Motors, announced it was recalling 450,000 trucks and buses because of previously unreported defects.

- NZPA

Land Transport Safety Authority:
List of Mitsubish cars ordered off the road