Why brands like BMW and Toyota are buying back customers' cars


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Millions of Australians know of the Takata recall addressing potentially deadly airbags fitted to more than three million vehicles from at least 24 brands.

But deadly airbags took another turn late last year when BMW Australia conducted a voluntary recall - on top of the compulsory recall issued previously by the ACCC - for 12,663 cars built in the late 1990s.

It was in response to investigations by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that found inflators could rupture or underinflate the airbag in cars built between 1996 and 2000.

takata airbags car buybacks

BMW was the first to act in Australia, something since replicated by Audi, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Toyota. Some 78,000 cars are affected by the new recalls to address the potential for serious injury or death.

However, this new recall is different and involves a non-azide driver inflator with 5-aminotetrazole propellant, or NADI 5-AT once you boil it down to an acronym. According to the ACCC, which overseas recalls, inadequate sealing means the propellant can degrade "causing misdeployment of the airbag".

BMW took the unusual steps of announcing it would buy back versions of its E46 3-Series produced with the faulty component. It was potentially cheaper to buy the car and scrap it rather than repair the vehicle.

Audi, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Honda, Mazda and Suzuki have also offered to buy back affected vehicles, with Honda saying it had already purchased almost half the 17,600 cars still registered.

In all cases the car makers use third-party valuers that look at condition and the model to determine what it would sell for on the used market, typically using valuations company Redbook as the source. Redbook data is collated from actual sales but may not be representative if the car is in very good or very poor condition.

Importantly, they're based off retail values rather than trade-in prices, the latter typically significantly lower.

Mitsubishi says it makes "a competitive offer" and considers accessories, such as a towbar, and Toyota says offers have been "broadly accepted". Honda says it welcomes an independent valuation arranged by the customer, with a catch: the updated offer will apply whether it is higher or lower than the original offer.

There may be wriggle room depending on your negotiating skills and all manufacturers Money spoke to suggested they would discuss individual circumstances to find a solution.

"Other assistance will be arranged on a case-by-case basis to minimise customer inconvenience," said a Toyota spokesperson.

When contacted the ACCC made no mention of issues with customers, saying it was "monitoring complaints closely".

"Consumers who are unhappy with the remedy offered by their vehicle dealer should contact the vehicle manufacturer's head office," said a spokesperson. "If they are still not satisfied, they can contact the Department (of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications) or the ACCC."

While brands are not replacing cars, Toyota and BMW provide the option to store the cars until parts are manufactured for a repair.

The most recent ACCC figures from December 31, 2020 show 256,670 of more than 3 million vehicles part of the original compulsory recall are still to be rectified.

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Toby Hagon is one of Australia's most respected motoring writers. A regular contributor to News Corp, Wheels magazine, Qantas magazine and 4x4 Australia, he also features as a motoring expert on ABC Radio and is editor of EVcentral.com.au.