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Safety of some replacement Takata air bags questioned

SYDNEY -- Australia's consumer watchdog said Monday it was urgently seeking information from government regulators and car manufacturers after a consumer group reported that some recalled Takata air bags were being replaced by air bags that could themselves become dangerous down the road.

The Australian consumer group Choice reported that some automakers were putting faulty Takata air bags in recalled vehicles as a temporary solution. The group says it questioned 14 car companies in Australia.

Some confirmed that a percentage of the vehicles were refitted with like-for-like replacements and would need to be recalled again, Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said.

The Japanese-manufactured air bags have been linked to 18 deaths around the world by firing metal shards when deploying, including a man killed this month near Sydney.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the consumer watchdog, said some of the 2.3 million recalled cars in Australia had been fitted with Takata air bags treated with a water-absorbing chemical designed to address the problem. But those devices may also degrade and need to be replaced in six years, the commission said in a statement.

"Car manufacturers and retailers must let consumers know, when they are having their car's air bag replaced, what type of air bag it is being replaced with and if it's likely to be the subject of another recall down the track," the commission's chairman Rod Sims said.

The commission was seeking information from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, which is responsible for automobile safety standards, about what manufacturers and retailers were required to tell customers about their replacement air bags.

Sims said he would consider recommending the government upgrade the current voluntary recall to a mandatory one if manufacturers don't correct the faults quickly enough.

According to the Reuters news service, Choice estimates more than two-thirds of the vehicles recalled in Australia still haven't had their faulty airbags replaced.

Takata's headquarters in Tokyo issued a brief statement about the latest Australian case, saying, "We pray for the victim and offer condolences to the family members. If the recall applies to a vehicle you own, please contact your dealer."

Takata has filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. and Japan, and has agreed to be largely acquired for $1.6 billion by the Chinese-owned, U.S.-based Key Safety Systems.

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