The Australian government watchdog launches an urgent inquiry after a consumer group reports at least five automakers in Australia replaced dangerous Takata airbags with a similarly faulty product.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is seeking information from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development and car manufacturers regarding Takata airbags after the report by the consumer group Choice and the first death of an Australian attributed to the airbags.

Choice says it found at least five automakers in Australia have recalled their vehicles over dangerous airbags, only to refit them with a similarly defective product.

The manufacturers are among 14 affected in Australia by a global recall of Takata airbags, which have killed 18 people and injured more than 180 worldwide.

Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey says that since April, the consumer group repeatedly has contacted the 14 manufacturers to confirm if they were refitting vehicles with airbags now found to have similar faults and therefore would require a second recall.

“Although Toyota, Mazda, BMW, Lexus and Subaru admitted to Choice they made identical replacements, perhaps more worrying are the other manufacturers who continue to refuse to share this information with the public,” Godfrey says in a statement.

Commission Chairman Rod Sims says all drivers need to check if their car’s airbags have been recalled.

“Do not ignore or delay responding to a letter from your car’s manufacturer or retailer asking you to have your car’s airbag replaced,” he says in a statement. “The airbags degrade over time and can become lethal by misdeploying and firing metal shards at the car’s occupants.”

A 58-year-old man was killed last month when his Honda CR-V was involved in a collision in Sydney. State police in New South Wales say a faulty airbag likely was to blame after the driver was struck in the neck by a small fragment.

A woman in the Northern Territory suffered severe injuries from her airbag after a crash in April.

More than two-thirds of cars recalled in Australia still haven’t had the faulty airbags replaced. Toyota – which has recalled the highest number cars at 529,000 – has replaced the airbags in 31% of them. Mazda has 234,000 affected cars, but has only recalled 12% of them.

“A further 200,000 cars have been recalled, pushing the total number of vehicles affected in Australia to 2.3 million,” Choice says. “The percentage of replacements has slightly improved, however, as 850,000 cars have now been processed under the recall.”

The ACCC says some cars’ faulty airbags have been replaced with one treated with a water-absorbing chemical designed to address the problem, but it says these also may degrade over time.

“Car manufacturers and retailers must let consumers know when they are having their car’s airbag replaced what type of airbag it is being replaced with and if it is likely to be the subject of another recall down the track,” Sims says.

Sims says if consumers already have had their airbag replaced, they should contact their manufacturer for advice as to what kind of airbag it was replaced with and how long it is expected to last.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries says the industry joins the government and the ACCC in strongly urging all owners to assess whether their vehicle is affected and if so, to contact their dealer network.

“The industry will continue to work with the government on this process,” it says in an unsigned statement. “More than 850,000 affected vehicles in Australia have been rectified, and it is the industry’s steadfast resolve to get in contact with the remaining owners to complete the recall.”

Choice says the recall of Takata airbags in Australia is 21 times bigger than that of Volkswagen's emissions-tampering scandal, and even though it has led to injuries and fatalities, “there’s little awareness, little outrage.”

The consumer group says when it asked the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development about like-for-like replacements of Takata airbags, the federal agency did not answer its questions. Instead it replied with the statement, “The department is satisfied that the action being taken by manufacturers to replace airbags addresses the current identified risk.”