Photographer: Buddhika Weerasinghe/Bloomberg

Should You Worry About Faulty Metals in Your Car?

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Is the car in your garage made with flimsy metal? Many drivers are wondering and worried following an admission by Kobe Steel Ltd., one of Japan’s oldest manufacturers, that it falsified data on the strength and durability of aluminum and copper products used in cars, trains, planes and rockets. As Kobe customers like Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. scramble to understand what the news means for them, concerned drivers have plenty of questions.

1. What products have this aluminum or copper?

Kobe’s top customers include many of Japan’s largest automakers. Nissan has already said aluminum hoods that fail to meet specifications could pose a risk to pedestrians during front-end collisions, while Toyota said the metal could have been used in some of its hoods and rear doors. Other carmakers, including Subaru Corp., Honda Motor Co., Mazda Motor Corp., Suzuki Motor Corp. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp., have expressed similar concerns about whether they received substandard metal and are still evaluating how it might impact their cars. All in all, Kobe said the products were delivered to more than 200 unidentified companies.

2. Am I in danger?

Probably not, since according to Kobe, the falsification involves four percent of its shipments, and only from September 2016 through August 2017. There have been no specific reports of defective parts and no carmakers have yet to issue recalls or warnings to stay off the road. Kobe didn’t say if customers outside of the country were impacted, though Toyota said the faulty materials were only supplied to its plants in Japan. General Motors Co., a Kobe customer, said it’s investigating any potential impact.

3. How can I find out if my car has faulty metal?

You can’t, at the moment. The carmakers are expected to release more information as details on impacted models become available.

4. Is it just cars that I have to worry about?

Subaru also produces wings for Boeing Co., but the aerospace company said nothing in its review has convinced it there’s a safety issue. Hitachi Ltd., which used Kobe products in trains exported to the U.K., said it’s found no safety concerns. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. used some of the metal in question to build regional jets and rockets, but said a successful space launch this week allayed some of its fears.

5. How is the aluminum and copper faulty?

Kobe said the “improper conduct” was in not complying with product specifications it had promised customers for strength and durability. The impacted products include about 19,300 tons of flat-rolled and extruded aluminum parts, about 2,200 tons of copper strips and tubes, and about 19,400 units of aluminum castings and forgings.

6. Why did it take so long to discover this?

Nobody outside the company knows for sure. In its statements so far, Kobe hasn’t said how it discovered the deception or when, other than saying it began notifying customers one by one after it identified the problem.

The Reference Shelf

  • The Kobe Steel news release announcing that its aluminum and copper businesses did not comply with product specifications.
  • A Bloomberg News article on automakers scrambling to check their parts.
  • In Bloomberg Gadfly, David Fickling says that “Kobe Steel risks undermining the integrity of Japan’s manufacturing industry.”
  • A Bloomberg QuickTake Q&A on the Kobe Steel admission. And another on the Takata Corp. airbag recall after its bankruptcy. The auto supplier had provided tens of millions of defective airbag inflators over many years.
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