Australia recalls 23,000 Chinese cars over asbestos-tainted parts

Great Wall X240 Australia recalls Chinese cars over asbestos in gasketsThe Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) ordered the recall of roughly 23,000 Chinese cars after asbestos was found in engine and exhaust gaskets. The carcinogenic material has been illegal in Australia since 2004, although the ACCC said the affected parts pose no immediate health risk.

The cars included in the recall were made by Chery and Great Wall, and imported by Ateco Automotive Pty. Ltd. Models affected include the Chery J11 SUV and J3 hatchback, along with several Great Wall pickups and SUVs.

Ateco will stop selling new vehicles with asbestos gaskets, as well as spare parts, while the ACCC monitors its compliance with Australian law.

According to the ACCC, the gaskets do not pose an immediate risk to drivers. The asbestos is bound into the gaskets, which are sealed within the engines and exhaust systems of the cars. Contamination is unlikely unless the gaskets are disturbed. The ACCC did tell owners not to perform “do-it-yourself maintenance” that could disturb the gaskets. Unless a car is damaged in a crash, the gaskets can survive their normal service lives before replacement.

Ateco issued a “stop sale” order on all new cars and spare parts that could have asbestos. In the meantime, the company will put warning stickers on the affected cars, and is advising owners to have their gaskets replaced by a trained mechanic when they wear out.

“The automotive service industry is experienced in managing this risk, as cars sold in Australia before 2004 often had gaskets that contained asbestos,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said in a statement, “however, consumers and automotive repairers must be made aware that the risk may be present in these much newer vehicles.”

Asbestos is still legal in China, though. Shang Yugui, a spokesman for Great Wall, told the Wall Street Journal that many Chinese car companies use chrysotile asbestos in gaskets.

However, both Chery and Great Wall said they have stopped using asbestos in gaskets in both domestic and export cars as a result of the recall.

Eliminating asbestos from gaskets shows that Chinese carmakers will have to make adjustments if they wanted to sell their wares globally. Export sales were up 16 percent, totaling 236,000 cars, in the first half of 2012. These were mostly sold in countries like Russia, Algeria, Iran, and Iraq, all of which lack the regulatory environment of the United States and other Western countries.