Tests have revealed more than 7000 cars imported into New Zealand over the past two years have had their airbags disconnected.
The problem is often caused by drivers in Japan having the devices disabled to get round the long and cumbersome process of a global recall for faulty bags that began in 2013.
The fault could cause the inflator to fire out metal fragments which could penetrate the dashboard and hit people in the car.
AA motoring network support manager Phil Collings told Checkpoint the biggest problem with the campaign being so large was that the supply of parts was limited.
"Nervous owners in Japan are going into their manufacturer's dealerships ... and in some cases when parts are not available they've requested that their airbag be disconnected."
It's legal in Japan to dismantle the safety device but in New Zealand it must be operating. So, from last week, used Japanese cars arriving at New Zealand ports have been undergoing extra inspections to make sure the front passenger airbags are working.
On the first day of the inspections, 14 were found to be dismantled.
The Transport Agency has confirmed that the safety devices weren't working in 7560 Toyota cars brought here over the past two years. It's waiting to hear from other manufacturers to find out how many of their vehicles are affected.
While shrapnel from inflating bags had badly hurt or even killed drivers and passengers overseas there had been no incidents in New Zealand, Mr Collings said.
It could take until 2019 to finish checking about 300,000 cars being recalled in this country.