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Why recalls happen, how common they are and how they affect you…
Recalls tend to make front-page news – particularly when they involve cars catching fire – but they are actually more common than most people realise. As an example, over the last five years in the United Kingdom (also a right-hand-drive market), there have been more than 3 000 recalls affecting nearly all manufacturers. And it’s no surprise, really; the modern automobile consists of thousands of sensors, components and systems, and occasionally they go wrong. Most of these items are sourced from suppliers and not manufactured by the OEM, making quality control a major challenge.
That’s still no excuse, of course; the manufacturer is responsible for all aspects of the vehicle and, even if a small percentage of a certain component carries a defect, a recall must be issued because of the potential safety risk to occupants and bystanders.
What constitutes a recall?
A recall is announced when a latent defect can lead to a safety risk. Usually, this defect is found in a group of vehicles sharing the flaw. This level of risk must be attended to early and not at set service intervals, as might be the case with a technical service bulletin.
Generally, the following are excluded from recalls:
• Air-conditioners and radios.
• Ordinary wear-and-tear items that have to be inspected, maintained and replaced as part of routine servicing.
• Non-structural rust.
• Paint quality or cosmetic blemishes.
• Excessive oil consumption.
The following, however, may trigger a recall:
• Steering issues (or other critical failures) resulting in a loss of vehicle control.
• Problems with fuel-system components that result in leakage of fuel and which may cause vehicle fires.
• Accelerator controls that may break or stick.
• Wheels that crack or break, resulting in loss of vehicle control.
• Windshield wipers that fail to operate properly.
• Seats that fail unexpectedly during normal use.
• Wiring-system problems that result in a fire or loss of lighting.
• Airbags that deploy unexpectedly or cause severe injury during activation.
Who can enforce a recall?
Before a vehicle range is sold in South Africa, it needs to pass the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) homologation process, which includes safety critical considerations. When a manufacturer becomes aware of a latent defect and it was not identified by the NRCS, the former can issue a recall. The National Consumer Commission (NCC; it implements the Consumer Protection Act) can issue a notice to the manufacturer that it needs to carry out a compulsory recall if the NCC believes any goods (including vehicles) are unsafe or pose a potential risk to the public.
What are the legal timeframes of a recall?
Recalls are not bound by the vehicle’s warranty period and, if it can be proved that the latent defect was present in the vehicle when it was sold, a recall can be actioned many years after the vehicle was produced.
How do you know if your vehicle is affected?
Manufacturers do their best to reach affected parties, but if you suspect a certain recall applies to your vehicle and you haven’t been notified, it’s best to phone the manufacturer with the vehicle VIN number that the OEM can run against its recall database. It is best to have the repairs done as soon as possible.
Takata airbag recall
The largest current recall affecting vehicles locally is linked to Takata airbags installed in cars from Honda, Mazda and Toyota and other brands. The problem relates to defective inflators on the front airbags. This means that, should these ‘bags deploy, they could cause serious injuries or death (10 have so far been reported globally). According to the Automobile Association, it is not aware of any local incidents involving Takata products. Worldwide, more than 20 million vehicles have been recalled, making it one of the largest such corrections in automotive history.
Author: Nicol Louw