Everything you need to know about vehicle recalls
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Major product safety recalls have been happening around the world for decades. One of the most infamous was Ford recalling 23 million vehicles in 1980 after several incidents where cars would slip from “park” to “reverse” and roll down the road, causing at least 12 deaths and 100 accidents. More recently there was the mass recall targeting vehicles with faulty Takata airbags.
In the continued quest for consumer protection, recalls still continue across a range of products today.
What is a safety defect?
A safety defect is a failure of a product or component as a result of its design or construction, which can occur in the automotive industry. If a potential failure is unchecked, it’s deemed likely to affect the safe operation of the vehicle, posing a risk to the driver, occupants and other road users.
These defects aren’t usually identified during maintenance or warrant of fitness inspections and, generally, no warning signs are given while the vehicle is in use. The defect is usually discovered by the manufacturer.
What is a safety recall?
After a safety defect has been identified by a manufacturer, a recall will be put in place and owners of potentially affected vehicles will be contacted and requested to return the vehicle back to them. Safety is paramount for any vehicle manufacturer and robust procedures ensure recalls are carried out if a safety-related issue is found in a vehicle.
Since 1997, the Motor Industry Association (MIA) and the NZTA have formulated a code of practice for safety recalls. For new and used vehicles, the code outlines the responsibilities, obligations and procedures that must be followed when undertaking a safety recall. All manufacturers must identify the vehicles involved in the safety recall and by accessing the updated NZTA vehicle ownership records, they have to contact the owners and inform them to have their cars inspected by the franchise dealers and repaired where required. This is free of charge to the consumer and usually a new or upgraded component will be installed to fix the defect.
Don’t ignore the letter
Manufacturers usually notify vehicle owners about a product recall by post. Typically, once the manufacturer has received the parts for the vehicle and is ready to resolve the defect, they send owners a letter asking them to get their vehicles inspected.
Depending on the nature of the recall, choosing to ignore the letter could leave owners and others at risk every time the vehicle is used.
Checking vehicle recalls
How do owners know if their used vehicles have an outstanding recall? For used vehicles imported into NZ, the responsibility lies with the overseas manufacturer to address any safety recalls.
However, under NZ consumer law, importers also have some responsibility to ensure their vehicles they sell are safe and fit for purpose.
As part of the pre-sale procedures, dealers should check for any outstanding recalls to ensure every vehicle sold is safe to be operated. For people buying privately, it could be possible that a past recall may have been missed by the previous owner. It’s important to register the change of ownership to ensure the new owner can be contacted with regards to any future recalls.
If owners suspect their vehicles may be affected by a recall, best practice is to contact the vehicle manufacturer/distributor to confirm uncertainties. Some manufacturers have a specific recall checking procedure online, where the chassis or registration number can be entered to obtain outstanding recall information.
The compulsory recall of Takata Alpha airbags ends on 31 December 2019. Owners wanting to find out if their vehicles are affected should visit rightcar.govt.nz.