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A Handy Guide to Vehicle Recalls

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A modern car is an engineering wonder. A multitude of systems work in concert so that you may turn the key and drive to your destination in comfort and safety.

The amount of technology and engineering that makes that possible is phenomenal – in a petrol engine alone a crankshaft rotates at up to several thousand revolutions per minute, pushing as many as 12 pistons up and down, while camshafts operate in tandem to open and close valves to allow the air/fuel mixture in and the exhausts gasses out, and an ignition system delivers a spark at exactly the right time to ignite the mixture at exactly the right time.

And that’s just the engine. There are electrical systems for everything from headlights to adjusting the seats, heating and cooling for the cabin, a gearbox or transmission, a differential to deliver power to the wheels, braking systems with hydraulics, cooling for the engine, steering systems with assistance, and on and on.

Faulty car designs and construction

But we take it for granted that all these complex systems will work perfectly. And when they don’t – leaving us stranded by the roadside, for instance – we get annoyed.

Sometimes systems or components fail thanks to failures in maintenance – either owners skipping maintenance schedules or garages not doing their jobs properly.

And sometimes the failures are a result of faulty design or construction. In the latter case, particularly where occupant safety is concerned, manufacturers are required to recall the vehicles to rectify the problems.

How are vehicles recalled?

In Singapore if your vehicle needs to be recalled by the manufacturer the motor dealer or importer is responsible for informing you, as well as informing the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

The car dealer or importer must make arrangements to rectify affected vehicles. If the authorised agents don’t know you own an affected vehicle this could be a problem, though the LTA updates vehicle recall information online at the Electronic Vehicle Recall System (EVRS). Links for three different online vehicle recall services can be found at OneMotoring.

How frequently do recalls happen?

In the six months to January 2023 there were 36 separate vehicle recalls of cars in Singapore.

Recalls affect vehicles from Toyotas to Teslas (yes, even electric cars with fewer moving parts may be recalled).

Many reported faults may seem minor, such as for owners of the Jaguar F-Pace in which an incorrectly specified lamp may have been fitted, resulting in “part of the rear indicator not being illuminated correctly.”

While others are more likely to ruin your day, such as a software error in Volvo XC60 and XC90 models that may prevent the engine from starting.

Recalls can affect older vehicles too, such as a current notice a Hyundai Tucson dating back as far as 2009 for anti-lock braking modules that may develop a short circuit over time.

The bulk of recalls are safety-related, and two of those 36 recall notices in six months are to do with airbag issues.

What’s the biggest vehicle recall?

Now-disgraced airbag manufacturer Takata was responsible for the biggest vehicle recall in history – affecting more than 100 million vehicles worldwide.

Airbags are inflated by what is essentially a small explosive device – they’re not the soft, fluffy pillow you like to imagine. Many of Takata’s ammonium nitrate inflation devices were made without a drying agent, but in highly humid environments the ammonium nitrate could become unstable, causing the inflator devices to explode.

According to AP, faulty Takata airbags are responsible for an estimated total of 33 deaths worldwide.

Takata supplied airbags to manufacturers around the globe, and some reporting suggested the total cost to Takata may have been as high as US$24b, enough to see the company declare bankruptcy, leaving vehicle manufacturers to pick up the tab.

The Takata recall affected more than 150,000 vehicles in Singapore, the bulk of which have been rectified.

What should you do when you have a vehicle recalled?

If you bought your vehicle from an authorised dealer and they know how to contact you, there should never be an issue for you with recalls. If your vehicle is subject to a recall notice you should arrange for rectification work as soon as possible – remember, seemingly small issues could be catastrophic. Priority will be given to the most urgent issues.

It isn’t clear whether agents are required to bear the costs of rectification work in the law, but the expectation is that they will do so, including parts and labour. Some official agents will rectify issues with parallel-imported vehicles of their brand for free, while others will not. Buyer beware.

If you bought through a parallel importer or second-hand car dealer, you may want to check your individual vehicle’s recall status here.

If you receive notification from an agent that your car is subject to a recall it is up to you to arrange with them to rectify the fault.

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