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Vehicle recalls. A handy guide

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Modern automobiles are incredibly complex pieces of machinery, in which numerous systems, performing a multitude of functions, come together so you can hop in, turn the key, and drive safely to your destination.

After more than 100 years of development, this means that as we drive to the shops, we are containing and controlling thousands of explosions of fuel and air mixture, cooling the residual engine heat, powering air-conditioning systems for the cabin, providing power for the steering system, charging the battery, boosting braking power, and on, and on, and on.

The car as we know it really is a modern miracle.

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 under-performing. 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?

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 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 here.

How frequently do recalls happen?

In the six months to May 2019 there were 48 separate vehicle recalls of cars in Singapore.

Recalls affect vehicles from mass-produced Fords to rare Ferraris.

Many reported faults may seem minor, such as for owners of the Ferrari GTC4Lusso where “The current layout of the Bowden cable creates tension on the door lock mechanism which may cause the cable retaining slot to break and prevent the door from being opened when using the external handle.” In this instance owners could wait until the problem occurs, though it could cause some inconvenience. And embarrassment – it is a Ferrari after all.

Car air-conditioning blower system

For owners of the first-generation Porsche Panamera, “A possibility of malfunction and short circuit in the air-conditioning blower system” also sounds minor, until it’s pointed out that “these short circuits can cause a fire.” You want to get that looked at straight away.

Recalls can affect older vehicles too, such as a current notice for a BMW model produced from 1995 to 2003 that may have had steering-wheel conversions that included faulty airbags.

The bulk of recalls are safety-related, and eight of those 48 recall notices in six months are to do with airbag issues.

One for the Honda Accord points to a big issue with third-party suppliers: “It was determined that, for a group of vehicles previously recalled for the Takata driver's frontal airbag inflator, the manufacturing process of this affected service parts (sic) may be improperly controlled. As a result there is potential risk that the internal pressure of those inflators may abnormally increase during deployment and the inflator container may rupture.

Be aware that if the container ruptures it could spray metal shards through the cabin, with potentially fatal results.

What’s the biggest vehicle recall?

Now-disgraced airbag manufacturer Takata was responsible for the biggest vehicle recall in history – affecting more than 40 million vehicles worldwide.

Car Airbags, Recalls

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 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S., faulty Takata airbags are responsible for an estimated 24 deaths and 300 injuries worldwide.

Takata supplied airbags to manufacturers around the globe, and the cost of replacing them all was estimated to be US$5 billion (on top of a US$1 billion fine for Takata in the US), 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 recall?

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. If you don’t mind being locked out of your Ferrari, nobody is forcing you to bother. Otherwise, it is highly recommended you act.

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