A survival guide for drivers as carmakers struggle to keep us safe
Driving is a risky business. And for thousands of UK motorists, it seems to be getting riskier.
Last year, more than 850,000 cars were ‘recalled’ from the UK’s roads for safety checks, a three per cent rise on 2012. Only Last week, 3,000 car-owners were advised not to drive their vehicles until they’d been checked for safety after Vauxhall recalled Corsa and ADAM models registered since May this year.
Vehicle manufacturers insist the rising recall figures represent strong commitment to safety, rather than poor quality control.
Indeed, Vauxhall says the fault – a steering system part – came to light during routine quality control inspections at the manufacturing plant in Germany, where the cars are built. And its concern for safety led it to issue a warning that the cars should not be driven before being inspected.
According to VOSA (the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency)*, a total of 868,605 cars were called-in during 2013 for checks on potential hazards – anything from faulty electric switches and airbags to loose steering wheels or failing brakes.
That huge number doesn’t necessarily mean that quality is slipping or that our cars are more dangerous. It may simply highlight the fact that manufacturers are reacting to safety issues faster and proactively fixing faults.
If that’s the case, there’s only one winner…the motorist. Defective parts could cause a serious accident, putting all road users at risk of injury or even death. And while statistics for road accidents actually caused by defective car parts (in the UK) are hard to find, the number of vehicle safety recalls indicates the risk is very real.
But whether consumer safety or quality control is the reason for rising numbers of vehicle recalls, the impact on the car companies is equally devastating. Recalls not only inflict lasting damage on manufacturers’ finances, they also carve-up hard-won reputations.
Infamous ‘ignition defect’
Take Toyota. Still recovering after it was forced to recall more than 10 million vehicles worldwide in 2010, the company has already this year had to call-in more than 75,000 cars in the UK alone. Then look at GM in the U.S. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the number of deaths linked to its infamous ‘ignition defect’, which has led to the recall of millions of vehicles, had risen to 23. Hard to see how a company’s reputation can recover from such dark times.
The way cars are made only points to the annual recall figures continuing to grow. In their quest to drive down costs, manufacturers must squeeze out maximum savings. This means that often, parts are shared between models, which causes huge problems if a faulty part is used.
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA)* is the authority responsible for administering the UK’s safety recall scheme. The DVSA can ask a car producer to investigate if there’s evidence that a design or construction defect exists on a significant number of vehicles.
And last year consumer champions Which? challenged the authority to step on the gas and force carmakers to issue more safety recalls. The recall system in the UK, says Which? is weighted against the motorist, because manufacturers ultimately decide if a safety recall is necessary.
Driving’s a risky business all right. But if the number of vehicle safety recalls continues to rise so, it seems, is building cars.
How do you check if your vehicle is or has been subject to a vehicle safety recall?
- If you own a car, or are planning to buy a new or second hand vehicle, you can easily check if that particular make/model is, or has ever been, subject to a safety recall.
- You can also check your car manufacturer’s website. For example if you own or plan to buy a Toyota car, go to http://www.toyota.co.uk/owners-info/recall-checker
- For further information, download a Consumers’ Guide to Vehicle Safety Recalls.
- You can also report a serious safety defect to the DVSA.
*The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) merged with the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) to form the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) in April 2014.
*Has your car ever been the subject of a safety recall? Were you satisfied with the way the manufacturer dealt with it?