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Get used to recalls, they’re just a fact of life

Published January 10, 2013

It seems every few months, an automaker announces a recall. These announcements often dominate the headlines, particularly if the number of affected vehicles reaches into the millions.

Although recalls represent a financial burden for automakers and an inconvenience for consumers, they are a fact of life in the automobile industry and should come as no surprise.

When you consider the complexity of the average automobile (with advanced mechanical, electrical and computer systems and thousands of individual parts involved in the assembly process) it’s surprising that more recalls don’t occur.

Every year, auto recall notices are issued on an assortment of safety related concerns. Recalls can affect any manufacturer’s product line up at any time. Often there is no immediate safety risk, but a problem could arise if the issue is not addressed. Some models have experienced more than one recall.

Automobiles are not unique in the recall department. Appliances, furniture, children’s toys, electronic devices and food products are among the thousands of consumer items that are recalled for safety related issues.

The primary purpose of issuing an automotive recall is to address safety concerns. It is not uncommon for manufacturers to issue product bulletins or product improvement notices to deal with mechanical defects that have been brought to light after a vehicle has been experiencing real world driving conditions.

If a consumer believes that a vehicle has an inherent flaw that could jeopardize the vehicle’s safety or performance, which hasn’t already been addressed, they can report it to Transport Canada (www.tc.gc.ca).

There is no definitive number of reports that determines whether a recall notice should be issued. All reports and alleged safety issues are reviewed by experienced investigators. If Transport Canada receives enough reports about an alleged defect, it will launch a formal investigation.

An investigation into a potential defect could reveal a legitimate structural, performance or safety-related defect, which could trigger further analysis, investigation and corrective measures undertaken by the manufacturer in question.

Auto manufacturers are required by law notify owners if their vehicle is the subject of a recall. Although manufacturers may fulfill their legal requirements in trying to contact owners, there are situations where owners don’t always get the message.

That’s why it’s important for customers to give the dealer or manufacturer an email address so that they can be informed quickly about a recall or defect.

If you do receive a recall notice for your vehicle, you should bring it into your local new car dealer as soon as possible (regardless of whether your vehicle is owned or leased). The longer you wait, the greater the risk of doing damage to the vehicle and compromising your safety.

In recent years, automakers have adopted a more proactive philosophy about recalls. They recognize that it’s good business to initiate voluntary recalls, rather than being instructed to take action by the government.

The media would have consumers believe that automobile recalls are a bad thing and damaging to the brands, but I would argue the opposite. Yes, recalls can have an initial negative effect on an automaker’s brand, image and sales.

But, automakers want their vehicles to operate efficiently and safely. Their shareholders and stakeholders require that they take appropriate action when a defect comes to light. If it is proven that a recall will fix a problem, then automakers are quick to act.

After a recall item has been addressed, car owners can take comfort in the fact that their vehicles are more roadworthy and, most importantly, safe to drive.

If you are unsure about any recall notices that may be outstanding on your vehicle, contact Transport Canada or a registered new car dealer. The statute of limitations for all no-charge auto recalls is eight years from the original sale date of the vehicle.

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