“There’s no such thing as a bad car anymore,” is a persuasive truism salespeople repeat often while car shoppers agonize over their decision to buy or not. “What have you got to lose?”
As Consumer Reports notes in its most recent member survey of half a million vehicle owners, manufacturers continue to crank out new models with troublesome turbocharged engines, lousy-shifting transmissions and buggy infotainment systems, among other issues. Until this year, consumer research firm J.D. Power saw an uptick in vehicle problems documented in its dependability studies, too.
In the quest for better fuel economy numbers and lower production costs, automakers have embraced continuously variable transmissions (CVTs), direct-injection engines and electric steering systems that, like any technology, may systemically malfunction and trigger a recall.
“From a road-test perspective, vehicles really are getting better overall with comfort, convenience and fuel economy improving in most segments. But the pace of change means that recalls are inevitable,” says consumer advocate George Iny, president of the Automobile Protection Association (apa.ca).
“We witness a form of ‘slippage’ whenever scrutiny of the industry weakens. Mercedes-Benz Canada repeatedly told consumers they were not aware of Smart car fires when owners reported incidents and did not relay the complaints to Transport Canada. That deception delayed Transport Canada’s investigation by years.”
It’s no secret Transport Canada has been slow off the mark when it comes to regulatory enforcement. And the industry hasn’t made recall compliance a higher priority in the wake of Transport Canada’s enhanced authority and powers since amendments to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act passed in 2018.
“It may be too early to tell, but I suspect it will require a well-publicized penalty or enforcement activity before the automakers step up their game here,” notes Iny.
Canadians can take solace in the fact that the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has numerous investigations underway triggered by consumer complaints. When NHTSA demands a recall there, Canadian dealers usually follow suit. In addition, some automakers have taken the initiative to launch their own probes.
Here are some noteworthy investigations and recalls of high-volume models – archived on the comprehensive Carcomplaints.com website – that Canadian consumers should be aware of, especially when hunting for a used late-model vehicle. Avoiding these may save you some potential headaches.
Ford Explorer carbon monoxide leak
The Ford Explorer is a popular all-American sport utility that unfortunately has been making some occupants feel unwell due to exhaust fumes entering the cabin. Police in Austin, Texas, revealed its officers were being sickened by carbon monoxide while driving Explorer police interceptors, with one incident causing a minor crash.
Consumers have also sounded the alarm, which has led to a class-action lawsuit that alleges occupants are being poisoned by their Explorers because of defects in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and exhaust systems. A U.S. judge allowed the lawsuit to proceed, stating that Explorers can’t be considered safe if they allow carbon monoxide into the cabin.
According to the plaintiffs, Ford concealed knowledge of the carbon monoxide problems even while dealers were given technical service bulletins warning of exhaust fumes. Ford has since announced a “non-recall” campaign that instructs dealers to seal the rear of the SUVs, reprogram the air conditioners and replace drain valves.
In 2016, NHTSA opened an investigation looking into reported exhaust leaks in 2011-2015 Explorers and later expanded its scope. Buyers considering a used late-model Explorer should be mindful of the health hazard.
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Audi coolant pump succumbs to moisture
Volkswagen Group is recalling certain 2013-2017 Audi A5 and Q5 models, 2012-2015 Audi A6 sedans, and 2013-2016 Audi A4 and A4 allroad models equipped with the popular 2.0-L Turbo FSI engine, which uses an electric coolant pump that can become blocked with debris from the cooling system, causing it to overheat.
The coolant pump can also reportedly short-circuit from moisture inside the mechanism. A blocked or short-circuited pump can increase the risk of a fire. NHTSA has received complaints from Audi owners who have reported engine fires while the vehicles were parked after being driven some distance.
The coolant pumps had been the subject of a previous recall in 2017 to update engine control software that would switch off the coolant pump if it started to overheat. The remedy proved ineffective as the root cause of the defective pumps had not been addressed.
The coolant pump recall affects about 1.2 million vehicles worldwide, with nearly 343,000 Audis recalled in the U.S. The replacement pumps aren’t readily available and may not be delivered to dealers until late 2018 or early 2019.
Hyundai and Kia vehicle fires
Last year Hyundai and sister automaker Kia recalled 1.4 million vehicles because their 2.0-L and 2.4-L four-cylinder engines can spontaneously seize, increasing the possibility of a crash. The companies admitted metallic debris left in the engines during assembly can mix with the engine oil and damage vital components, including the connecting rods and bearings, leading to catastrophic engine failure.
Now comes word the U.S. government is looking to investigate potential fires in 2.2 million Hyundai and Kia vehicles that use the same engines. NHTSA states its preliminary review of consumer complaints indicate the majority of reported fires appears to be related to the same Theta II engine failures subject to the previous recall.
The fires are classified as non-collision incidents, meaning that the engines spontaneously combusted while underway. The affected models include the 2011-2014 Hyundai Sonata sedan and Santa Fe SUV, and the 2011-2014 Kia Optima sedan and Sorento sport-ute.
Hyundai and Kia owners have also reported burning odours, melted wires and smoke emanating from under the hood. The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee wants the automakers’ senior executives to explain why the fires are occurring and what they’re doing to keep the public safe.
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Ram Truck gear selector fault
Fiat Chrysler is recalling 2 million Ram trucks with gear selector problems in the U.S. and 292,000 trucks in Canada. Affected models are heavy-duty 2010-2018 Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups, and the 2011-2018 Ram 3500, 4500 and 5500 chassis-cabs. Certain 2009-2018 Ram 1500 light-duty pickups are also included. Rams built after January 10, 2018, are not affected.
Only Ram trucks equipped with the gear selector mounted on the steering column are subject to the recall (the automaker’s troublesome rotary-dial shifter is the target of an ongoing NHTSA probe). The column-mounted shifter has an interlock that can be affected by high temperatures for long periods of time, such as when the brake pedal is held down while the truck is idling.
The gear shifter can be moved out of Park without touching the brake pedal once the shift interlock is disabled. Chrysler also warns the shifter can be moved out of Park without the key in the ignition, leading to a rollaway condition if the parking brake hasn’t been applied. Fiat Chrysler urges customers to engage the parking brake when parking until the recall work can been performed.
Honda CR-V and Civic oil dilution
Honda Canada says 2017-2018 CR-Vs and 2016-2018 Civics will be subject to repairs designed to address the problems of high oil levels and oil dilution after owners of models with the new 1.5-L turbocharged gas engine started noticing high oil levels on the dipstick caused by fuel mixing with the motor oil.
Affected owners will receive new uploaded software, and dealers will also change the engine oil and in some cases the air conditioning control units. The modifications will apparently allow the engines to warm up faster and improve fuel combustion in cold weather to prevent unburned gas from diluting the engine oil.
The repairs are being made to Canadian models first and before those of U.S. owners living in northern states. The problem was first documented by Honda buyers in China, who had complained of illuminated engine/oil warning lights and damaged engines caused by fuel contaminating the oil, a problem Honda blamed on short drives made in extremely cold weather.
Canadian CR-V and Civic owners will have the benefit of warranty extensions on selected engine components for up to six years from the original date of purchase with no mileage limit.
General Motors power steering failure
Similar to Fiat Chrysler, General Motors opened an internal investigation in early 2017 after customer complaints piled up about the loss of power steering in its full-size pickup trucks. GM engineers found the trucks experienced a temporary loss of electric power-steering assist followed by a sudden return of assistive power, especially during low-speed turns.
Drivers of the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 light-duty trucks may suddenly feel the steering revert to manual steering and see a message warning about the loss of assisted steering. GM says other electrical problems may also occur when the power assist is lost, including disabled air conditioning, cruise control, radio, Stabilitrack system and door locks.
Making a low-speed turn causes more of a demand for higher electrical current, which can prompt temporary low-voltage conditions. The recall affects more than 690,000 model-year 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 trucks in the U.S. and 80,000 trucks in Canada.
Some 2015-model-year truck owners have also experienced steering problems. Most automakers have abandoned traditional hydraulic power-steering systems in recent years and embraced more efficient electric steering.
Toyota Prius fire risk
The Toyota Prius is a well-regarded, bestselling gas-electric hybrid vehicle, yet a saintly reputation won’t make a car immune to a recall if a serious fault presents itself. Toyota is recalling about 1 million 2016-2018 Prius hatchbacks and Prius v wagon variants worldwide, with about 192,000 of them in the U.S.
The campaign will address problems with engine wire harnesses that connect to the hybrid power control units. Toyota says the harnesses could make contact with the cover of the power control units and wear over time. This can result in an electrical short-circuit that will cause heat, and with enough heat a fire could occur.
Toyota dealers will check the engine wire harness assemblies and replace them if the wire core is exposed. The replacement wire harnesses include protective sleeves to help prevent the wire coating from wearing down.
The previous-generation 2010-2014 Prius was recalled for stalling issues that saw the cars revert to “limp mode” when the hybrid powertrain senses a fault. Stalling while driving is something the NHTSA views dimly as it can endanger vehicle occupants on a busy highway.
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