Car Care

Why you should take vehicle recalls seriously


Last year, you may have heard about the mass recall of Takata airbags across the globe, following dozens of cases of them malfunctioning in the event of a crash. 

Major product safety recalls have been happening around the world for decades. One of the most infamous being when Ford recalled 23 million vehicles in 1980 following several incidents where cars would slip from ‘park’ to ‘reverse’ and roll down the road, causing at least 12 deaths and 100 accidents.

In the continued quest for consumer protection, recalls still continue across a wide range of products today.

What is a safety defect?

A safety defect is a failure of a product or component due to its design or construction, which can occur in the automotive industry. If a potential failure is unchecked it’s deemed likely to affect the safe operation of the vehicle, posing a risk to the driver, occupants and other road users. These defects aren’t usually identified during normal vehicle maintenance or warrant of fitness inspections and, generally, no warning signs are given while the vehicle is in use. Instead, the defect is usually discovered by the manufacturer.

What is a safety recall?

After a safety defect has been identified by a manufacturer, a recall will be put in place and owners of potentially affected vehicles will be contacted and requested to return the vehicle back to them. Safety is paramount for any vehicle manufacturer and there are robust procedures in place to ensure recalls are carried out if a safety-related issue is found in a particular vehicle.

Since 1997, the Motor Industry Association (MIA) and the NZTA have formulated a code of practice for safety recalls. For both new and used vehicles, the code outlines the responsibilities, obligations and procedures that must be followed when undertaking a safety recall. All manufacturers must identify the vehicles involved in the safety recall and by accessing the updated NZTA vehicle ownership records, they have to contact the owners and inform them to have their cars inspected by the franchise dealers and repaired where required. This is free of charge to the consumer and usually a new or upgraded component will be installed to fix the safety defect.

Don’t ignore the letter

Manufacturers will usually notify vehicle owners about a product recall by post. Typically, once the manufacturer has received the parts for your vehicle and is ready to resolve the defect, you’ll receive a letter asking you to come and get your vehicle inspected. Depending on the nature of the recall, choosing to ignore the letter could leave you and others at risk every time the vehicle is used.

How do I know if my used vehicle has an outstanding recall?

For used vehicles imported into New Zealand, the responsibility ultimately lies with the overseas manufacturer to address any safety recalls. However, under NZ consumer law, the importer of the vehicle also has some responsibility to ensure that the vehicle they sell is safe and fit for purpose.

If you buy a vehicle from a dealer, as part of the pre-sale procedures they should check for any outstanding recalls to ensure every vehicle sold is safe to be operated. If you buy privately, it could be possible that a past recall may have been missed by the previous owner. It’s important to register the change of ownership to ensure the new owner can be contacted with regards to any future recalls.

If you suspect your vehicle may be affected by a recall, the best practice is to contact the vehicle manufacturer/distributor to confirm any uncertainties. Some manufacturers have a specific recall checking procedure online, where you can enter the vehicle chassis or registration number to obtain any outstanding recall information.

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