Vehicle Recalls on the Rise – Are you Impacted?

Mechanic looking under the hood of a vehicle

As a vehicle owner, I always take notice of highly publicized recalls such as the recent airbag recalls that impacted over 3 million vehicles in Canada and almost 34 million in the United States, with more recalls continuing to be added. But I have to admit I wasn’t aware of how many smaller recalls happen on a regular basis. In fact, I was quite surprised to learn from Jean-Léon Morin, the Head of Recalls at Transport Canada, that in 2015 the organization reported 624 separate recall notices which impacted more than six million Canadian vehicles. While these recalls may not be quite as far reaching or sensational, it seems to me it would be just as important to get them fixed, especially when you consider that safety may be on the line.

What I discovered, however, is that according to Transport Canada, 22 per cent of vehicle recall fixes in Canada are never completed, and it takes up to two years for the other 78 per cent to be repaired. This left me curious to learn more about vehicle recalls and why and when they should be on a car owner’s radar.

Here’s what else I found out from Mr. Morin:

Are we seeing more vehicle recalls in recent years?
JLM: The number of recalls has been steadily rising since the 1980s, but there are several factors at play. The main factors are that the number of cars and trucks on Canadian roads has increased, and the complexity of these vehicles has gone up tremendously in that timeframe. Also, the timeframe when problems occurred during manufacturing and assembly are better isolated, so we may see a small batch of vehicles recalled (sometimes fewer than 10 vehicles worldwide) where previously the problem would never have been identified. All this leads to higher numbers of recalls, but this also means that safety problems are being better addressed.

Are there any trends you are seeing in the type of recalls?
JLM: Transport Canada is seeing changes. As vehicles become more computerized, an increasing number of recalls may not require a mechanical fix, but rather a software upgrade. We’re also seeing several types of problems being recalled where they might not have been a short time ago, for example engine hesitation or temporary loss of power. Only a decade ago, this was usually considered to be a nuisance-type issue, but now it is often addressed through recalls.

If I don’t see any indication of the problem occurring with my car, is it still important to have the recall work completed?
JLM: Often, the safety problems that recalls are meant to address may not be apparent to the driver in normal driving and may only surface in certain circumstances, such as emergency braking, crash avoidance, etcetera. But, if a safety-related recall is issued by a manufacturer, it is because the identified problem is likely to affect the safety of a person, whether it is the driver, a passenger, or another road user.

It’s important to follow the instructions that are in the recall notice that you receive from the manufacturer and have repairs completed promptly – because you never know when that special circumstance may arise.

I would like to point out that that under Canadian law, vehicle manufacturers have to advise you of a safety recall as soon as possible after they become aware of the issue. Sometimes this means that parts and repair procedures may still be in development when a recall is announced.

The letter you receive, or your dealership, will generally also advise you of what you can do to minimise risks until repairs can be completed.

You mention that an owner will receive a notice from the manufacturer. So why might an owner not know about a recall?
JLM: With recall information being available on the internet and with better systems in place for notifying owners, an owner being unaware of a recall is less likely than it used to be. However, notification can still be a problem, especially if a car is bought used and serviced by an independent garage that may not have access to recall information.

There are a few things car owners can do to avoid this risk:

  • Many manufacturers offer to notify owners regarding recalls by email. You simply need to sign up for this service.
  • You can use Transport Canada and manufacturers’ websites to see what recalls might still be active on your vehicle.
  • Check with a dealership that sells and services the brand of car you drive. They can check for outstanding recalls on your vehicle, often over the phone, if you provide your vehicle identification number.
  • If you are buying a used car ensure any recalled problems have been fixed using one of the above options prior to purchase.

I’d also like to note that the dealership will usually fix necessary recall repairs at no cost to the owner. And, if for any reason you feel that a recall is not being addressed appropriately, it can be reported to Transport Canada. As we oversee vehicle recalls we can take action if needed.

I’ve already bookmarked the Transport Canada Recall Database for easy reference and input my VIN on my manufacturer’s website. I was pleased to discover there aren’t any outstanding recalls on my vehicle and now have peace of mind that I will be informed in the event anything does come up – how about you?