Echoes of re­calls


CAR re­calls are in the spot­light again af­ter the fourth Holden Com­modore check in three months.

Par­ent com­pany Gen­eral Mo­tors is­sued its 54th re­call in the US so far this year, cov­er­ing about 28.9 mil­lion cars.

With ev­ery re­call, the same ques­tions are asked: are more things go­ing wrong with cars be­cause they’re more tech­ni­cal these days, or are we bet­ter at find­ing the faults?

The re­al­ity is both are true, but there is a third fac­tor. Car com­pa­nies are in­creas­ingly wor­ried about be­ing sued.

Gen­eral Mo­tors is un­der in­tense scru­tiny in the US af­ter it was found to have de­layed a re­call on a faulty ig­ni­tion switch for 10 years.

The dodgy ig­ni­tion, which can switch off the en­gine un­ex­pect­edly, has been linked to 13 deaths and in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve more will be traced back to the fault.

Gen­eral Mo­tors has set aside up to $1 mil­lion per case to com­pen­sate fam­i­lies of those killed.

In Aus­tralia, ve­hi­cle re­call re­quire­ments can be vague. In essence, the fault must be deemed a “safety haz­ard” for it to be called a re­call, which is then pub­lished on re­ Mak­ers must pub­licly advertise the de­fect and con­tact cus­tomers di­rectly.

But many mak­ers fear the pub­lic em­bar­rass­ment in the be­lief that the word “re­call” is bad for busi­ness.

More of­ten than the pub­lic re­alises, they lobby govern­ment of­fi­cials to have the fault down­graded.

They are al­lowed to han­dle other de­fects dis­creetly in the form of a “dealer ser­vice cam­paign”, mean­ing there is no need to advertise the fault or con­tact cus­tomers and the fault is fixed dur­ing rou­tine ser­vic­ing.

The work is done only if own­ers take the car back to the dealer rather than an in­de­pen­dent re­pairer. And even then, they are not nec­es­sar­ily ad­vised of the “run­ning change” to their car.

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