Vehicle recall – two words which strike fear into every car owner

Car ownership advice
Vehicle recall - two words that strike fear into drivers everywhere

When people make the decision to purchase a car and part with their cash they don’t do it lightly. It’s a major outlay investment and many people will take car finance to fund the purchase. A savvy buyer will shop around, do their research and be well informed about the make and model they want. This applies to the purchase of both new and used cars.

Technology has advanced in the car industry a huge amount in the last number of years. We even see on the horizon the prospect of driverless cars, so the idea that car recalls are on the rise in this particular industry is surely a bit of a surprise.  A recall occurs when a manufacturer (or a higher authority) determines that a particular car model (or several models) has a safety-related defect or does not comply with a legislated safety standard.  A car manufacturer can voluntarily initiate a recall, or in very serious circumstances, the government may issue a compulsory recall of a particular model.  This happens very rarely, as a car company is unlikely to allow a situation to develop to the point where the government has to intervene and force cars off the road.

Why is the number of recalls increasing?

Cars are becoming ever more complex, with millions of parts interacting in very harsh environments.  Mostly, this increasing sophistication is for our benefit, making our cars safer and more efficient.  However, increasing complexity means an increased chance that there could be a problem.  Despite millions of miles of testing of every new car before it goes on sale, it’s impossible to cover every eventuality.

Car manufacturers are also under continual pressure to reduce costs, and that includes lowering manufacturing costs and applying pressure to their suppliers. Training staff and maintaining a slick and cohesive manufacturing output is a costly challenge, and many car manufacturers have found it more economical to outsource production of many components and sub-assemblies.  Like any situation where different parts and systems from different suppliers are forced to work together, there can be problems with integration.  It comes as no surprise to learn that there has been a huge rise in the number of car recalls as a result of problems with parts sourced from different suppliers in recent years.

How does the recall process work?

When an issue is first discovered, considerable effort needs to be applied to precisely identify the problem and come up with a solution. Specific parts or assemblies need to be isolated, fixes implemented and then directed to the correct manufacturer. Testing needs to take place to make sure that solving one problem doesn’t create another problem later on.

All this causes time delays in solving the original problem for the consumer. Issues like these have given rise to some major public relations disasters where car companies have not coped well with managing this process. For example, Toyota locked themselves into a costly (in terms of reputation and actual money) battle with US authorities over three major car recalls they incurred from 2009 to 2011 on some of their American models.  When your recall saga has its own Wikipedia page, it’s a big deal and it’s probably gone wrong.

Like any customer service situation, it is important to deal with car recalls properly.  A bad issue can become a win in terms of public relations if handled sensitively and sensibly.  However if dealt with badly, the potential for costs in terms of reputation and more is almost limitless.  In America, Toyota is still struggling to regain its public image after their recall saga of more than five years ago, despite other manufacturers (both GM and Ford, for example) having to go through similar recalls more recently.

A number of car manufacturers are currently having to deal with recalls arising from a supplier problem in Japan (a company called Takata, which makes airbags and other safety equipment).  It will be interesting to see how different manufacturers deal with the problem and how their public image is affected by a third-party problem.

Car recall infographic 01Car recalls infographic 2Car safety recall infographic 3

Mark Dressekie is the owner of Woodstock Motors – car breakdown recovery services based in London. He regularly blogs on the area of car repair services and alloy wheel refurbishments.

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