Thursday April 24 2014

Car recall: What is it and how are we affected?

By Gumisiriza Mwesigye

Imagine getting in your new car (not newly bought and brand new straight from the factory), and on starting it up, the ignition switch slips out of position and shuts down the engine.

Or as you adjust your seat into a comfortable position, it somehow cannot lock into place. Or as you are driving along, the power steering begins to feel stiff and you would need extra effort to turn it.
Or in the worst case scenario, somehow you discover that the airbags cannot activate in the event of a crash.

Such are some of the defects that cars can have, a situation that many may face as they drive, and the last thing any car manufacturer would want in its models.
But it is also the kind of thing that can lead to concern, fears or even panic among drivers.

Problem at hand
Currently, Toyota Motor Corporation and General Motors are the midst of such massive recalls of several models, some of them as far back as 2006, for a variety of problems. An Associated Press article carried on Yahoo News states, “Toyota Motor Corp. is recalling 6.39 million vehicles globally for a variety of problems spanning nearly 30 models in Japan, the U.S., Europe and other places…. Other regions affected by the recall include Africa, South America and the Middle East.”

On the other hand, General Motors, or GM as it is more popularly known, has recalled almost five million cars so far.
According to an article in The New York Times, at the end of March, “General Motors announced….that it was recalling 490,000 trucks and 172,000 compact cars, meaning the automaker has now recalled about 4.8 million vehicles in the United States during the first three months of the year. That is about six times the number of vehicles it recalled in all of 2013,”
And the recalls have continued to be issued as more problems with other models are reported. The quote says this, “If the pace continues, automakers could break the record of 30.8 million vehicles recalled in 2004,” reports Associated Press.

For GM, this puts them in a spot of bother with the relevant authorities in the US, and probably in the other markets to which they sell their cars. Fresh from the brink of bankruptcy, which necessitated a huge bailout by the government, it would be the last thing they would want that puts them in the limelight.
Worse still, defective ignition switches in the Chevrolet Cobalt have been linked to 12 deaths in the US and one in Canada.

Affected car models
The cars identified with ignition switch and power steering problems include Saturn Ion (2004-2007) Saturn Aura (2008-2009) Chevrolet models; Malibu (2004-2006, 2008, 2009) Malibu Maxx (2004-2006), Pontiac G6 (2005-2008, 2009), HHR (2009-2010) and Cobalt (2010).

And the storm is not over for GM: Two engineers were suspended for their roles in the events leading to the recalls over the faulty ignition switch, the chief executive officer having to face Congress, and the company eventually being penalised in one way or another.

While GM models are not many on Ugandan roads, the Toyota models identified in the recalls should raise several eyebrows. But officials at Toyota Uganda say that they are also following international media coverage of the recalls, and acknowledge receiving a few general inquiries from their customers. However, these inquiries were not on the models affected.

“The only thing they ask is ‘is my car affected?’ They are not even worried about what it was,” said one official who declined to be named so as not to pre-empt an official statement that the company intends to issue this week.
As a proactive measure, the company had sent out messages and contacted their customers to approach them with any inquiries regarding their vehicles, further information about the recalls or any other related issues.

getting help
Toyota Uganda has received a list of the models identified in the recalls and what customers need to do is send the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) or chassis number, which is found on the engine or at the side of the front seats. They will crosscheck this and advise them accordingly. And if the vehicle is under recall, the customer should take it to their workshop to have the problem fixed.

In addition, what would be of particular interest to Ugandans, since most of them buy their cars in various ways, is that even “grey models” would also be covered by the special service campaign at Toyota Uganda.
They would follow the same process, where they send the VIN to check. A grey model is a term used to refer to a car, which is bought outside the dealership system. It could be bought from a car bond, another person, online or imported individually.

Commenting on the worldwide recalls by Toyota Motor Corporation, the officials said, “The recalls or special service campaigns are being done as a precaution.”

“The company regularly monitors failures or certain things in the vehicles.” Some of these failures that are subject to the current recalls are faulty electrical connection could cause air bags to deactivate.
The models affected are Corolla (2009-2010) Matrix (2009-2010), Highlander/Kluger (2008-2010), RAV4 (2006-2008), and Yaris/Vitz (2006-2010). This list also includes Pontiac Vibe (2009-2010), a GM car which Toyota designed and engineered, and Subaru Trezia (2004-2013). The latter is also known as Toyota Verso-S, Toyota Ractis Verso, Toyota Space Verso in different markets. It is worth noting that Toyota has an ownership stake in Subaru.

what you ought to know
For all but the Scion models, Toyota says: “The driver’s airbag module in the involved vehicles is attached to a spiral cable assembly with electrical connections that could become damaged when the steering wheel is turned. If this occurs, the air bag warning lamp will illuminate. In addition, the driver’s air bag could become deactivated, causing it not to deploy in the event of a crash. Toyota is not aware of any injuries or fatalities caused by this condition.”

Scion xD (2008-2010), also known as Toyota ist/Urban Cruiser, and Yaris/Vitz hatchbacks (2006-2010) and Sedans (2007-2010) have defective springs in the front seat, which could prevent seats from locking in place.

On this, the car maker explains: “In the seat rail of the driver seat of the involved vehicles and also the front passenger seat of three-door models, the springs used for the mechanism which lock the seat rail in its adjusting positions could break. This can happen if the seat is adjusted forward and/or rearward with high frequency. If a seat rail spring breaks, the seat may not lock into the adjusted position. If the vehicle is operated with a broken seat rail spring, the seat could move in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury to the occupant.”

In all, it can be argued that Ugandans should not be worried about the automotive recalls because we generally buy models that are 10 years and older. However, it should be noted that some of the affected cars were made in 2004, which is 10 years ago. And with more exposure, more disposable income and easier access to a variety of cars other than Japanese, Ugandans can afford and are buying these cars. So, we should make it our business to be abreast with such developments.

automakers’ concerns
More generally, a product recall, as it is not confined to manufacturers of cars but any other product. It is where the maker initiates a process by which consumers return a product or products as a result of safety issues or a defect.

For car makers, it is an automotive recall in which car models that have been identified with defects or problems can be returned to the nearest dealers to have them repaired or that particular problem fixed.
The scale of a recall varies depending on the issue and markets, some are small and get a little media attention but others are massive, and are the focus of media coverage and the public.