Thursday April 24 2014

The big deal about car recalls

Two major auto-makers, General Motors and Toyota recently issued major car recalls for some of their popular models. Most motorists in Uganda, however, are uncertain whether they should be alarmed by this or not. My Car experts discuss in detail what the recall is all about and why you need to be informed. Dig in.

Jude: Recently, there was a recall for Toyota products including RAV4, Scion and Camry among others. What are the chances that we can have car recall affecting Ugandans? Do we even know what a car recall is?

Paul: I think we need first to know what a recall is. Whenever car manufacturers make product recalls, sometimes some of the products malfunction. They issue a recall programme. Under the recall programme, that particular product is supposed to be rectified and the car is returned to the customer in a proper working condition. Often, the recall ends up becoming a warranty issue. We need to separate the two. There is the usual warranty issue, where you buy a brand new car from dealer X and they tell you nothing should happen to the car within the next three years.

Mustafa: Three years or 100,000km whichever comes first as they usually say.

Paul: Along the way, the transmission stops working yet you have been servicing with the dealer. So they will fix the car free of charge. A global recall is a bigger problem like what happened to Toyota. Remember, the fly by wire system whereby cars would accelerate themselves because of the electronic accelerators, or the brakes failed?
That became a big deal because there was even some politics. Toyota’s issues in the US were even taken to the Senate but what happened to Toyota could also happen to any other car manufacturer. Even Mercedes makes recalls, like the recall of their A-Class where they had to replace ESP system? A recall can happen to any manufacturer, but we need to differentiate warranty and a recall. Warranty can only work when you continue servicing with the local representative in your country. But with a recall, you are advised to report immediately because it can affect your safety.

Jude: From what I can pick from your explanation, it is unlikely that a Ugandan will suffer or be affected by a recall.

Paul: Do you mean a Ugandan benefiting from a recall? Let me put it this way, owners of such cars are not suffering but instead they are beneficiaries.

Jude: Okay, beneficiaries, but what are the chances that some Ugandans will benefit if any?

Mustafa: Put it this way, they have recalled a specific RAV4, will I take it to Toyota Uganda and they fix it for me?

Jude: That is my question.

Paul: It depends on the agreement you made wherever you bought the car. If you bought the car brand new and it was meant for Uganda, then you take it right to the dealer and they will fix it. If you bought it second hand from someone else, that will be a problem.

Jude: So if I drive to Toyota Uganda, who pays for the bill? Or is the car shipped back to Japan?

Paul: By the way, a recall programme does not require taking the car back to where it was manufactured. It usually involves taking the car back to the dealer and it is fixed free of charge. The manufacturers are trying to salvage their reputation because they put something in your car and it didn’t work, so they need to fix it under warranty.

Mustafa: So, a recall in Uganda is a bit difficult. Like Paul is saying, you have to have bought the car brand new; it has to be a car for that market.

Jude: You have to be the very first owner and the car not having been sold to different people.

Mustafa: Not many of us fit this scenario and by the way some recalls are specific to regions. You may find that there is a recall in the US and it does not affect similar cars in Europe or Africa.
And also there is a bit of sensitivity in these markets. The US is a very sensitive market. Even for a small thing you can be made to pay billions of dollars like that fly by wire system that Toyota had. They are going to pay about $1.2b, so they need to be cautious such that the problem does not recur.
The drive by wire system is amazing. In older cars, you have a wire connected to the accelerator pedal that moves the throttle flap. But these days, when you open the accelerator and press it, there is no direct connection to the flap because it is electronically controlled. So in the case of Toyota, that electronic controlling failed so the car accelerates on its own.

Paul: What Mustafa is saying is that the accelerator body position sensor communicates electronically with the car’s computer. It says, “Well, I think Mustafa wants to go faster.” Or it communicates that Mustafa has eased off the gas pedal so don’t pump more gas. That is in short; fly by wire, without the old accelerator cable.

Mustafa: So what happened was that this system was failing in some cars.

Paul: The computer would decide to accelerate on your behalf.

Mustafa: Imagine you are in a traffic jam and you end up bumping into a Mercedes S-Class.

Jude: Like you said about Americans’ sensitivity, one thing I always find annoying is that whenever there is a recall, people start giving all sorts of negative comments about the manufacturer.

Mustafa: Toyota is a big brand in the US and it is bought by regular folks like you and me and because owning a luxury car in the US means you have to be very rich. So for us Toyota owners, if something happened or even to say Honda or any regular car maker, they make noise about it. But if it happened to say their own like Chrysler, Hummer, it is not big news.

Paul: One of those American models had a problem with the design of the fuel tank. One time the fuel tank exploded and it burnt a woman, I don’t remember the brand but it was a serious thing but why wasn’t it as big as Toyota?

Jude: That is why I was saying that they is some kind of politics involved.

Paul: All brands have product recalls. It is a good thing.

Mustafa: It is not something that if they didn’t do a recall that the world will come to an end. It is all about precaution. It is not like all Toyotas are going to crash. We would be having accidents everywhere.
The Harriers are driven by wire, the Progrès has an electronic throttle body. The Aristo is drive by wire, but I have never had a problem. It is a good thing to do recalls.