Why do cars get recalled?

The number of recalls issued by manufacturers of motor vehicles is rising, probably in line with the complexity of modern engines and electrical systems. Not all recalls are for major fixes – vehicles are recalled for smaller-scale fixes all the time. Smaller issues are sometimes addressed when you take your vehicle in for a service.  At the other end of the scale, it has happened that the manufacturer has issued a “do not drive” instruction – such as was issued with Porsche for its 911 GT3 model that started catching fire.

Modern cars are built with mechanical and electrical systems – any part of which could fail. The safety of consumer goods (including their components) such as motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts is regulated by the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). Among other things, such as statutory warranties as to acceptable quality, the ACL imposes obligations on suppliers and manufacturers of consumer goods concerning product recalls.

Under the ACL, goods (such as motor vehicles) are deemed to have a safety defect ‘if their safety is not such as persons generally are entitled to expect’. This means that whether a motor vehicle is considered to have a safety defect will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

If a safety or non-compliance issue is found in a vehicle, manufacturers are responsible to fix these, and that means that they will recall the vehicle. Vehicle recalls can be voluntary, where the manufacture decides independently to recall a vehicle, or compulsory – where the manufacturer is compelled in terms of the law to conduct a recall.

The website lists all recalls for major car brands. In 2015 there were 158 car recalls, 199 in 2016, and 183 in 2017. We are still in the first month of 2018, and already 6 recalls for cars are listed.

In addition to the complex systems and potential for failure in modern cars, manufacturers are concerned about reputational damage should they be aware of a problem without recalling the models concerned, and later are exposed for trying to hide the situation. Car companies are now acting to address faults much earlier than they may have in the past.