Car recalls in Australia 2022: Why vehicle recalls are occurring

Craig Duff

Posted July 29, 2022

Beyond the high-profile Takata airbag recall, vehicle recalls are more a common occurrence and range from mundane regulatory requirements to life-saving mandatory fixes.

The Takata airbag recall is the most high-profile vehicle recall in Australia and for good reason. Three million cars were fitted with potentially lethal airbag inflators in Australia. The risk was so great that state governments refused to re-register vehicles that were subject to the recall until they had been fixed.

Globally, a staggering 100 million cars were recalled due to the safety issue, which was caused by the propellent used to inflate the airbag burning too quickly. The resulting explosion then fired shards of metal and plastic into the cabin.

Vehicle recalls are actually a common occurrence and usually involve far less concerning issues.

The usual symptom for a recall is a component in the vehicle that isn’t operating correctly or wasn’t manufactured or installed according to normal specifications.

That can include something as seemingly innocuous as an infotainment screen not switching off its television mode when the car is moving to incorrect labelling on the jack.

Many of these vehicle recalls arise because a component has been incorrectly fitted during on the production line, usually as a result of the wrong batch of parts being supplied for vehicles destined for Australia.

As is the case with the infotainment display and jack issue mentioned above, these components do not pose an imminent safety issue, but they aren’t certified according to the Australian Design Rules and are therefore not permitted to be on the car.

For example, Toyota recalled 30,000 C-HR compact SUVs this year (built between 2016 and 2020) because a sticker hadn’t been plastered to the towbar affirming that it complied with European regulations. That omission also saw the vehicles also not comply with the ADRs. That’s not going to impinge on the car’s safety or the owner’s enjoyment of the vehicle but it does mean they’re technically in breach of Australian law.

Conversely, vehicle recalls affecting steering, braking and electrical components that can potentially ignite a fire are all serious problems that need to be rectified as quickly as possible.

BMW has recalled 107 X3 SUVs, X4 SUVs and 5-Series sedans to address a software update, that “may lead to an engine failure whilst driving and a red Check Control message "Drive faulty” may also appear”. As the recall notice identifies, “a sudden loss of engine power increases the risk of an accident and injury or death to vehicle occupants and/or other road users”.

BMW with bonnet open

Owners don't pay for repairs to recalled vehicles.

Car recalls in Australia in 2022

There have been almost 90 recalls in Australia so far in 2022, affecting almost 290,000 vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz heads the field for the largest number of vehicle recalls this year, with 26, impacting 39,000 vehicles. Kia has reported seven recalls involving more than 86,000 cars.

A Mercedes-Benz spokesman attributed the high incidence of recalls to the company’s safety focus.

“Yes, the number of recalls has risen. However, these measures are first and foremost a sign of our precautionary and stringent actions,” he said.

“We consistently set the very highest standards on such matters – regardless of whether a recall impacts one vehicle or a larger number of vehicles.

“Matters that are not categorised as safety-relevant but perhaps merely require the adaption of minor deviations in documentation, for instance, are also ultimately subject to measures, depending upon the regulatory requirements in the countries affected. An example of this is “Incomplete wheel labelling” (letter “J” not engraved onto the rim)”.

“Moreover, we are well aware that each measure can often lead to our customers having to pay an unexpected visit to the service centre. We deeply regret the resulting inconvenience – but nevertheless consider it our duty to act consistently and decisively in line with our brand promise.”

In short, it is in car companies’ interests to identify and address faults as quickly as possible. The reputational damage and consequences for vehicle owners that arise from a failure to act are far greater than being seen to be overly safety conscious.

How do I know if my vehicle has been recalled in Australia?

When vehicle manufacturers identify a recall issue, they will contact affected owners. The way that contact is initiated will depend on the details the car companies have, so it may be a letter sent to your address, an email or an SMS message.

Owners of second-hand cars can also usually be tracked down, with the brands cross-checking vehicle identification numbers with registration details.

The correspondence will typically ask the owners to contact their nearest dealership to arrange for the faulty part to be fixed or replaced. The price of the part and the labour involved in the job is borne by the manufacturer; there is no cost to the owner beyond the time needed to take the vehicle in.

If you are considering buying a vehicle, it is worth checking the vehicle recalls website to see if the car you are interested in has been recalled and if so, whether that work has been performed. The site also lists recall notices for motorcycles, trucks and buses, caravans, motorhomes and trailers. Manufacturers are required to notify the government of all recalls they undertake.

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