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What you need to know about car safety recalls

Who initiates vehicle recalls? What are your legal rights if your car has a safety alert or recall issued?

According to the World Health Organization, vehicles sold in 80% of the world’s countries fail to meet basic safety standards. Probably more so than any of your possessions, a car has the potential to inflict serious injury or worse on you, your passengers and fellow road users if something malfunctions.

It’s therefore incredibly important to make sure your car is as safe as

possible, by maintaining it well, but also keeping up-to-date on product safety alerts and recalls.

What is a car recall or safety alert?

A safety recall is a request to the car owner to contact their car manufacturer and arrange for a defective and safety critical component to be replaced, or for the problem to be rectified. Recalls can also be created if a motor vehicle fails to meet Australian Design Rules as well as other legal motor vehicle standards.

A safety alert is often issued before a recall, notifying members of the public that their vehicle is under investigation and has a possible safety defect. The alerts warn of the possible risks that arise from using the car.

Are car safety recalls common?

There have been several high profile car safety recalls making news headlines over the last few years. But safety recalls happen all the time. In fact, in May 2018 alone, there were 20 automotive recalls issued.

Who is responsible for issuing vehicle recalls?

Product safety regulation in Australia is administered by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in partnership with states and territories. The ACCC focuses on identifying and resolving severe injury risks and fatalities that result from the use of a product. Its responsibilities include transportation.

How does the ACCC find out about safety defects in cars?

Using a variety of data sources, including legally required safety reports that arise after cases of serious illness, injury or death, the ACCC will issue a product recall. It may also extend an international recall to cover Australia. Car manufacturers can also issue voluntary recalls, and government ministries may initiate a compulsory recall if needed. The ACCC additionally monitors the media and uses market surveys to identify non-compliant products.

How can I check if my car is under recall?

Automotive builders should contact you by letter to inform you of a recall that’s active on your car, but if you’re not the first owner, they might have problems tracking you down. Therefore, it’s best to take a proactive approach. If you buy a used car, inform the manufacturer that you are now the legal owner, as they may experience problems tracking the car once it changes hands.

Likewise, second-hand car sellers can also help. If you receive a letter relating to a recall for a car you’ve sold, contact the manufacturer to let them know. You can also supply them with the new owner’s details. Even if the car was previously stolen or scrapped, you should still inform them.

If you’re concerned that your car might be part of the Takata airbag recall, the largest vehicle-related recall in Australian history, check out the Takata recall list. You can also enter your vehicle’s VIN (the car’s unique identifying serial number) to see if your vehicle is on the register.

How quickly will my car be fixed?

The responsible car manufacturer or component supplier agrees with the ACCC on a timescale for replacing and fixing defective parts. In the case of the Takata airbag recall, a particular generation of the airbag was deemed the highest priority.

Car makers have to replace these within five days of receiving a replacement, though part and technician availability may delay the replacement.

Cars over six years old receive the next highest level of priority, then finally models under six-years-old have the lowest priority. The airbags on these models must be swapped by 2020.

If the deadline for replacements isn’t met, brands face a possible fine of $1.1 million.

Can a business sell a car with an active recall

In some instances, no, a car dealership cannot sell a car if it has an active compulsory recall in effect. For example, with the Takata airbag recall, companies have to replace the defective airbag before it can be offered for sale. There are penalties for failing to comply with this regulation.

If the car is under investigation, and the dealer knows that the car will be subject to recall down the line, they must tell you. The information has to be given both in writing and verbally.

Private sellers are not required to tell you about the recall.

Car recall tips

  • Contact your manufacturer. If your car has an outstanding recall placed upon it and you have questions, contact your vehicle manufacturer. There should be staff trained to answer questions about a recall. Also, by law, manufacturers must have a complaints handling procedure in place.
  • Don’t ignore the recall. If you ignore a product recall, you could face an increased and significant safety risk. Don’t delay in contacting the manufacturer.
  • Pass on new owner details. In some cases, you might receive a letter addressed to you as the owner of one of your previously sold or stolen vehicles. Perhaps you’ve moved home and received contact intended for the previous house owner. Make sure to contact the manufacturer to help them update their records and contact the current driver.
  • Check if you’ve had previous work done on the car. If you’ve had work done on your car, perhaps after an accident where the airbags deployed, the dealership or garage may have installed airbags or other components that are now affected by a safety recall. You should contact them to find out the best course of action.
  • Rights under a compulsory recall. You may also have additional rights if your car is under a mandatory recall. For example, the ACCC website states that owners of Takata airbag-affected cars have the right to loan/hire transportation if the replacement procedure takes more than 24 hours. Drivers who are elderly, infirm or disabled, living on an island with no dealer or living 250km from the nearest dealership may qualify for special arrangements.

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