Millions of vehicles with potentially dangerous recalls still on road

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Millions of vehicles in Canada, an estimated one in six, have an outstanding safety recall, and auto industry experts say not enough is being done to fix them.

These include cars with safety defects that may result in crashes, injury or death, according to the manufacturers.

“It’s just this complete circle of finger-pointing that’s going on, and nobody’s taking responsibility for the issue,” said Kevin MacDonald, an Ottawa car dealer who is fed up with government and manufacturer inaction.

CBC News checked 200 vehicles currently for sale across Canada and found about one-sixth had recalls that remain unfixed or open. These figures mirror findings from Carproof, a service that sells car history data to dealers and the public. It found one in six used vehicles in Canada have an open recall.

There’s nothing stopping Canadian dealerships from selling a car with an open recall. No provinces mandate that a car with an open recall must be repaired prior to registration, and safety or mechanical inspections do not require open recalls to be fixed.

Provinces are not the only legislative players. The federal government is working to pass a bill that would allow the transport minister to order recalls and impose fines for low rates of recall fixes.

Safety recalls ramping up

Over the past six years, safety-related recalls of passenger vehicles increased a whopping 74 per cent, jumping from 133 in 2010 to 232 in 2015. The 2015 recalls alone covered five million vehicles — a significant chunk of the approximately 22 million cars and light trucks on Canadian roads.

The problem is that many Canadians don’t even know their cars have defects. In a report released last week, Transport Canada told the Office of the Auditor General that manufacturers had difficulty identifying and contacting owners of recalled cars — especially in the case of older vehicles that may have changed hands.

Even owners of relatively new cars don’t know about some recalls. Crystal Taillefer of La Broquerie, Man., is a case in point. She has lived at the same address since the day she bought her 2011 Dodge Journey brand new from the dealer.

Until CBC News told her, she had no idea that a recall had been initiated for a power steering hose defect that could cause a crash without warning.

“It kind of upsets me that I didn’t hear about this for well over six months — and from somebody who’s not the manufacturer,” said Taillefer.

She knows her address is on file with her dealer. She has the Christmas cards and advertisements it sent her to prove it.

George Iny, Automobile Protection Association

George Iny of the Automobile Protection Association says more work needs to be done by manufacturers and the provinces to fix Canada’s open recall problem. (CBC News)

George Iny of the Automobile Protection Association said he has heard of other cases in which manufacturers’ advertisements are reaching owners, but safety recalls are not.

“It’s incredible, but the recall notice department of the car maker might not be speaking with the automaker’s other databases,” said Iny. “They’re bringing people in for a spring special or for a deal on a brand new car, but safety notices — they do the bare minimum.”

This is the second recall on Taillefer’s car. She’s been waiting about six months for a fix on an engine cover that could catch fire.

Canadian law requires manufacturers to contact owners when there is a recall. They also must report the repair completion rates to Transport Canada. Unlike in the US, completion rates are not made public.

“It’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to make sure that you get as high a response rate to the recalls that they issue,” said David Adams, president of the Global Automakers of Canada, a group that represents car makers like Toyota, Honda and Nissan. “And I know manufacturers are going to extremes to try and do that.”

Over at the Automobile Protection Association, George Iny isn’t buying that. He doesn’t think manufacturers are doing everything they can.

“They’re cheap, and they’re not motivated to bring these cars in [compliance] in all cases, so they’ll tolerate low correction rates,” said Iny.

Mark Nantais, Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association president

Mark Nantais of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association says automakers are working to decrease the number of vehicles on the road that have unfixed recalls, but he says owners must do their part too.

Manufacturers can pay a fee to access current owners’ names and addresses from provincial vehicle registries.

But even though registration and dealership sales records are available to manufacturers, CBC News found many owners, like Taillefer, who said they never received a recall notice.

“There’s only so much you can do if you can’t find those people that you know have the car but you don’t know where they are,” said Adams.

With recalls mounting, the pressure is on to find a way to make sure repairs are completed. Manufacturers argued owners must also do their part.

“Sometimes they ignore the letters they receive, sometimes they move — they change residences, and they don’t provide a forwarding address,” said Mark Nantais of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association.

Kevin MacDonald

Kevin MacDonald wants government and industry to get their act together when it comes to unfixed auto recalls. (CBC News)

Dealer feels stuck in the middle

Car owners aren’t the the only people with trouble keeping a handle on open recalls. The people who sell vehicles are also frustrated.

Ontario car dealer Kevin MacDonald wrote to his industry association about toughening the laws around open recalls and better informing the public about defects. The industry association pointed him to the province. The province directed him to the federal government which directed him back to the province.

“All of these people agree with the severity of the issue,” MacDonald said, “but they all would prefer to point at another party.”

He also would like to see more action by manufacturers when it comes to fixing recalls on used vehicles. He’s been waiting for months for the parts to fix a couple of Jeeps on his lot.

“They just seem to have abandoned the consumer and the dealer,” said MacDonald.

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Millions of vehicles with potentially dangerous recalls still on road

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