Driving Before that drive trip, look out for recalls

Photo of Sam Jeremic

From exploding airbags to faulty wipers, you don’t want to get caught out in the middle of nowhere, our Motoring Editor writes.

Unless you’re in rather enviable position financially, the vast majority of our holiday destinations are reached by car. In a country as vast as Australia, the last thing you want is to be caught out in the middle of nowhere thanks to your noble chariot packing it in at an opportune time.

Even new cars are vulnerable. And while no one can predict the future, we can look at which cars have been recalled in recent years to fix problems the manufacturer has picked up.

Now, car recalls have been in the news a lot more than usual recently, thanks chiefly to the Volkswagen diesel-emissions cheating scandal and the Takata airbag fault which have seen tens of millions of cars affected.

Sometimes, these recalls can address very dangerous issues — as with the airbags which can send shrapnel into occupants in the case of an accident with potentially fatal consequences.

Much of the time though, recalls are issued for less-serious fixes.

Though car companies make clear the worst possible scenario for each problem, often they are detected by the car maker itself during in-house testing before the issue arises in the real world.

And there are a lot of recalls compared with the amount of real-world problems encountered by motorists.

How many? Up to April this year, we’d had 42 recall notices.

Often all is required is a free tweak at your dealership during your next service.

That said, in the very least having to take your car in for a service is annoying at the best of times and, more importantly, constant recalls repairing problems with vital equipment such as airbags can see you lack trust in your vehicle — not ideal when you’re ferrying about the precious people in your life.

While the odds of something going catastrophically wrong may be minuscule, to paraphrase Dumb & Dumber’s Lloyd Christmas: there’s still a chance.

So we’ve trawled official government recalls figures to see which brands and models have been most often sent to the dealership for fixes since the start of 2011.

Now, a quick explanation of the figures.

The numbers quoted are for each recall notice on the government’s recalls website.

Each notice may affect one vehicle or several different models, may affect different generations of the same model, older vehicles or also include brands’ commercial offerings.

Different generations of the same model in the same recall notice are counted once, a car with different body styles in the recall (i.e. hatch, wagon, convertible) is counted only once, while cars with different nameplates are treated as separate models even if they’re mechanically very alike (with the exception of the Holden Commodore and its slightly longer Caprice sibling).

Phew.

Holden is a fair place to start, as it’s had the most recall notices in the past five-and-a-bit years — and unfortunately we can’t blame the imports.

The VF Commodore was recalled five times in 2014 for issues ranging from seatbelts to a dodgy windscreen wiper motor.

The Cruze — particularly the JG and JH versions — also had issues.

But, and this may be looking through parochial green-and- gold coloured glasses, there could be a positive to be taken out of Holden’s place atop the recall rankings.

More than a hundred people died in the US a few years back due to faulty ignition switches.

In the wake of the tragedies, the company clearly took a no-risk approach (which admittedly, all companies should have in regards to car safety) which extended to its Australian arm.

Holden had 14 recall notices in 2014 and 12 last year. In the three years before those, it had just 18 combined.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee has been the most recalled model since 2011, thanks mostly to a shocking 2014 when various generations of the big SUV were recalled 11 times mainly for electrical issues.

Its smaller Cherokee stablemate didn’t fare much better last year, being recalled five times.

Though we counted each brand separately, the FCA stable of Fiat, Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Alfa Romeo racked up a combined 67 recalls in the selected time frame.

However, even well-regarded brands can need to recall their wares.

Volvo is renowned for its safety, yet has one of the most recalled models since 2011 and Mercedes-Benz is in the top five.

Even Rolls-Royce has had four recalls, despite selling extremely low volumes.

On the flip side — and sure to surprise many — the Korean brands arguably come out looking the best; despite shifting high numbers of vehicles, Hyundai has had just 10 recalls since 2011 and Kia just five.

So what to make of all this?

Given the amount of technology packed into cars these days, we can’t be surprised if more things go wrong and, therefore, we see more recalls.

As long as they’re spotted early, fixed quickly with minimum fuss and car companies are honest with the public (looking at you, VW), recalls will hopefully be a mild annoyance rather than a life-threatening emergency.

Recall notices since 2011

Holden — 46

Jeep — 36

Mercedes-Benz — 33

Toyota — 30

Mitsubishi, Nissan — 28

Most recalled models since 2011

Jeep Grand Cherokee — 19

Honda Jazz, Jeep Cherokee — 11

Nissan Navara — 10

Holden Commodore, Holden Cruze, Holden Captiva, Nissan Pulsar, Volvo XC60 — 9

Essential information

If your car is recalled, car companies will contact you directly — usually by a letter in the mail.

However, as recalls can affect older cars which have long since entered the used-car market, they are not always able to contact every affected customer.

To see if your car has been recalled, visit recalls.gov.au and, if necessary, you can see if your VIN is one of those affected.

Some companies also have relevant VINs on their own website and also may have a hotline for concerned customers to call.

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