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Auto owners need to be vigilant in face of more recalls

With automobile recalls on the rise, drivers should be proactive and make sure their vehicle receives all the necessary repairs, says London class-action lawyer Sabrina Lombardi.

“Consumers have to be vigilant,” says Lombardi, a member of the class-action group at the London, Ont.-based firm McKenzie Lake Lawyers

The number of safety-related recalls of passenger vehicles in Canada increased by 74 per cent between 2010 to 2015, rising from 133 to 232 a year, according to Transport Canada statistics

But not all safety recalls are successfully communicated to owners by car makers, Lombardi says. This is particularly true of used vehicles when ownership records are sometimes out of date, she says.

When there is a recall, car companies send notices to the current owner, based on their records, she says. “So one thing a consumer can do is to make sure that their information is registered with the vehicle manufacturer,” Lombardi adds.

Before buying a used vehicle, consumers should check with the seller, whether a dealer or private individual, to see if the car has been subject to recalls and that the required repairs were done, she says.

They should also do their own research on whether the automobile model has been recalled, Lombardi says. 

The information is available on the Transport Canada motor vehicle safety recalls database

“You just type in the make, model, year, and all of the recalls that apply are going to pop up,” Lombardi says.

Owners can also check a similar U.S. database at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website, she adds. 

Manufacturers are mandated by regulators to inform consumers of any recalls related to safety, Lombardi says. But car makers might recall a vehicle for non-safety-related reasons, and they would not have to involve Transport Canada or the NHTSA, she says.

When their model is recalled, consumers can learn more by contacting their nearest dealership, Lombardi says. They can also dial the manufacturer, whose phone number is usually on the recall notice, she adds.

“They should ask some questions like, ‘How serious is the defect? Is it a safety issue?’” she says. “They can ask, especially at the dealership, ‘How long will this repair take? How long will I be without my car? And is there any compensation for my time? Will I be provided with a loaner while my car’s being repaired?’ These are all important questions to ask.”

They can also inquire about how they may be impacted if they don’t get the repair done, Lombardi says. Many owners don’t bother getting recalled cars fixed. In the U.S., only 70 per cent of recalled vehicles are repaired, according to the NHTSA

Consumers need to inform themselves of all the implications of neglecting to fix their vehicle, she says.

“I think individuals need to understand that if the recall involves a safety issue it’s essential for themselves, their passengers, and for the public at large that they get the repair done,” Lombardi says.

Recall-related repairs should be free of charge, although dealers might recommend associated work that is not covered, she says. 

Sometimes consumers experience long delays in getting the repairs done, Lombardi says. In the Takata defective airbag recall, for instance, millions of vehicles need replacement parts, she says. Because there are only two manufacturers of the airbag worldwide, including Takata, supplies are lagging far behind demand, she says.

Lombardi and her firm, McKenzie Lake Lawyers, are pursuing class-action lawsuits against Takata and several vehicle manufacturers on behalf of all Canadians affected by the defective airbags.

But Takata lawsuits cannot speed up the recall because it’s based on the availability of parts, she says.

Even when faced with such insurmountable time lags, consumers should be proactive, phoning their dealership and manufacturer to ask questions like when the replacement part will be ready and what can be done in the interim to be safe, Lombardi says.

“Consumers need to advocate for themselves,” she says. They need to be assertive and make sure they are on the list for when the repair part comes in, she adds.

They can also explore whether someone has launched a lawsuit related to the recall, Lombardi says.  A quick internet search or phone calls to some of the country’s class-action law firms should answer that question, she adds.

But just because there’s a recall doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a lawsuit, Lombardi says.

“Sometimes recalls are simply prudent practices by manufacturers,” she says. “They may not necessarily warrant any kind of litigation because they are acting quickly and diligently.”

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