Vehicle Safety Recalls and the MOT

Burning vehicle at side of road

Vehicle ‘Safety Recalls’

You bought your car in mint showroom condition, it has a warranty, an MOT and you’ve been driving it carefully since you bought it. But is it subject to a manufacturers’ ‘vehicle safety recall’ – is it safe to drive?

The vehicle fire pictured above was caused by an un-remedied fuel-line defect which was subject to a safety recall, in the US earlier this year.

The majority of motorists are conscientious about the condition of the cars they drive and would be horrified to learn that it has a dangerous defect. Nothing to do with wear and tear, accident damage or neglect. It may be a defect in the original design or manufacture of the vehicle, present when the vehicle left the production line.

Whilst car manufacturers strive to design and build safe vehicles, sometimes, and more often than you may think, some new cars have inherent design faults which could potentially render them dangerous to use on the road. Usually, as soon as the manufacturer becomes aware of these defects, they contact the owners, asking them to bring their vehicle into the dealership so that they can remedy the problem. This is known as a ‘safety recall’. This is carried out by the dealer, usually at no cost to the vehicle owner.

However, if a car owner ignores the safety recall, has changed address and never receives it, or has sold the vehicle on ignores the letter, the vehicle, with its defect, will continue to be used on the roads.

Astonishingly, according to figures published by the DVSA, there could be over two million vehicles on Britain’s roads subject to an outstanding safety recall. Some of these defects could be ‘Dangerous’ defects which haven’t been remedied; with over 600,000 still outstanding from vehicles sold in 2017.

Potentially fatal defects

So, what are these safety-related, sometimes life-threatening, recall defects? In one incident, involving a vehicle which was subject to an un-remedied recall to correct a defect with its battery, the vehicle suddenly lost all electrical power. The vehicle stopped by a bend in a country road at night, with no power and no lights showing. The driver of a following vehicle only spotted the stopped vehicle at the last second, swerved to avoid it and struck a tree, killing the driver.

In other cases an inherent defect in 235,000 Vauxhall Zafiras’ heater resistor has resulted in 200 vehicles spontaneously catching fire – thankfully so far without any serious injuries as a result. In one instance a fire resulted in the central locking system locking the doors, trapping a father and his three-year old daughter inside the car. Fortunately they were released by a passer-by who saw the smoke inside the vehicle. Evidently this is also a very serious problem in the US. In America every hour 17 cars catch fire, resulting in, on average, four deaths every week.

So should the government be doing something about it? Should a car pass the MOT when it is known that it has a potentially dangerous defect?

Recalls and the MOT

DVSA Chief David Llewellyn
DVSA Chief David Llewellyn pledged to make vehicle recalls subject to MOT Test in 2017.

In 2017 DVSA Chief Executive Gareth Llewellyn was quizzed by the Parliamentary Transport Committee about what DVSA, the agency responsible for the MOT Test, intends to do about vehicles with un-remedied dangerous recall defects. He pledged to ensure that in future an MOT failure would result. We have heard nothing further, and from what we can make out there are no plans to implement this in the near future.

This from an Agency which claims to have road safety as a prime objective:

Extract from the DVSA Annual Report:

“Our vision is for safer drivers, safer vehicles and safer journeys for all. We help you stay safe on Britain’s roads by:

  • helping you through a lifetime of safe driving
  • helping you keep your vehicle safe to drive
  • protecting you from unsafe drivers and vehicles”

So far however, DVSA has done nothing about enforcing safety recalls.

How would it work?

There is a computer database of all known and outstanding vehicle recalls, and it would seem to be relatively simple for that database to be referenced during a vehicle’s MOT Test.

Assuming that at some time in the future DVSA get around to addressing this issue and incorporate safety recalls into the MOT, what would happen if an un-remedied safety recall was discovered during an MOT –  how would it work in practice?

Given that it is very easy for anyone to check for outstanding defect recalls on any vehicle before taking a vehicle in for MOT Test, and correcting the defect is usually carried out free by the dealership, even if you  are not the original owner, perhaps it should be an automatic ‘Fail’ in the case of ‘Dangerous’ defects, and an ‘Advisory’ for non-safety-related defects.

Alternatively, perhaps unfixed recalls should be labelled as ‘Deferred Failures’, allowing say, six months to remedy the problem. If it isn’t fixed by then, the Pass automatically defaulting to a Fail on the MOT computer.

Second-hand car sales

Although it’s illegal for car dealers to sell vehicles with an outstanding safety recall, it’s perfectly legal for private sellers. So if you’re purchasing a vehicle privately, it has to be worth while going onto the government’s MOT check website to satisfy yourself that the car you’re about to buy doesn’t have an outstanding safety-recall.

Type the vehicle number into the site and follow the instructions and it will provide you with a safety recall history option as well as an MOT option.

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