Canadian auto recalls hit all-time high in 2014 amid growing safety concerns

TORONTO – Canadian auto recalls hit an all-time high last year, with more than eight million vehicles affected as several high-profile problems with faulty airbags and ignition switches brought safety issues to the forefront.

Automakers issued nearly 600 recall notices on Canadian vehicles in 2014, according to data obtained from Transport Canada.

Both the number of recalls and the number of vehicles affected are significantly higher than in any other year, according to a data analysis by The Canadian Press.

The previous record for the highest number of recalls was set in 2010, when automakers issued 468 recall notices affecting 1.5 million products, including vehicles, car seats and tires. But the total number of vehicles affected was higher in 2013, when manufacturers recalled two million products, despite the total number of recall notices being lower at 466, according the analysis.

Industry observers say automakers are issuing recalls en masse in an attempt to prevent future problems after defective ignition switches led to numerous crashes and at least 58 injuries and 42 deaths. GM recalled 2.6 million vehicles worldwide due to the problem, including roughly 368,000 in Canada, but faced criticism for waiting 11 years to do so. The company is now facing several lawsuits.

“GM was in a pickle and nobody else wanted to be the new GM,” said George Iny, president of the Automobile Protection Association. “So they started to do some housecleaning. And people with skeletons in the closet and bodies in the basement have been pulling them out.”

Many of the recalls issued last year were for older vehicles, Iny said.

“These are not problems that the car makers just discovered. They’re taking another look at things that they had decided not to take action on before.”

Among last year’s high-profile recalls were 700,000 Honda Canada vehicles over potentially exploding airbags produced by Japanese parts maker Takata Corp. Roughly 14 million vehicles made by 10 different automakers have been recalled worldwide as a result of the Takata airbag issue.

At least five people have died in accidents involving the airbags, which can explode with too much force, blowing apart a metal canister and spewing shrapnel everywhere. Four of the people who died were in the United States and one was in Malaysia. Dozens of injuries have also been reported.

Josh Bailey, vice-president of research and editorial at vehicle value company Canadian Black Book, says he doesn’t expect there to be quite as many recalls in future years as there were last year, which was a bit of an anomaly.

However, Bailey says it’s likely automakers will be more proactive about recalling vehicles in the coming years than they have in the past in order to avoid the bad press that has swirled around General Motors and Takata. That means the numbers are likely to remain higher than they were pre-2014.

“There might be some oversensitivity on the part of the manufacturers,” Bailey said. “I think that some of them are even recalling things that are not likely going to become a safety issue, but at the same time they want to make sure that they don’t have another ignition switch kind of thing creep up.”

Independent auto industry consultant Mark Petro says while it’s proactive for manufacturers to issue recall notices, many of the older vehicles will never be repaired. That’s because once vehicle ownership changes or owners move, it becomes challenging for automakers to track them down.

Despite the spike in recalls and the publicity surrounding the airbag and ignition switch problems, experts say Canadians are unlikely to be deterred from buying cars.

Earlier last year, Bailey conducted research going back at least a decade and found no correlation between auto recalls and sales.

“People have fairly short memories, particularly when shopping for cars,” he says.