CONSUMER WATCHDOG

Legislation governing vehicle recalls defective, according to consumer advocate

A longtime consumer advocate is renewing his call for the federal government to strengthen legislation governing vehicle recalls, saying the current act is defective because it doesn’t allow the federal government to recall a vehicle which has been assessed to be unsafe.

Ottawa urged to improve vehicle recall legislation

Airbags ruptured and injured drivers in autos by Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Chrysler and Toyota, according to U.S. safety investigators. (Duane Burleson/Associated Press)

Canada must strengthen federal legislation governing vehicle recalls, as the current act doesn't let the federal government recall a vehicle that has been assessed as unsafe, a consumer advocate says. 

"When it comes to car recall campaigns, the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Act is what I call a zombie law," Phil Edmonston told CBC News. "It's there. It's not quite alive; it's not dead. It's very seldom used."

Edmonston, a former MP who founded the Automobile Protection Association and is the author of Lemon-Aid Car guides, said he's been lobbying the federal government and car manufacturers for changes for decades.

Edmonston said the Harper government proposed improvements, but those changes are now in the hands of the Liberals. He's hoping the Trudeau government will see the Conservatives' bill as an important piece of legislation. 

"It isn't all that political," Edmonston said. "I don't know anybody who has told me that, 'I don't want to have my car recalled if it could kill me,' and that's where we are right now,"' he said.

No required timeline for fixes

Dartmouth, N.S., resident Ralph Sams contacted CBC News after waiting 14 months for a recall repair on his 2008 Dodge Caravan.

The recall letter said an ignition switch problem "could increase the risk of a crash under certain driving conditions and increase the risk of injury during a crash."

Sams's van has since been repaired, but many others are waiting. That includes people whose vehicles use Takata airbags. About 1.5 million Canadians have received recall notices about the airbags.

Transport Canada says the passenger airbag may not deploy, and if it does it "may cause the inflator to rupture, which could allow fragments to be propelled toward vehicle occupants, increasing the risk of injury."

It says it has not received any complaints from Canadians about abnormal deployment of Takata airbags and is not aware of any related incidents in Canada. 

Edmonston said it'll likely be 2019 before all of the airbags worldwide are replaced.

He said Canada could improve the situation by taking a page from American legislation which allows government to fine and imprison vehicle manufacturers.

"They [car manufacturers] have agreed with the U.S. that they're going to go into those regions where there's a lot of humidity near the sea and that's where it seems these Takata airbags explode and spew out shrapnel, but they haven't really considered Canada," he said. "I guess they've never heard of Vancouver or Halifax."

Edmonston said having strong legislation and enforcing it results in action.

"We're not getting action in Canada," he said. "We're way, way behind in the line of the car companies recalling their vehicles and making them safe."

Minister declines interview request

CBC News requested an interview with Transport Minister Marc Garneau, but he said no. 

"Minister Garneau is currently familiarizing himself with his portfolio and it is too soon to speculate what changes the minister may or may not make to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act," said spokeswoman Roxane Marchand. 

In an earlier email, Marchand said it was on vehicle owners to ensure recall repairs are done.

That can be difficult if the manufacturers don't make parts available and there is no government requirement to do so.

Edmonston's advice to people waiting for recall fixes is to be persistent.

"Don't take no for an answer. Be a pain in the butt. Say, 'This is my life that's involved and I want it fixed,'' he said.

About the Author

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days, she's focused on helping consumers get the most bang for their bucks and avoid being ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca.

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