Serious concerns have been raised over the UK’s car recall system after a BBC investigation found motorists are having to wait months for potentially dangerous problems to be fixed.
Research by Watchdog Live found drivers who were left waiting for extended periods to have known issues put right, including one who was trapped in her burning car the day before it was due to be fixed.
It also highlighted vehicles which had been recalled in other countries but not in the UK.
Among the owners the programme spoke to was Jags Uppal, who received a recall letter in November 2018 about her BMW 5 series. The car was being recalled because of an issue with the exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) cooler but the recall was not issued for months after the same models were recalled abroad.
She was told the dealership was waiting for parts but her car was fine to drive in the meantime. However, the day before her car was due to be fixed, it burst into flames while she was driving at 70mph on the motorway.
‘Ticking time bomb’
She told the show: “All of a sudden my car began to jerk and was filling up with smoke and as I stopped I could see flames coming through the engine so I knew this was a ticking time bomb and I needed to get out.
“I was pressing all the buttons and doors wouldn’t open. The flames were getting higher and higher.”
Jags managed to escape, but she believes drivers with affected vehicles should have been advised not to drive their vehicle.
BMW said that it had faced part supply and workshop capacity problems in the early stages of the recall but insisted that if, after inspection, the car was found to need repair, it was kept at the retailer’s premises and alternative transport was offered.
Vehicle recalls in the UK are overseen by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) but it relies on car makers to inform it of any potential safety issues. According to it, 3.4 million cars which have had safety recalls issued haven’t been repaired – some waiting months after the recall has been announced. Some of these are down to parts or workshop issues but many are also due to owners ignoring recall notices.
Watchdog’ Live also heard from dozens of drivers who experienced sudden and total engine failure while driving the Land Rover Discovery.
Models of the Discovery dating back to 2009 have been recalled over crank shaft issues in New Zealand, Canada, South Korea and China, but there was only limited recall in the UK.
Land Rover said that it regulations vary from country to country and it had “no evidence to suggest that this is a safety risk” but it had informed the DVSA that there had been a recall in other territories.
The DVSA told Watchdog Live that it does not consider engine failure alone a serious safety issue that warrants a recall.
Zahra Nanji a product safety lawyer from Leigh Day called on the DVSA to be given more power to force manufacturers to act.
She said: “In the UK it’s the manufacturers that have to get all the information together and then notify the regulator, it’s not the other way round, so it’s a reactive system rather than a proactive one.
“In my opinion, the DVSA need to have more powers in terms of being pro-proactive. It would be helpful for them to have the information to actually go to the manufacturers and say, ‘What are you doing about this?’ before it becomes a bigger problem.”
Responding to the programme’s findings, the DVSA said: “DVSA’s priority is to protect everyone from unsafe drivers and vehicles. We continue to make improvements to the recalls process including launching a new recalls Code of Practice with the industry later this year.
“Britain has some of the safest roads in the world and the current recall process plays a part in that. The recalls system is an effective way of protecting people from vehicle manufacturing and design defects.”
BMW said it had worked to fix all affected vehicles and had extended the recall to another 27,000 cars.
In a statement it said: “In the case of the EGR cooler recall in the UK, we have completed over 75 per cent of the nearly 300,000 vehicles affected in less than a year, which is a very high completion rate for a recall of this scale in such a timeframe. The remaining owners have received up to three letters telling them to get their car checked.
“As with any recall, BMW constantly analyses new information and, where required, adjusts the recall in a timely manner. For this reason, BMW UK has extended the EGR recall to a further 27,000 vehicles. Affected owners will receive a letter from BMW UK by mid-October, inviting them to contact their local BMW retailer for the work to be carried out.”