Car safety recall 'needs overhaul'

An automotive enthusiast magazine has raised its concerns over Britain's lax approach to car recalls.

According to Which? Car magazine, the UK's car safety recall system is in urgent need of a complete overhaul.

It described the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), which manages the system, as "a toothless organisation".

The magazine compared the agency's performance with that of its American counterpart, the National Highway Traffic System Administrations (NHTSA). Last year the NHTSA instigated 118 recalls, while none were triggered by VOSA.

In order to ensure drivers' safety, the system - which enables car manufacturers to determine when recalls are necessary - needs to improve its operation.

Which? Car said it is ready to hold discussion with VOSA to bring changes to the car safety recall system.

Although VOSA had "declined to tell" how many recalls were triggered in 2010, a Freedom of Information response on its website said: "VOSA has not been required to use its powers to force a manufacturer into conducting a recall."

The magazine added that in the past three years, NHTSA investigations had resulted in 492 actions, involving more than 20 million vehicles.

Which? Car said it had found evidence of cars being recalled in the US, but not the UK. For example, in 2005 Volvo USA recalled V70 models made between 1999 and 2002 to fix a throttle fault that caused a sudden massive reduction in power steering, braking assistance and engine power, while Volvo UK did not.

Which? Car said Volvo UK declined to respond to the magazine but an official response to the problem issued in 2008 cited emission rules, not safety, as the cause of the US recall - and that UK emissions rules were different.

Which? Car said that a sudden change to the way a car drives - even if it remains within legal limits - was clearly a safety issue.

The magazine also cited non-recalls in the UK of Vauxhall Merivas with intermittent loss of power steering, and BMW Minis with similar power steering issues. It said both manufacturers had said these were not safety problems so did not warrant recalls.

VOSA operations director Alex Fiddes said: "If a manufacturer is unwilling or unable to issue a recall then VOSA would directly inform vehicle owners. However, this has not been necessary as manufacturers have always acted in accordance with the advice we have given."

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