Proposed bill aims to give Canada teeth when it comes to recalls

Country currently relies on the U.S. for recall governance, but Bill S-2 would let Canada force automakers to comply

Originally published on December 12, 2016

There are millions of cars on the road with open recalls on them, work unperformed because nobody is taking responsibility for ensuring the work gets done. Ontario missed a good chance to mend that hole in the fence – to search for open recalls – but failed to do so, when it overhauled its safety standards in July of 2016. Now, we have a chance at a federal solution for actually using our laws to stop everyone evading responsibility for such a fixable, yet dangerous, problem.

The Automobile Protection Association (APA) and the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) have joined forces recently to propose some important changes to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, now before the Canadian Senate Transport and Communications Committee. Going directly to the Senate, rather than the usual House of Commons route, is an encouraging sign. Changes are long overdue, and consumers need to be aware of what these bodies are hoping to achieve. The Act is much like a house built in the 1960s, according to APA president George Iny, and sorely in needed of renovation.

The official words are, “Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act,” but there are important things here for Canadian consumers. Our existing safety standards regarding vehicles are more outdated and flimsy than you might think. Manufacturers are obligated through American legislation when it comes to things like recalls and service bulletins, but Canadian law has no such teeth. Bill S-2 looks to provide that legal bite.

We ride on the American coattails. We benefit from this immensely, but there are important gaps in the system. Presently, a car manufacturer is only legally obligated to send you a letter, by regular mail, to tell you your vehicle is dangerous. The Bill S-2 will toughen up not only a framework that simply doesn’t work anymore, but ask for sanctions that can be used against manufacturers who duck and weave or simply evade supplying needed parts and repairs.

According to Iny of the APA, the highlights for consumers are thus:

Manufacturers to offer real-time recall look-ups (a pre-condition to eventually getting the provinces and dealer regulators to ask dealers to perform recall checks).
Ability to fine automakers using administrative penalties instead of taking them to court (which Transport Canada never does); this would allow penalties against companies that routinely screw up their recalls, delay their recall repairs or send notices to the wrong addresses.
Ability to name a monitor to go inside the automaker and implement a better safety culture; this happened at GM in the U.S. after the ignition failures.
Canada finally gets real recall powers, rather than the current Notice of Defect, which is a letter telling you your vehicle is dangerous; this would help in the small number of situations where the NHTSA in the U.S. won’t act but Transport Canada wants to.
You should be able to look up your vehicle identification number (VIN) in a central place and find out in real time what outstanding recalls it may have. Manufacturers should be transparent with this information, they should be required to make repairs in a timely fashion, and Transport Canada should have the legislation in place that it needs to make this happen.

The meeting before the Senate Committee saw representatives from the Canadian Vehicles Manufacturers’ Association (CVMA), Global Automakers of Canada (GAC), Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association of Canada (APMAC) and the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association (CADA), along with the APA and CAA. Getting all the main players there is vital to getting movement on issues that directly impact consumer safety; it needs buy-in at all levels.

There were some stutters; the CVMA somehow thinks dealers should be footing the bill for some outstanding recalls, which makes no sense. You don’t buy a new car from a flea market; the manufacturer bears responsibility for providing a safe, warrantied product. The CADA wanted some kind of offer of compensation if cars in dealer inventory are tied up waiting for warranty parts, which is unlikely.

Canada has long benefited from the fact that car manufacturers have usually used a continental approach to recalls and repairs. Because we buy the same vehicles that are sold in the U.S., their larger and better-funded safety structures keep Canadian consumers safe, too. But relying on another country’s structures for something this important can make complacency dangerous. If there are shifts in regulation or oversight, it makes sense for Canada to, essentially, grow up and create its own template for consumer safety.

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2 responses to Proposed bill aims to give Canada teeth when it comes to recalls

  1. Pat says:

    This law is a good idea, and gives the government some teeth.

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