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Vehicle recalls driving you crazy?

You can't turn on the news these days without hearing of another automaker's recall, and it's not just Toyota in the hot seat. Honda is also recalling a number of models over airbag problems, and if you look back over the past 10 years, most manufacturers -- General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, as well as Toyota and Honda -- have all dealt with the fallout of recalls involving, at times, millions of vehicles.

Defective engine switches that could lead to fires, faulty airbags, malfunctioning seatbelts, vehicles that slip unprompted out of gear, engine mounts that separate from the vehicle and corroded tailgate cables on pickups -- the litany of defects is long and often frightening.

This latest round of recalls is high profile in part because of its sheer size. With Toyota launching a massive media campaign to inform and reassure customers in the wake of the recalls, you'd have to be completely unconnected from all media to have missed it.

The media tend to pick up on most major recalls and help spread the news; but that's not always the case when it comes to less high-profile problems. So, how are consumers to know if their vehicles are part of a recall, especially if they bought used from a private seller and have no connection to a dealership? Read on to find out.

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Drivers frustrated by recalls
Julia Harbinson was surprised to find out her Honda Civic might be part of the latest recall involving airbags. While she admits she did receive a message from Honda a while back about another minor mechanical problem, she has yet to have it repaired. "I'm sure I'm not alone. People don't always have time to run out and get their car fixed -- it's not always convenient," says the Toronto woman. "Of course, if my brakes were going to fail, I'd take it in right away."

No doubt vehicle owners everywhere feel her pain. The latest round of recalls has drivers frustrated and looking for answers. While manufacturers are reaching out with media campaigns and extensive information on their websites, they are also obligated to contact each and every one of their drivers.

"General Motors will notify registered owners of a recall by first class mail," says Jennifer Wright, a spokeswoman for GM Canada, adding owners can bring their vehicles into any GM dealership, which will verify their recall status using the Vehicle Information Number, or VIN.

Nicole Grant, a spokeswoman for Toyota Canada, says Toyota's communication efforts also involve a letter campaign. "Toyota Canada monitors the completion rate and works with the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administration to ensure all current owners receive the notification and the ensuing repair work. Toyota Canada will then continue to follow up with dealerships to make sure all owners of outstanding affected vehicles are then contacted on an ongoing basis until they receive the repair work in a timely manner."

This is why it's important to ensure that if you move or buy a used vehicle, you keep your local dealer abreast of your contact information (although if that fails, manufacturers can, as Grant mentioned, work with governing bodies to obtain contact information for those driving vehicles on any recall list). However, there are other options for staying on top of recalls; a comprehensive starting point is the Transport Canada website.

Transport Canada keeps tabs on recalls
One aspect of Transport Canada's mandate is enforcement of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which includes investigation of potential manufacturer defects. The agency is both a source of information and a complaint avenue for consumers.

(continued on next page)
-- Posted Feb. 19, 2010
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