This Pandora’s box is a can of worms

This Pandora’s box is a can of worms


USUALLY when I open a Pandora box I expect to find a pretty trinket and a note of abject apology, but a different kind of Pandora’s box has recently led me into the strangely compelling world of car recalls.

They say that there’s two things you never want to let people see how they’re made: sausages, and laws. To this list I’ve previously added anti-wrinkle creams and various other cosmetics; I wish to submit a further item: product recalls. Specifically, car recalls.

'Long gone are the days when someone with half a clue could lift the bonnet and get it running again after a few minutes’ tinkering with a spanner and a feeler gauge.'

This is not something I bargained for after I signed up to regular bulletins when I was looking into the problems currently being experienced with certain types of airbags. Now it seems like there’s been a recall just about once a week, for issues ranging from the potentially lethal safety devices we talked about a few weeks ago, to things like software faults.

Previously the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) had only been of use to me in securing a refund for some dodgy DVDs I purchased from an online store and when they arrived they were all dubbed into Mandarin. But over the past month it has kept me entertained, not to mention somewhat alarmed, with regular bulletins on what’s going wrong with cars.

It’s hard to say if June was a peculiarly busy month, because it’s my first month of watching. There were multiple recalls issued for BMW models, including M5s sold between August 21, 2017, and April 18, 2018 (for a fuel pump issue). Incidentally, if that recall covers every BMW M5 shifted during that period it means only about 50 were sold – making it a far more exclusive vehicle than I’d previously imagined. Audi issued recalls on its A4, A5, Q5, A6 and A7 models with two-litre TFSI engines, manufactured from the beginning of 2011 to March 2017. Ford, Mercedes, VW … during June they’ve all asked owners to bring back their cars for checks of various things, ranging from the possibility of coolant pumps catching fire to dodgy battery connections which in extreme cases may “result in a total electrical failure within the vehicle and the car may shut down while driving”; and welds that “may not meet required specifications, which may cause the steering column to detach from the steering gear”. This latter fault could “result in a loss of steering, increasing the risk of accident or injury”. Well, yes – quite. On the other hand, if you’ve observed how some of the vehicles in question are steered when the weld remains intact then you’d be hard pressed to recognise a failure.

I never thought I’d be so into this stuff, but it’s made me realise a few things. Today’s cars are amazingly complicated, and a lot of systems are intricately related. Long gone are the days when someone with half a clue could lift the bonnet and get it running again after a few minutes’ tinkering with a spanner and a feeler gauge.

There’s enormous potential for things to go wrong when systems are both complex and connected; in fact, it’s a wonder there are not more recalls. But the regulators and the manufacturers do a pretty good job of monitoring issues, determining appropriate fixes and remedies, and generally keeping us safe. 

We should be thankful for that, even if being the subject of a recall – as I have been, on numerous occasions – can be a hassle at the time.