Vauxhall showed 'a reckless disregard for safety' of drivers

28 April 2017

Vauxhall was too slow to begin a full investigation into fires affecting Zafira B models and too quick to attribute them to improper and unauthorised repair, say MPs on the Transport Committee.

Vauxhall's Zafira B model

In 2015, Vauxhall's Zafira B model became a cause for concern when a distinctive pattern of fires was identified. Some of the fires were serious enough to destroy entire vehicles and cause damage to the surrounding environment. Although the Model B Zafira was no longer on the market by the time Vauxhall became aware of the fires, the company sold more than 230,000 Model B Zafiras with manual or no air conditioning between 2005 and 2014.

Reckless disregard for safety

The report says that the decision to continue to let people drive affected cars, once it knew that vehicles already recalled still caught fire, amounts to a reckless disregard for safety.

The DVSA should have taken action more quickly. The Committee is critical of the decision not to perform independent testing as part of initial investigations.  However, more must be done to ensure that the DVSA is able to take proportionate and effective enforcement action to ensure vehicle safety. The current Code based approach should be backed up by a credible threat of prosecution for a failure to comply with an instruction from the DVSA. The Committee also calls on the DVSA to seek assurances from Vauxhall that it has put robust processes and systems in place to deal with potential defects.

Maintaining public confidence

The Committee concludes that, as well as ensuring vehicles are safe to drive, the Department for Transport has a role to play in maintaining public confidence in any recall announced by a manufacturer. The Department cannot rely on manufacturers doing the right thing voluntarily.

Chair of the Committee, Louise Ellman MP, commented:

"Vehicle fires are terrifying for their occupants and other road users. In this inquiry, we heard how one car manufacturer was too slow to acknowledge drivers’ concerns, too slow to begin an investigation, too slow to address the causes and too slow to alert drivers of real safety concerns. Drivers and their families were needlessly put at risk.

All car manufacturers should take heed of the recommendations in this report.  The current voluntary approach to recalls is not robust enough. The DVSA must be given enforcement powers to compel manufacturers to act should it need to do so. This will ensure that drivers can have full confidence in the recall system.

Despite Vauxhall blaming the fires on unauthorised repair by third parties, no effort was made to find out where this may have taken place. The DVSA should consider how information to prevent improper and dangerous repairs can be collated for future vehicle safety issues.

Finally, our inquiry exposed gaps in the system for identifying potential safety defects and dangerous repair practices. Only a small proportion of Zafira fires were reported to either the DVSA or Vauxhall.  Following a Facebook campaign and use of other media, the real story emerged. More needs to be done by motor manufacturers, the SMMT, the Retail Motor Industry Federation and its associations, relevant trade associations, insurers and others to encourage defect reporting."

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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