|Some people dread finding this in their mail. Photo credit: Steven Symes.|
Yesterday I received in the mail the dreaded recall letter for my Honda. I had read in the news not too long ago that the NHTSA was looking into complaints about a safety problem, something I myself had encountered with the vehicle before. So it wasn't really a surprise when I opened the mailbox and found this notice sitting inside. Instead I was glad Honda was owning up to the problem (whether by choice or force) and I will get a remedy free of charge.
Vehicle recalls are in the news all the time, or at least in the automotive news. The larger ones often bubble up to mainstream news outlets. I notice with some amusement the amount of panic a fairly routine recall can cause among the car ignorant public. I've also had quite a few people ask me if cars are so much better these days why they are getting recalled more often than back in the day.
The answer is fairly simple. Part of the issue is that the NHTSA and automakers themselves are getting much better at catching manufacturing defects in vehicles. Part of it is that automakers have shifted their philosophy when it comes to recalls and public relations. It used to be that most automakers thought recalling a car would place a negative mark on the brand, which in turn would drive consumers away. Does anyone remember the Ford Pinto mess? Rather than just fix the Pinto, Ford had a brilliant idea: say nothing and just pay off the victims' families. The bean counters at the Big Blue Oval thought such a decision would save the company money -- innocent people's lives be damned! In the end, the Pinto is still a black eye for Ford, not because the car had problems but because Ford knew about them and did nothing, letting people die needlessly. Let it suffice to say that's not a good PR policy.
My whole issue with my Honda is a prime example of why these recalls are a good thing. The problem with the vehicle is that a fault with the ignition's interlock lever allows you to remove the key from the ignition when the transmission is in Drive instead of Park. This can cause the vehicle to roll away and crash into something or someone. It also can cause you to needlessly call a tow truck when your wife thinks the battery is dead (hypothetically speaking, of course). The thing is this isn't a new problem for Honda. I first drove around in an early '80s Prelude, and that thing allowed you to take the key out of the ignition when the transmission was in Drive. The only thing is there was no huge recall for the Preludes (at least not at that point, and the car was about fifteen years old). I would much rather an automaker just remedy a known issue instead of looking the other way as if everything is fine.
So that's why there are so many vehicle recalls these days. Cars are much safer and more reliable than they used to be, and I don't see any end in sight to this increase in overall vehicle quality.
Check out this video of the famous crash test that proved the fatal defect in the Ford Pinto: