/ Motoring

Mini fault proves we need a new car recall system

Mini Cooper S

This week Mini recalled 235,000 cars worldwide, for a fault in the water pump that could lead to a fire. It could affect around 30,000 cars in the UK. So shouldn’t car makers be forced to recall cars more often?

We first heard about the recall last week through our contacts in the US, where the problem was spotted.

We contacted Mini who said they were investigating the US problem, but didn’t believe UK cars were affected.

With the investigation complete, Mini has now confirmed some UK cars are affected after all and included these in the worldwide recall. All body styles of the sports-orientated Cooper S and range-topping John Cooper Works models, built between the period 2006-11, are subject to the safety revisions.

Are recalls a good thing or not?

There are two sides to the recall argument. On one hand, there’s the argument that in an ideal world, there shouldn’t be a need for them – manufacturers should make sure the product is right before launching it.

That’s a nice ideal, but as a car is probably the most complex mass-produced consumer item there is, it’s unlikely ever to be achieved, with all the best will in the world.

On the other hand, when a manufacturer does find something hasn’t gone to plan, (say a design flaw or quality defect), they should hold their hands up and recall it, regardless of any loss of reputation, or associated costs.

Well that’s another nice ideal and some makers are good at it, while others appear less so, denying the existence of a problem even when the evidence appears to stack up against them.

We need a new car recall system

Having been on the manufacturer side of the experience myself, I’ve seen the dilemma. The quandary a car maker faces when considering an in-market problem, is that they need to carry out a risk assessment. But the potential for them to be sued under product liability rules means they are reluctant to record anything that may be used against them in court!

We called for the UK car recalls system to be overhauled last year because we think the current situation in the UK is inadequate.

The British system, administered by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), essentially allows carmakers to determine when recalls are necessary. Whereas in the US, the National Highway Traffic System Administration (NHTSA) uses its power to force manufacturers into action if it believes a car has a safety problem.

I’d like to see manufacturers being required to investigate, in a similar fashion to the US system, when a problem comes to light. They should have to prove they’ve resolved the problem, whether that’s through a recall or by demonstrating that the issue is resolved in another way.

A few car makers appear to be good at doing recalls (Toyota and Renault spring to mind), though some might view this as them releasing products that weren’t right in the first place!

I am certain though, that there are some who deny any problems exist, despite strong evidence to the contrary. With makers like these, getting them to recall seems impossible under the current system.

In this case, I commend Mini for coming clean, but I can’t be sure whether the UK would have been included had we not heard about the US investigation and asked Mini UK directly.


I think that we need a tough change to sort out manufacturers such as BMW and VW as both these manufacturers are very reluctant to admit any defects unless foced to do so. Unlike Toyota who have had mostly very reliable vehicles and are very prompt at doing a recall as soon as the suspect a fault.

I read this affects other cars as well. https://blog.caranddriver.com/massive-takata-airbag-recall-everything-you-need-to-know-including-full-list-of-affected-vehicles/

As the intro says, the dilemma is about risk assessment. Will the deficiency found be sufficient to pose an unacceptable risk. Nothing is perfect and with the complexity of any things, including cars, some deficiencies are only found after extensive use in the field. The point made in the introduction about the threat of legal action against a manufacturer who knows of, but does not disclose, a safety defect should be enough to help manufacturers decide what action to take, and when.

At least we have the ability to recall all vehicles, unlike products such as domestic electrical appliances.

Recalling 235,000 Minis will not be cheap and its hardly surprising that manufacturers would think twice before issuing a recall. In my view, the only satisfactory approach is for decisions about recalls of cars and other products to be made independently.

I’d agree about making an independent recall decision if the manufacturer did not act themselves. however, often making such decisions requires an intimate knowledge of the problem, one that the manufacturer will have. Cooperation in reaching a conclusion would be the best approach in my view.

The trouble with that approach is that we don’t know if manufacturers are doing an excellent or inadequate job. As I see it, manufacturers could feed detailed knowledge of problems to those responsible for making appropriate decisions.