Advances in vehicle technology, testing lead to more recalls

By Jared Hinderer

It seems like there has been more and more recalls on cars in recent years than in the days of the past. These recalls are comforting yet concerning me. They’re comforting me by letting me know that companies are fixing their mistakes, but it’s concerning me that they have to. Stay with me for a minute while I try to speculate on why these recalls seem to be happening more often and to more vehicles.

All the way up through the 1960’s, most cars were relatively simple. They had an engine, a transmission, some wiring, and a body. Eventually, though, cars starting getting more and more complex and parts kept being added. We started seeing computers popping up in cars in the 1980’s and they kept coming. Today, cars are so complex it often takes computers costing thousands of dollars just to diagnose them. This complexity translates to much more comfortable cars, but also poses a slight problem. With more technology and more features, there are more things to go wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with complex computerized cars; my Saab stores error codes for the headlights in a computer. When something goes wrong with the headlights, I have to take it to a dealership to have it diagnosed on an extremely expensive computer. Once I replace the part that needs replacing, it has to go back to the dealership to have the whole system calibrated. It just seems more complex than it needs to be. When you try cramming so many electronic components and computers into a car, it just invites more issues.

Another possible reason for recalls becoming more prominent is the fact that many companies contract other companies to build components for them. The problem here is that the car company itself doesn’t oversee the production to be sure it is done properly. They take the parts assuming they are built properly and put them into their cars. The most recent example is the Takata airbag recall. Takata is the second largest airbag manufacturer in the world. Takata makes airbags for Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Mazda, just to name a few. Recently Takata discovered a design flaw in their airbags, that didn’t just affect one manufacturer, it affected multiple. Because of the mistake made by Takata Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Mazda had to recall over 3.4 million vehicles. A mistake made by one company affected four others companies and 3.4 million vehicles.

All in all, though, I think the biggest reason for recalls is today’s much more stringent safety testing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) annually tests vehicles on several “Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.” The NHSTA randomly selects vehicles from the market place to get an accurate representation of a vehicle that a consumer would actually purchase. This safety testing catches problems in cars and the manufacturer is notified and the problem can be remedied.

These are just reasons I’m speculating may cause the seemingly increasing numbers of vehicle recalls. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that with more features on vehicles and more testing, it seems like more problems would be caught. Cars aren’t necessarily having more problems than cars in the past, the problems are just being found and fixed. I am all for safety testing vehicles, and I’m happy to see that companies are offering remedies for mistakes.

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