One UK recall that did happen: Toyotas check for sticky accelerator pedals. Toyota GB claimed the action generated considerable customer goodwill

One UK recall that did happen: Toyota's check for sticky accelerator pedals. Toyota GB claimed the action generated considerable customer goodwill

The UK’s car safety recall system needs a complete overhaul, said Which? Car, the local equivalent of the US Consumer Reports, comparing the effectiveness of the US and UK watchdogs.

The British system, administered by the government Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), 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.

In 2010, the NHTSA instigated 118 recalls, VOSA zero. Which? Car said it believed VOSA didn’t force any recalls as the government body declined to tell the consumer champion. Further investigation found a Freedom of Information response on its website: “VOSA has not been required to use its powers to force a manufacturer into conducting a recall.”

In the past three years, NHTSA investigations have resulted in 492 actions, involving more than 20m vehicles. And Which? Car has found evidence of cars being recalled in the US, but not the UK. For example, in 2005 Volvo USA recalled V70 models made between 1999 and 2002 to fix a throttle fault that caused a sudden massive reduction in power steering, braking assistance and engine power, while Volvo UK did not.

Volvo UK declined to respond to Which? Car but an official response to the problem issued in 2008 cited emission rules, not safety, as the cause of the US recall – and that UK emissions rules are different. Which? Car thought a sudden change to the way a car drives – even if it remains within legal limits – is clearly a safety issue.

Volvo is not the only carmaker to shy away from issuing vehicle recalls in the UK. Previous generation (2003-2010) Vauxhall (Opel) Merivas suffered with intermittent loss of power steering, yet Vauxhall refused to issue a recall; BMW’s original Mini suffered similar power steering (2001-2008) issues, but BMW did not issue a recall either.

Both manufacturers said these were not safety problems so did not warrant recalls.

Consumer website honestjohn.co.uk said in an article on Thursday that VOSA also failed to issue safety recalls over collapsing front suspension perches on Mercedes W210 E Class, steering racks detatching from the bulkheads of Vauxhall Cavaliers, Saab 900s, Saab 9-3s and Daewoo Esperos; and the truly massive problem of failing pressure sensors inside ATE Teves Mk 60 ABS/ESP modules on Volkswagens, Skodas, Audis, SEATs, Fords, Mazdas, Volvos and BMWs (though VOSA may have exerted some pressure over this as a repair recommended by HJUK is now being offered by some of these manufacturers free of charge).

Which? Car editor Richard Headland said: “VOSA is a toothless organisation that appears to pander to the car industry. [We believe] it is providing a sub-standard level of protection to British motorists. In contrast, America’s NHTSA leads the way as an example of how a safety recall organisation should operate.”

The publication said the UK’s vehicle recall system needs to be brought in line with that of the US, where NHTSA proactively responds to consumer complaints and ensures recalls happen when it thinks lives could be at risk. It aims to meet VOSA to discuss the actions it believes the government body should take to better protect consumers.

just-auto has also noticed variances in how automakers respond to known faults on each side of the Atlantic. Deputy editor Graeme Roberts' 1999 Volkswagen Bora has been plagued with driver's electric side window regulator failures since purchase in 2001. The best VW UK ever offered was a small parts and labour subsidy for one (of three) repairs; in the US VW extended the warranty on such parts for the equivalent Jetta to seven years from first registration.