Safety first

From the February 2020 print edition

Those working in fleet management face vehicle recalls regularly. But what exactly is a vehicle recall? And what should fleet managers do when we have a large group of vehicles in our fleet that has been targeted by such an event?

So what are they? According to Transport Canada, a manufacturer must issue a notice of defect or notice of non-compliance (recall) when they:

  • find a safety defect in a vehicle, tire or child car seat; or
  • when a product doesn’t comply with safety standards.

A safety recall notice from the manufacturer includes:

  • a description of the issue and the safety risk; and
  • steps you need to follow to fix the problem.

Since 2014, there have been 8,464 different types of recalls, including for truck child seats. Yes, that many. Some involve a small number of vehicles while others, like the Takata airbag recall that started in 2013, do affect a large number of vehicles and most of all manufacturers (cars or trucks). In that case, 6.7 million vehicles have been affected in Canada alone.

We should still be clear, vehicles are now much safer than just a few years ago. Think about the back-up cameras now standard in all new vehicles. Rules and safety standards are also tighter, and manufacturers are deploying major quality controls and tests on their products so they can avoid excessive costs for after-production safety issues.

Yet major responsibilities come with the fleet manager role, including dealing with vehicle recalls. Again, according to Transport Canada: “When your vehicle is subject to a recall, you should have it repaired right away. Why? To ensure it is safe. After all, if you own a vehicle, you are responsible for your personal safety, the safety of anyone who drives the vehicle, your passengers, anyone who owns the car after you and other road users.”

When you get a notice pointing to a serial number, the first thing to do is to evaluate the number of vehicles potentially touched by the recall. “Potentially” because it could affect all vehicles of a specific model year or only part of that model year. By doing so, you can prepare to act accordingly.
Also, be transparent with your users. Inform them and let them know the steps you are taking to resolve the situation. Remember, they will still learn about recalls from the internet, conversations with colleagues, and so on.

Who to contact
What if you manage your own fleet without the help of a fleet service provider? In that case, contact the vehicle manufacturer. Most of them have a fleet specialist responsible for sales and technical support. You can ask them about the availability of the recalled parts and when dealers will have all the instructions to process. In the case of a large recall, parts availability is important and sometimes it takes months before parts are available. Your manufacturer support team is your best information source.

Do you use a preferred dealer regularly? Call and prepare a plan on when to bring your vehicles in. The recall notice normally mentions the time evaluated by the manufacturer for the repairs. This gives you an idea of the down time your fleet will have so you can plan the operation production impact. Contact them before you send your vehicles. You will save time and frustration if they do not have the parts or correctives to be applied.

In all cases, the relationship (or even better, partnership) with the manufacturer or dealers is crucial. Only they can solve the problem and they have, for a single recall, many owners just like you to satisfy and the pressure is on.

Are you using a fleet service provider to lease or own? Again, no problem. They have direct contact with manufacturers’ specialists and can introduce them to you. They also have preferred dealers and, most important, more leverage due to the volume they manage.

Even with that access and leverage the responsibility, operation and production planning are still yours. Your fleet service provider is there to support your obligations and facilitate the process. They will have the same problems with parts availability and corrective measures as dealers. The big difference, however, is the support they can give you.

In summary, here’s what to do in the event of a recall:

  • Be proactive; establish strong partnerships with manufacturers, service providers and dealers. They can resolve the issues.
  • It is your responsibility as an owner to act.
  • Be transparent with your employees (it’s a safety issue), show them you’re taking responsibility and that their safety is your number one priority.
  • Evaluate the situation, be prepared for a large impact and remember that, just like the Takata air bag issue, it could touch your entire fleet across multiple manufacturers.
Mario Gionet is a fleet professional and consultant who recently retired as CBC-Radio-Canada’s fleet manager. Reach him at [email protected]