Report: Software-Related Vehicle Recalls on the Rise

New York — June 30, 2016 — While smart cars are still an evolving technology, the vulnerability of software in motor vehicles has already been much discussed. Recent findings by one firm, SRR, show an increase in software-related recalls, which made up 15 percent of the amount of total auto recalls last year. This was a 10 percent increase within a 4-year period, according to a press release.

Software is just one part of the risks that come with the latest enhanced vehicles, the statement said, following on the developments seen during 2014. One of SRR’s managing directors, Neil Steinkamp, commented on the massive amount of software a car may have, based on the latest advances. He said that the new reality demands an appropriate response from the automotive industry to keep operators safe.

“Today’s cars can contain over 100 million lines of code. For perspective, an F-35 joint strike fighter jet contains about 9 million,” Steinkamp said. “When you have that much software in a car—and particularly when much of that software is relatively new—there are going to be some issues.”

Multiple major manufacturers have received complaints centered around software problems in recent months. According to a J.D. Power and Associates study mentioned in USA Today, 2015 saw a 22 percent increase in vehicle-software-related complaints. Software updates also did not necessarily fix all issues, at least in the case of a navigation system problem the source mentioned.

Between 2014 and 2015, the number of recalls related to software issues rose by 45 percent, the article added. Furthermore, the annual number of manufacturer technical service bulletins concerning software problems numbered 160 for each year between 2011 and 2015.

This is nearly 100 more than the annual number for the four-year period between 2006 and 2010. Volvo recalls were on the list of those most commonly associated with software problems.

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Ferrari Recalls Thousands of Vehicles Due to Takata Inflator Concerns

Englewood Cliffs, N.J. — June 29, 2016 — With each month, more vehicles are connected with the Takata air bag recalls. While the latest expansion includes models from several manufacturers, much of the coverage for this new round centers on the Ferrari recalls. It is the first time the famous automaker has taken part in the ongoing action.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated that the recall includes 2,820 autos across two ranges of model years: the 2009 to 2011 Ferrari California and the 2010 and 2011 Ferrari 458 Italia. Both models are light two-door vehicles with a gas power train.

A Part 573 Safety Recall Report from the organization described the hazards in these cars. As with other Takata inflators, the units in the Ferrari vehicles could potentially rupture and release metal shards dangerously close to occupants.

As with the other vehicles in the Takata recalls, the problem comes from the nondesiccated ammonium nitrate used in these devices, as well as possible environmental factors, such as exposure to humidity or changing temperatures. Ferrari’s remedy depends on the long-term solution Takata develops.

For now, the report said, the manufacturer will replace affected units with a PSPI-2 inflator. The automaker will continue to use risk factors to help guide its recall actions.

According to Car and Driver, Jeep vehicles are also newly entering the ranks of affected models. Though Ferrari has recalled cars for issues with Takata air bags before, they were reportedly unrelated to the larger inflator concerns.

Other major manufacturers, including Fiat Chrysler, Mazda and Mitsubishi have also recalled more vehicles for the same concern. Of these, Fiat Chrysler has recalled the most new vehicles, Car and Driver stated, with more than 4.3 million models now included.

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Some Chevrolet Malibu Vehicles Could Suffer Brake Module Failures

Warren, Mich. — June 28, 2016 — Among the most recent GM recalls is an action centered around brake module issues in Chevrolet vehicles. The manufacturer is recalling 66 Malibu cars from the 2016 model year, in an attempt to correct possible Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard compliance problems. The electronic brake modules could suffer a potential failure that would affect multiple aspects of the car’s standard braking functions.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that memory chips in these modules would impact both the anti-lock brake and electronic stability control systems. Although the driver will still be able to operate the brakes, the loss of support systems could make normal driving more difficult.

According to the official Part 573 Safety Recall Report from the organization, owners can check the driver information center for a possible indicator of electronic brake control module failure. This system could display multiple warning lights and messages, including a “service brake system” message.

The faulty component was manufactured by ZF TRW. The first indications of this issue came March 8, after several vehicles showed a loss of electronic braking systems. The remedy requires dealers to replace the electronic brake control module with a new unit that has “accurate voltages written to memory,” as the report stated. In addition, this feature will be present in all Chevrolet Malibu vehicles built after March 12.

While the dealer notification date was listed as May 4, owners are not scheduled to be notified until June 10. In the meantime, GM is directing owners to official channels, including its own recall website and customer support service.

The 2016 Malibu has been a part of other GM recalls this year. This includes a March action that affected 3,137 vehicles, as described in an official NHTSA acknowledgment.

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Mercedes-Benz Vehicles Added to Takata Recall [Video]

Montvale, N.J. — June 27, 2016 — The Takata air bag inflator recalls are only getting larger. Mercedes-Benz is now recalling several different brands of vehicles, with model years going as far back as 2005.

Mercedes-Benz is just one of several major automakers involved in the effort. Others include Ford, General Motors, Nissan and Honda. CNET reported that the manufacturer will address nearly 1 million vehicles with this action.

As of April 22, more than 8.1 million affected air bag units have been repaired. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has divided the country into three different recall zones based on heat and humidity. Changing temperatures could impact how dangerous these inflators are and whether or not they could injure occupants.

Find out more about the Takata air bag recalls by reading our May 18 article.

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Toyota Recalls Vehicles That Could Overload [Video]

Torrance, CA — June 24, 2016 — A recall first initiated in April concerns almost ninety-five Toyota light vehicles. According to an official report from the NHTSA, affected vehicles could carry the wrong load capacity information, a problem with serious potential consequences.

Vehicles with inaccurate load labels risk misleading consumers as to how much they can carry. Too much weight onboard will strain a vehicle’s capacity and make it more likely to crash. This issue also represents a noncompliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 110 S10.

The report said that the problem came from a miscommunication. Owners will be able to perform the remedy themselves by placing a correct, vehicle-specific label.

You can learn more about Toyota recalls by reading our blog. Check out our April 6 story on a stability issue that affect multiple vehicle brands.

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Fiat Chrysler Addresses Two New Issues in a Pair of Recalls

Auburn Hills, Mich. — June 23, 2016 — Two new voluntary Fiat Chrysler recalls will target issues in a range of different vehicles. In a pair of press releases published May 18, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles explained the conditions leading to each recall. Neither of these are connected to any known injuries or accidents, and both of them have repercussions outside of North America, although the majority of vehicles in each case are within the United States.

The first recall: Clockspring assemblies
This action concerns the systems that may prevent some Jeep Wrangler SUVs from deploying their air bags correctly. The statement said that exposure to contaminants could weaken the clockspring and interfere with the circuit that controls air bag function. Drivers are particularly at risk, since the driver-side air bag is the one that could be disabled through this action.

The SUVs featured in this recall have model years between 2007 and 2010, with an estimated 392,464 of these vehicles inside the United States. Owners may see a lit air bag warning lamp in their vehicles if the clockspring has been compromised. This condition could be especially prevalent inside vehicles used for off-roading, the source said.

Dealers will resolve the issue by modifying the steering wheel, installing a new steering-column shroud and back cover. Though no schedule was listed, the release did say that customers will receive notification once the recall progresses.

The second recall: Clutch release updates
The other recall centers around gradual changes that could hurt vital transmission functions in Fiat 500 cars with model years between 2012 and 2016, but only the models that don’t use turbocharged engines. The statement mentions that approximately 39,217 vehicles are affected by this.

Unlike the other recall, this one has some reports of damage to the vehicles involved. The source said that .01 percent of the affected cars have been damaged, according to recent investigations, and that the recall notices sent out will give customers the necessary guidance for updating their vehicles as necessary.

If left unchecked, these affected vehicles can potentially see a moving clutch, which prevents the driver from using standard manual transmission functions. No specific remedy was described in this statement.

Previous related issues
In addition to these recalls, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration features some information about other issues that could also affect the same vehicles. One complaint about a 2016 Fiat 500 filed in September 2015 stated that a vehicle suddenly shut off while the drivers were in the middle of the highway. The anonymous driver stated that the parking brake, service engine soon and transmission lights all turned on at once after the vehicle stalled.

The Jeep Wrangler has also been subject to previous recalls similar to the most recent one. A report from May 2013 described a clockspring issue in Wrangler right-hand-drive vehicles manufactured between February 2007 and October 2011. Investigations associated with that case found that dust contamination led to circuit fatigue, a condition that may have caused steering column problems and also triggered air bag warning lights.

The initial recall acknowledgment letter for this issue referenced 5,400 potentially affected vehicles. As with the newer actions, these vehicles were at risk of air bag circuit issues that could have left occupants less safe. The chronology of this action dated back to May 2011, when the NHTSA opened its investigations. The decision to conduct an official safety recall was made that October, after months in the wake of the safety issues.

Originally, the remedy for this problem involved a steering wheel dust shield and a new clockspring, both of which the dealer was slated to replace beginning in May 2013. There were no accidents or injuries traced to this condition, either.

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NHTSA Reports Further Investigations Into Rupturing Air Bags

Washington, D.C. — June 22, 2016 — The Takata air bag recall has extended to include millions of vehicles and inflator units, as the company tries to address all of the hazards from models still available. Documents from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show a continuing desire to target some specific inflator types, which could impact vehicles registered in 20 different states.

As with the other air bags monitored during these recalls, Takata is particularly concerned about units exposed to low degrees of humidity. If the chemicals in the affected inflators degrade enough, they could lead to a potentially fatal rupture, as occupants are struck by pieces of metal shrapnel. This could harm not just the driver but other passengers in the vehicle as well.

According to a new recall acknowledgement letter with a manufacturer’s date of May 16, 2016, Takata will recall six different types of air bag inflator models: the SPI, PSPI, PSPI-1.1, PSPI-2, PSPI-6, and PSPI-L.

The source added that the automakers taking part in this effort will likely announce their own additional recalls in the future as other actions continue. Some of the inflators may have been added to previously affected vehicles as replacements.

The list of state registrations that may apply to affected vehicles spans the entire country, including Alaska, Iowa, Maine, the Dakotas and Utah. These states all reside in Zone C, containing “lower temperature cycling and absolute humidity,” which could make the inflator ruptures more likely. This most recent initiative concerns 250,000 potentially affected units.

The reaction behind the recall
The part 573 report from the source specified that the newly recalled inflators will contain non desiccated ammonium nitrate, which could cause the air bag to rupture and send metal dangerously close to anyone nearby.

Even if certain vehicles aren’t at risk now, the non desiccated substances could lead to air bags becoming more degraded over time, suddenly creating a wider field of risk. Although Takata and the NHTSA are working closely together to reduce possible risks, many of the parts needed to remedy this latest concern are not currently available. As such, the remedy listed in the report just mentions that the Independent Monitor in charge of the remedy program will supply parts to the highest-priority recipients.

It takes years for degradation to occur, the report said, as conditions slowly take their toll on air bags and leave them more likely to rupture. Variations can occur based on the specific environment of the vehicle, but the air bag activation itself triggers the combustion, with the dangerous metal pieces exiting the material of the bag itself.

The Takata recalls at a glance
The NHTSA took action to “accelerate” the recall effort May 4, even as more work clearly needs to be done. As of April 22, the organization’s official website for this effort reported more than 8.16 million air bags have been repaired.

In an expert report, Dr. Harold Blomquist, a chemist asked to support the NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigations, explained the processes behind the ruptures. He also divided the dangerous inflators into two groups, stating that only some units in the second of these groups are under recall.

“One group was not manufactured as designed and intended, and all vehicles affected by such manufacturing flaws have been recalled for inflator replacement,” Blomquist said. “The other population was ostensibly manufactured as intended, but does not withstand normal climatic cycles, presenting a defect that arises some number of years after installation in the vehicle.”

The official NHTSA stated that more driver-side air bags have been repaired than passenger-side, and that Honda has repaired the greatest number of units with more than 5.6 million taken care of as of the April date.

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Vehicles in GM Recalls May Not Warn Drivers When Key is in Ignition

Warren, Mich. — June 20, 2016 — An important alarm feature may not work properly in some Chevrolet vehicles, as a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently stated. General Motors is taking measures to address a security fault that could allow drivers to leave their keys in the ignition slots for several vehicles with model years ranging from 2013 to 2016.

Three Chevrolet models, (the Sonic, Spark and Trax vehicles) are part of this action, which extends to 317,572 units. The relatively subtle flaw may go undetected by motorists but could still fail Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 114, the report stated, leaving the vehicle vulnerable to theft.

The source said that the warning chime that should play when a driver leaves the key in the ignition may not do so, depending on how and when he or she opens the door. This only applies to vehicles with the Bring Your Own Media feature: In affected vehicles, the radio isn’t able to receive the command to exit sleep mode and prompt the proper alert.

Taking proper action
Though there is no official recall schedule yet, the report stated that dealers can update the included radio software to function correctly and execute the right key chime. The software in Sonic and Trax vehicles built after this April 13 and April 17, respectively, are already fixed, and the radio has been discontinued in Spark models altogether.

In addition, Autoblog’s article on this recall advised owners to take extra care to bring car keys when exiting a vehicle and not rely on the chime, in case it doesn’t work. The report lists two specific circumstances in which the chime could fail: if the driver takes more than 10 minutes to open the door after turning the vehicle off and leaving the key in the ignition, or the driver takes more than 20 seconds to open the door a second time after closing it.

The latter case could prove especially tricky, since the owner might hear a noise, but only a shortened version of the one he or she should. This is still possible evidence of the defect.

Calibration specifics
Since the official recall submission, the NHTSA has posted a pair of safety bulletins describing the necessary measures for reprogramming the systems. This notice specifically warned dealers not to program the affected control module without instruction or an updated programming tool. Other necessary precautions include reducing battery voltage fluctuations and putting the ignition switch in the correct position, as described by the Service Programming System.

Using a USB device and the vehicle’s own “infotainment display”, staff will update the necessary software and wait the required time for the changes to take effect. This same bulletin requires dealers to address all vehicles that arrive in their facility, ensuring completion for any models that might appear in dealer inventory.

FMVSS 114: A closer look
The text of this standard involves language that makes this recall a serious concern. As of 2016, FMVSS 114, which addresses “Theft protection and rollaway prevention,” requires a starting system to respond if the key is removed.

The subsections of this document allow for different possible deterrents, but removing the key must prevent the engine or motor from being activated as well as the vehicle’s steering and/or forward mobility.

While there are some exceptions, vehicles must, under this standard, feature “an audible warning” to alert the driver whenever the nearest door opens while the key is still left in the ignition. The audio alert does not need to play in certain situations, such as if the key cannot turn from its position within the starting system, though this just applies to mechanical systems.

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Steering Column Shaft Problems Prompt New Subaru Recalls

Cherry Hill, NJ — June 16, 2016 — A new Subaru recall effort will address 48,500 potentially compromised vehicles. Drivers in Subaru Legacy or Outback models from either the 2016 or 2017 model years may be in danger of crashing due to sudden steering loss.

As a recall acknowledgment document filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted, this issue comes from steering columns that don’t properly connect the steering apparatus to the wheels.

The only component listed in this statement is the column, which was reportedly machined incorrectly during manufacturing. The Safety Recall Report, also available through the NHTSA, lists the production dates for each of the affected models: They range from Feb. 9 to May 6, 2016. This condition could mean that the wrong tool setting was used on the column when it was in manufacturing.

The recall timeline
According to the NHTSA documents, this recall has a relatively short history, with the first customer-related steering issue reported May 3. Further inspections followed on May 5, with the official safety recall determination coming just four days later.

May 9 was listed as the dealer notification date, and as of this writing, no planned owner notification date is given on the amended report dated for May 12. The recall will also include a stop sale for any of the affected Subaru vehicles in the U.S. market.

Because of the manufacturer’s fast response, it has already spurred changes to prevent this issue from hindering future vehicles. New screening practices went into use May 6. To address the potentially dangerous vehicles already in use, the report suggests dealers look at steering column lot numbers before deciding whether the entire column needs to be replaced.

Unlike the faulty shafts, replacement parts are correctly machined and will comply with the intended specifications. The column comes from supplier NSK Steering Systems America, based in Michigan.

All of the affected models are classified as “light vehicles” with a gas power train. While the 2017 Subaru Legacy has a 4-door body style, all of the other models are SUVs. The updated safety recall report lists the 2015 Subaru Outback as well, stating that it may have a defective steering column due to a previous service repair. Vehicle Identification Numbers are not included in this report.

A previous action
Some of the models in this notice were subject to other recent Subaru recalls. Last November, the 2016 Legacy and Outback vehicles were involved in a different action that also resulted from incorrect manufacturing practices.

As the recall report for that case noted, the drive shafts in 3,251 potential units could detach, since the fastening nuts were not properly tightened. This could lead to a fire hazard, since the unmoored drive shafts could hit the vehicle’s fuel tank and cause a leak.

Once again, improper tool use during manufacturing was at fault, since the loose nuts were not torqued correctly during the initial production. For the vehicle to pose a true fire hazard, however, the discharged fuel would have to come into contact with a source of ignition that would spark it into a flame.

This was another case of a fast-acting recall, since the announcement came just three days after Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc. discovered the issue, with dealer notification then scheduled for the same day.

Though the remedy mentioned possible replacement nuts and bolts, it also said that dealers could solve the issue by simply tightening these existing parts. A repair procedure document from the manufacturer stated that both the affected Outback and Legacy vehicle models began production on October 24, 2015. 

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Honda may increase Takata recall numbers

Washington, D.C. — June 14, 2016 — As the Takata air bag recalls continue to affect higher numbers of cars, Honda may specifically be taking on a wider effort. According to Reuters, the manufacturer, one of several involved in the wide-reaching scandal, could recall more than 20 million more air bags equipped with dangerous inflators.

However, this is not a confirmed figure and is just suggested by a Japanese newspaper. In fact, Honda has said that it has not announced any new recalls. At the same time, this company in particular is a notable one involved in the scandal, since several of the vehicles involved in the 10 deaths associated with the faulty inflators were produced by Honda.

This includes the recent April tragedy in which a teenager driving a 2002 Honda Civic was killed by shrapnel from an exploding air bag. A separate Reuters article on that event quoted Jeffrey Smith, a Honda representative. At the time, Honda alleged that it had replaced more than 7.5 million of the dangerous units.

“This is a very motivated, dedicated and engaged group, working seven days a week to help customers get their vehicles repaired,” Smith said of the company’s customer relations team.

Honda’s efforts at a glance
The Takata air bag recalls spotlight website shows the amount of vehicles Honda has specifically recalled in comparison to the 13 other participating automakers. Affected Honda vehicle model years stretch as far back as the 2001 Accord, Civic and Civic CNG vehicles, with the most recent being the 2015 CR-Z. In total, 14 different models are listed. Only Mercedes-Benz and BMW have more types of vehicles named.

This same source also lists the recall completion rates, both in total and by manufacturer. So far, Honda’s efforts statistically put it far ahead of the competing brands, as it has repaired approximately 56.1 percent of total recalled air bags.

Unlike some of the other major names, like BMW, Honda has a relatively small difference in completion rates between driver and passenger-side air bag repairs, the latter figure being three percentage points lower than the one for driver-side air bags.

All told, the driver-side air bags have a higher repair rate, since the site states that more than 4.6 million of these are finished, compared to the 3.5 million passenger-side models. However, this is only as of April 22, and these figures don’t reflect the millions of inflators said to be added within the next three years.

Future efforts
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced this expansion in a May 4 press release. The statement said that the new recall will add as many as 40 million inflators to the numbers of those already recalled. Participating vehicles will be split up by priority so the recall can be, in turn, sorted into five different phases.

In the release, Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Transportation, stated that the effort would continue the government’s focus on upholding principles of recall safety.

“Today’s action is a significant step in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s aggressive oversight of Takata on behalf of drivers and passengers across America,” Foxx said at the time. “The acceleration of this recall is based on scientific evidence and will protect all Americans from air bag inflators that may become unsafe.”

Recall communication
Honda is utilizing multiple channels to reach a wide recall audience, Reuters said. It broke down the different methods based on their frequency, according to figures from Smith. Of these, the most highly used medium Honda relied on was phone calls, both direct and automated. The manufacturer has reportedly made 12.8 million of these, compared to smaller numbers of postcards, mailers and emails it has also sent out.

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