Vauxhall Zafira fires Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Investigations and recalls

1.Vauxhall was too slow to begin a full investigation into the fires affecting Model B Zafiras. It was then too quick to conclude that it had identified the root cause of the fires in Model B Zafiras and to attribute the problem to improper and unauthorised repair of the thermal fuse in the blower resistor. Its initial investigation only briefly considered why the blower motor might be corroded. Its public statements referred to improper repair of the thermal fuse but Vauxhall was clearly aware that a faulty blower motor was one of the necessary conditions for a fire. Vauxhall’s sluggish approach to investigation, its willingness to place the blame on third parties, and its attempt to address the problem through non-code action rather than a recall should cause senior management in the company and the wider General Motors Group to reflect on the kind of culture that permits a safety issue of this kind to be handled so poorly. This is something that PSA, the new owners of the Vauxhall brand will need to address. Vauxhall’s approach to the fires should cause the DVSA to question whether it should have been more incredulous when Vauxhall gave it explanations and assurances about the cause of the fires, and challenged these. (Paragraph 20)

2.The DVSA should seek assurance from Vauxhall that it has taken steps to learn lessons from its poor handling of this issue and must ensure that Vauxhall has put in place robust processes and systems to ensure that potential defects are properly investigated and the root cause properly identified. (Paragraph 21)

The initial recall

3.We believe that the checks that were part of the initial recall and the amendment of the instruction to include a visual check on the blower motor clearly show that Vauxhall was concerned about corrosion in blower motors. We recommend that the DVSA ask Vauxhall to explain why:

Fires in recalled vehicles and further investigation

4.Vauxhall’s initial investigation did not identify all the modes of failure that could cause a fire in a Model B Zafira’s heating and ventilation system. This meant that fires occurred in vehicles that had been returned to their original equipment condition following the initial recall. There appears to have been a two week period between Vauxhall knowing about the fires in recalled vehicles and it telling the DVSA about them. We can see no reasonable explanation for a delay of more than a couple of days in Vauxhall sharing this information with the DVSA. The first, and certainly the second, fire in a vehicle that had successfully been recalled should have started alarm bells ringing in Vauxhall and the DVSA. Vauxhall’s response to these fires appears pedestrian. It should have informed the DVSA sooner and both Vauxhall and the DVSA should have taken action more quickly. (Paragraph 29)

Second recall

5.We are disappointed at the pace of Vauxhall’s response to the fires in successfully recalled vehicles. Vauxhall’s decision to continue to let people drive affected cars amounts to a reckless disregard for safety. This is particularly damning given its admission that it should have notified customers earlier. As soon as it became clear that all the causes of the fires affecting the heating and ventilation system had not been found Vauxhall should have acted; first to alert customers to the risk and offer them advice and second to get the vehicles fixed faster. In the absence of any explanation for its tardy response from the witnesses that appeared before us we can only conclude that commercial considerations and the need to avoid reputational damage were put ahead of safety; this is unacceptable and morally reprehensible. As well as ensuring vehicles are safe to drive the Department has a role to play in ensuring the public can have confidence in any recall announced by a manufacturer. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Department for Transport set out the steps the DVSA has taken to ensure that the remedial action taken by Vauxhall has been effective in eliminating the risk of fires in the heating and ventilation system of Model B Zafiras. (Paragraph 34)

Encouraging defect reporting and sharing information

6.The DVSA’s understanding of vehicle safety defects is determined by information that comes predominantly from manufacturers. It is vital for public confidence that the DVSA is not perceived as being too close to or reliant on motor manufacturers. Other sources of data could help to corroborate and verify what manufacturers tell the DVSA and could act as an early warning allowing safety defects to be identified more quickly. The Department for Transport should do more to encourage the reporting of potential safety defects from drivers and from those with specialist knowledge, such as garages, recovery services, insurers and the emergency services. Defect reporting systems are used in other sectors and the DVSA should identify what lessons it can learn from systems like those used for reporting defects with medical devices. The Department should convene a round table with interested parties with the aim of identifying what practical steps can be taken to share existing sources of information more effectively, raise awareness of under-reporting and to encourage more reporting of potential safety defects. The Department should submit a report on the steps it plans to take following the proposed round table to the Transport Committee by March 2018. The Government should ensure the Vehicle Safety Branch has the staff and resources it would need to cope with a higher number of defect reports. (Paragraph 39)

Improving investigation of vehicle fires

7.There will always be reasons why some vehicles cannot be examined after a fire. We believe that the guiding principle should be that the interest of the general public in ensuring vehicle safety comes before any narrow commercial interest in settling a specific claim. Vehicle manufacturers should work with insurers and owners of vehicles to ensure that as few vehicles with potential vehicle defects go un-investigated as possible, especially where the manufacturer is trying to establish the root cause of a potentially serious fault. We believe that where a manufacturer makes sufficient effort they can get access to a greater number of vehicles; Vauxhall has inspected 75% of the vehicles involved in Zafira fires since July 2016. In seeking to increase the number of vehicles that are properly inspected after a fire, the Department for Transport should first ensure that manufacturers are making enough of an effort to get access to the vehicles. If problems remain the next step should be that the Department ensures the motor industry and the insurance industry work together to eliminate any barriers that prevent the full and proper investigation of any potential safety defect in a vehicle. If a way cannot be found to ensure that manufacturers have access to vehicles as part of an investigation, the Department should consider whether the DVSA should have greater powers to seize vehicles in order to carry out a proper forensic investigation where a manufacturer, insurer or owner was uncooperative. Such a scheme could be costly but this should not remove the manufacturer’s current responsibility for carrying out such investigations; the Department could consider how the costs of such investigations might be recovered from uncooperative motor manufacturers and insurers. (Paragraph 44)

Managing recalls

8.We are concerned that a small number of manufacturers have problems identifying the root cause of problems or require multiple recalls to resolve an issue. Clearly some defects are more complex than others to trace and solve but it is surprising to us that Vauxhall has five ongoing recalls relating to fire and that two issues have required more than one recall to resolve. The DVSA should work with the small number of manufacturers who seem to have difficulty managing recalls to see if it can offer any advice. (Paragraph 46)

9.We welcome the launch of the MOT reminder service. The DVSA should pursue opportunities to extend this service, ensuring that vehicles with outstanding safety recalls are prevented from obtaining an MOT or being taxed. We recommend that the Department investigate how a motorist’s contact with its motoring agencies, through for example paying vehicle excise duty or obtaining an MOT, could be used to improve the overall rate of compliance with a safety recall. (Paragraph 54)

10.We recommend that the Department and the DVSA review the Code of Practice on Vehicle Safety Defects and Recalls to see if it needs to be strengthened in respect of the obligation placed on manufacturers to inform their suppliers. Ministers should satisfy themselves that the arrangements for dealing with parts suppliers that are in place would be capable of tracing a part with a safety related defect, which has been used in a number of different makes and models. It must be clear who is responsible for ensuring that other manufacturers are aware of the safety concerns associated with a particular component. (Paragraph 55)

Action on dangerous repairs

11.Vauxhall was willing to attribute blame on incorrect repair by third parties but made no effort to find out where such dangerous practices were being carried out. We accept that it is not the company’s role to police the actions of independent garages but given that Vauxhall alleged the actions of these garages were putting drivers and other road users at risk, they should have done more. Vauxhall’s inaction calls into question the credibility of their claim. The DVSA cannot escape censure in this regard either; it was informed that improper repair of parts was a cause of the fires but as far as we can tell it made no efforts to trace those responsible for unsafe repair of the fuses. (Paragraph 57)

12.The Department for Transport, working with Vauxhall, should examine each case of a Zafira fire where manipulation of the thermal fuse is known to have occurred in order to identify where such allegedly dangerous repair took place. It should review information in the DVSA’s database of vehicle safety defects to identify what further information is already known about dangerous and improper repair of vehicles. The Department should discuss the scale of the dangerous repair of vehicles and its impact on vehicle safety with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the Retail Motor Industry Federation and its associations, other relevant trade associations, and insurers. A key objective for the Department in such discussions should be to identify any systemic failings in the sector and the need for further proportionate action by industry and the Department to tackle the problem. The findings should be reported to the Transport Committee within 18 months. (Paragraph 58)

Resources and powers of the DVSA

13.Under a voluntary recall process the DVSA lacks the powers to compel a quicker response. The poor behaviour of Vauxhall clearly shows that the Department for Transport cannot rely on all manufacturers doing the right thing voluntarily. Other manufacturers may have lessons to learn and should take heed of the recommendations in this Report. The DVSA should have the tools it needs to take proportionate and effective enforcement action to ensure vehicle safety. The current Code based approach should be backed up by a credible threat of prosecution for a failure to comply with an instruction from the DVSA. The powers and sanctions must be proportionate to the risk. We recommend that the Department consider bringing forward legislative proposals to give the DVSA the enforcement powers it needs to compel manufacturers to act should it need to do so. Its proposals should be informed by a comparative analysis of the regulatory powers available to similar bodies in EU member states and to other regulatory bodies in the UK and be based on a period of consultation with stakeholders. (Paragraph 63)

14.We believe that the DVSA should have commissioned its own independent expert advice once fires in successfully recalled vehicles called into question Vauxhall’s claim to have found the root cause of the fires. We recommend that the DVSA review its policy on the use of independent testing and consider making greater use of such testing than it has done previously. (Paragraph 65)

25 April 2017