How do automotive recalls work in India?
You flip open a newspaper and it's not uncommon to see a small article on an automobile maker announcing a recall of their vehicles. It seems like quite a big deal considering the safety, logistical and financial repercussions. The high profile ones like the Takata airbag recall or Volkswagen's Dieselgate scandal haven't helped with this image but more often than not automakers will recall vehicles to fix minor defects that can creep in during the complex design or manufacturing process.
What is a recall?
A recall is quite a simple concept. It literally is a recall of these affected vehicles by the automaker itself, usually without any directive from government authorities. Although, a string of complaints from owners can still be reason enough to call for one. The objective is usually to prevent damage to the car or reduce the risk of injury or death among passengers or other road users.
Are recalls mandatory by law?
Up until 2019, there was no legal provision to cover automotive recalls in India. Recalls were voluntarily initiated by automakers as per a set of guidelines issued by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers(SIAM).
But changes were made to the Motor Vehicles Act as well as a new Consumer Protection Act was put in place that brought automotive recalls under the legal purview. Under these new laws, the central government can order an automaker to recall a vehicle if there is evidence that the defect may cause harm to the environment, occupants or road users.
An automaker may also be asked to recall a vehicle if the government is notified of defects from a percentage of vehicle owners the government specifies, or from any other source including testing agencies. All units of a vehicle can be recalled by the government, irrespective of the variant or type.
The government also has the power to levy fines or direct a carmaker to replace affected vehicles entirely although this isn't the case with voluntary recalls.
How does a recall work?
When an automaker becomes aware of a possible defect, it will usually send out a communication to the affected customers. The law mandates this to come in the form of an announcement on the company website, or through post, email or other written communication. The company is obliged to send a follow-up communication to the customer post which it isn't liable to carry out the process if there is no response from the customer. A recall process can be closed in a year and becomes inactive three years after the recall was first initiated.
In practice, the local service centre gets in touch with the owners of the affected vehicles. These are brought in for a check-up and the defective part is replaced free of cost. Automakers are also known to retroactively do this over a vehicle's life when the vehicle is brought in for a service or other repairs.
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