Vauxhall is facing a criminal investigation in the UK over their Zafira model range that resulted in 161 model B vehicles reportedly catching fire.
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has confirmed it has launched a criminal investigation against Vauxhall and is now working with Luton Borough Council’s trading standards officers to investigate the car maker.
MPs previously said the manufacturer showed “reckless disregard for safety” by being too slow to react to the number of vehicles catching fire. More than 230,000 Zafira model Bs were sold between 2005 and 2014 that were at risk of catching fire. The first fire was reported in 2009, with a further 161 incidents reportedly taking place since.
The Luton manufacturer first initiated an ‘inspection and rework’ programme in 2015, with a second recall arriving in July 2016. MPs speaking at the Transport Select Committee previously said Vauxhall placed "reputational damage ahead of safety" when reports of the fires first emerged.
The DVSA has already been working with Vauxhall to gather evidence and has now turned its investigation of the manufacturer into a criminal one. Andy Rice, DVSA’s head of counter-fraud and investigations said: “DVSA’s priority is to protect you from unsafe drivers and vehicles.
“We have made it clear to manufacturers that, to protect consumers, they should swiftly rectify problems and meet their obligations under the code of practice. DVSA will take the necessary action against any manufacturers who fail to comply with their obligations.”
Vauxhall is continuing to work with the authorities to provide evidence. The brand also said 92 per cent of the vehicles with a potential fire risk had been repaired.
Vauxhall showed "reckless disregard for safety" say MPs
The criminal investigation follows accusations that Vauxhall showed a “reckless disregard for safety” during the Zafira fires recall by allowing families to continue to drive cars that were at risk of bursting into flames, according to a damning Government report.
The Brit car maker was “sluggish” to recall vehicles and too quick to blame independent garages for improper repairs rather than identifying the root of the problem which caused some cars to be entirely destroyed by flames. No efforts were made to trace the poor repairs, either, the report alleged.
More than 230,000 Zafira B models sold between 2005 and 2014 with manual or no air conditioning were affected, the Transport Select Committee's report also criticised Vauxhall for delays in flagging that fires had occurred on vehicles with original parts fitted, which led to a second recall being issued. The report stated: “We can only conclude commercial considerations and the need to avoid reputational damage were put ahead of safety; this is unacceptable and morally reprehensible.”
The Vauxhall inquiry also highlighted serious failings in the UK’s recalls process and the committee called for wide-ranging changes to restore driver confidence in the system. It found the (DVSA) was too reliant on manufacturers to report safety concerns and should instead encourage drivers and other specialists like garages, emergency services and insurers to flag up problems.
The report recommended giving more power to the DVSA to seize vehicles for fire investigations from uncooperative manufacturers and insurers plus increased scope to threaten prosecution for makers failing to comply with recalls. Proposals should be brought forward, too, to make it impossible to tax or MoT a car that has an outstanding safety recall on its record, the report stated. Louise Ellman, committee chair, said: “Vehicle fires are terrifying for their occupants and other road users. In this inquiry, we heard how one car manufacturer was too slow. Drivers and their families were needlessly put at risk.
“All car manufacturers should take heed of the recommendations in this report. Our inquiry exposed gaps in the system for identifying potential safety defects and dangerous repair practices. More needs to be done to encourage defect reporting.”
In response to the report, Vauxhall said there were “lessons to be learned” and changes to its processes had already been made following the recall that has so far seen 183,172 Zafira B models repaired. A spokesman said: “We apologise to anyone who has experienced anguish or distress as a result of this incident. Nothing is more important to us than safety. “We welcome the backing for our call for greater collaboration between the automotive industry and insurers to improve the detection of faults.”
During the Transport Select Committee hearings over the Zafira fires issue, Vauxhall called for the Government to establish a national vehicle fire database to better alert manufacturers to potential safety issues. Vauxhall representatives asked the Government to help manufacturers gain access to vehicle fire information held by insurers. With a national database, the company said manufacturers could quickly notice whether there is a risk of fire related to specific models.
At the moment, manufacturers have limited information on how widespread a fire risk is, as vehicle fires are often diagnosed by insurers and not the manufacturers. The Association of British Insurers has said it supports the proposal in principle.
While Vauxhall should be hanging its head in shame over the whole Zafira fire recall debacle, there are lessons to be learnt across the industry from this report.
The whole recall system is flawed and needs reviewing as a matter of urgency. To rely on a car maker for a recall to be set in motion is wrong.
Have you seen or experienced a Vauxhall Zafira catching fire? Let us know in the comments below.