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Don't Confuse Recalls With Reliability

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author photo by Will Kinton November 2016

You often hear people saying that a car with many recalls is an unreliable car. While this may have been the case in the past, that line of thinking is now completely untrue. While reliability comes down to whether or not you can depend on your car to get you where you want to go every time you use it, recalls often have very little to do with this -- and everything to do with proactive safety measures and preventing lawsuits.

This change in recall strategy really started when General Motors began their ignition switch recall in 2014. If you don't remember, the recall was issued to replace a key tumbler with one that was less likely to turn when you didn't want it to. It was a dangerous design that caused at least 124 deaths, but the recall had nothing to do with the reliability of the car. The issue caused considerable bad press for GM, and it filled the news cycle in the same way that Volkswagen's Dieselgate scandal is doing now.

Other automakers saw what was happening and leaped on the opportunity to issue their own recalls while everyone was focused on the General -- recalls that have covered almost anything imaginable. Honda issued a recall for problems with fuel pump strainers, Mazda issued a recall because spiders kept weaving webs in the evaporative canister vent hose, and Jaguar issued a recall because they forgot to put a sticker on three cars. Recently, you've seen the recall of Volkswagen's TDI models for cheating on emissions and Chrysler recalling 811,000 sedans and SUVs because their shifters were too confusing to operate.

These days, car companies are in the habit of recalling anything that could potentially cause a safety concern -- and thus a lawsuit and bad press -- because they don't want to end up like GM. So in today's recall-happy world, a car with two or three recalls isn't unusual -- and it's probably a sign of progress, with automakers doing everything they can to be as safety- (and lawsuit-) conscious as possible.

So just because your car's been recalled a few times doesn't mean it's unreliable. All it means is that your automaker wants to be sure they attack safety issues proactively, largely so they don't get sued for something potentially going wrong. In the end, that's a good thing for all of us -- and we should be happy that today's car companies are so willing to issue recalls.

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Don't Confuse Recalls With Reliability - Autotrader