safercar.govWith new recalls announced on Wednesday by Toyota and on Thursday by Volkswagen and BMW, columnists are asking if cars have gotten less safe lately. In an article on, Paul A. Eisenstein writes in his “Behind the Wheel” column that the pace of recalls in the U.S. is accelerating, with 22 million vehicles recalled last year — a 20% increase over the previous year. And an article in The New Zealand Herald by Dee Ann Durbin and Yuri Kageyama says:

This year, carmakers have recalled about 9 million vehicles in the US. If that pace continues, the nation would break the record of 30.8 million recalled vehicles set in 2004.

Toyota Motor Corp’s recall involves 6.39 million vehicles worldwide for five problems ranging from steering to seats in 27 Toyota models, according to Chang-Ran Kim writing for Reuters in an article appearing in the Chicago Tribune. The problems were also found in the Pontiac Vibe, which Toyota built for General Motors, and in the Subaru Trezia, which Toyota built for Fuji Heavy Industries. The recall is Toyota’s second-largest ever, Kim writes.

In the largest of the recalls, Toyota said some 3.5 million vehicles have a spiral cable that could become damaged when the steering wheel is turned, which could cause the air bag to fail in an accident, Kim writes. In the company’s second-largest recall, some 2.32 million three-door models made between January 2005 and August 2010 may have a fault in the seat rails that could cause the seat to slide forward in a crash, putting the driver or passengers at risk of injury, Kim writes. The three other Toyota recalls are for faulty steering column brackets, windshield wiper motors, and engine starters, Kim writes.

Volkswagen is discussing a possible recall with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, reports Christopher Jensen for The New York Times. VW told dealers on Thursday to stop selling about 25,000 2014 models in the U.S. because of a faulty o-ring in the transmission oil cooler on vehicles assembled after Feb. 1, Jensen writes. The defective o-ring creates a potential fire risk, according to an article appearing on The affected vehicles include current models of the VW Jetta, Beetle, Beetle convertible, and Passat that are equipped with a 1.8 liter engine and an automatic transmission, writes. Mark Gillies, a VW spokesman, told Jensen that the carmaker is not aware of any accidents or fires related to the problem.

And Reuters reports that BMW on Thursday announced a voluntary recall of more than 156,000 vehicles in the U.S. from model years 2010 to 2012 to check for potentially defective bolts that could cause engine damage. The recall includes BMW’s popular 3 Series compact sedan, Reuters notes. The automaker recalled about 232,000 imported and locally produced cars in China earlier this month for the same reason, Reuters writes. BMW told Reuters in an email that it will check the bolts holding the variable camshaft timing (VANOS) unit, which were “prone to loosening, or in extreme cases, breaking.” The carmaker said drivers can continue to drive the recalled BMW vehicles unless they see warnings like “check engine” or “service engine soon,” in which case they should immediately contact the nearest authorized BMW center, Reuters writes.

In the wake of GM’s and Toyota’s recall problems,’s Eisenstein quotes an expert:

‘Everybody that has anything to recall is getting it out now. This is a reporting frenzy,’ said David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research, in Ann Arbor, Mich. ‘There’s so much attention to the issue of recalls in the wake of the GM situation, that if you have a problem you deal with it now.’

The New Zealand Herald quotes Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the nonprofit Centre for Auto Safety, as saying the Justice Department’s investigation of Toyota, and possible criminal charges against GM in that company’s ignition switch problem cover-up, can be “a real game-changer.” Ditlow added that nothing changes corporate behavior as much as a criminal prosecution.


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