Vauxhall Zafira fires: over 31,000 cars from original recall still not fixed

Vauxhall says 13.5 per cent of fire-risk Zafiras are yet to be repaired as customers ignore recall letters; original recall started in 2015

Over 31,000 examples of the Vauxhall Zafira B people carrier have yet to have vital recall work carried out, despite the original recall being issued almost three years ago.

Some 234,938 Zafiras were recalled over 2015 and 2016 due to concerns their blower motors could lead to fires. Vauxhall has attempted to contact all owners, but the company told Auto Express 13.5 per cent – equivalent to 31,716 cars – have yet to have the vital repair work carried out.

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Vauxhall told Auto Express that while it has contacted all owners of affected cars and repaired around 203,000 Zafiras, 13.5 per cent of cars were still outstanding.

A company spokesman added: “We continue to pursue owners of the remaining vehicles so that we can carry out the recall work, however this can sometimes take longer if a change of ownership is involved, or if owners persistently ignore our letters. There are also some vehicles which have been taken off the road or scrapped since the recall notice was issued.

Vauxhall recently extended its Zafira recall to 47,000 cars that were previously thought to not need remedial work on their heater blowers due to being fitted with more modern electronic climate control systems. These cars were subsequently founed to need the work, and joined the 234,938 Zafiras with more old-fashioned HVAC (heating ventilation and air-conditioning) systems in being recalled for potential fire risk.

Vauxhall Zafira fires: recall extended to a further 47,000 UK cars

Vauxhall is recalling a further 47,000 Zafira ‘B’ people carriers, over fears faulty heating systems could lead to vehicle fires.

The second-generation Zafira, referred to as the ‘B’ model and built between 2005 and 2014, was originally recalled in 2015 over a similar issue. Nearly 235,000 cars were called back in two separate actions, with Vauxhall originally considering only models with more old-fashioned air-conditioning systems were affected. The fault has previously caused over 160 Zafiras to catch fire.

Now, however, the company has identified that Zafira B models with electronic climate control systems may also pose a potential fire risk. The fault relates to the system’s heater blower and regulator, and is similar to the problem afflicting Zafiras with air-conditioning.

A statement from the company read: “Vauxhall Motors considers the safety of its customers very seriously. Through continual testing, we are launching a recall of some Vauxhall Zafira models to replace the heater blower motor and regulator. These are the second generation models – Zafira B – built between 2005 and 2014 that were fitted with electronic climate control (ECC). There are 47,000 such cars in the UK.

“In agreement with the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency), we will write to owners using the keeper address data from the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) advising them to contact a Vauxhall Retailer to arrange to have the work carried out free of charge. Letters will start to be sent out from the end of this week.”

Ian Bartlett from the DVSA said the organisation had “continued to monitor Vauxhall’s progress and actions to rectify faults found on the Zafira B.”

Bartlett added: “As a result of our continued work and evidence from vehicles owners, Vauxhall has issued a recall for the Zafira B with electronic climate control heating systems. We will continue to monitor the situation.”

Vauxhall Zafira fires: manufacturer facing a criminal investigation 

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) previously confirmed it was launching a criminal investigation against Vauxhall and was 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 have 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 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 and the Transport Select Committee report also criticised Vauxhall for delays in flagging up 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 Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (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.

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“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.”

Durring 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. 

Vauxhall also proposed incorporating a check on outstanding safety recalls into the MoT process, after it informed the committee that 55,000 Zafira B models out of the 234,938 affected have yet to have their second, and final recall fix carried out. This is despite Vauxhall sending owners up to seven letters informing them of the safety recall. 

Opinion: the Auto Express view on the Zafira fires saga

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.

Manufacturers must be quicker to investigate potential safety issues, whatever the cost. Damaged vehicles should be made available for safety investigations urgently. And vehicles with outstanding recall notices on them should not pass an MoT test.

Welcome though this report is, I’d like to see the Government bare its teeth. If Vauxhall has acted badly and put owners at risk, shouldn’t there be consequences for the company other than the resulting bad publicity? Recalls are safety issues, and real change is needed to protect us all. 

Used Zafira B models sold by secondhand dealers without fire recall

A BBC Radio 4 report revealed that a number of used Vauxhall Zafira cars are being sold by secondhand dealers before the Zafira fires recall remedial work has been completed.

The second round of recalls for Vauxhall Zafira B models, designed to prevent the problem that saw a number of the cars catch fire, began in August 2016. Auto Express estimates the cost to General Motors related to the Zafira fires recall issue to be around £40 million, but a BBC report revealed there was at least one example of a fire in a Vauxhall Zafira bought from a secondhand dealer after the recall was announced.

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The investigation, conducted by Radio 4 reporter John Douglas, cited the case of Gemma Douglas from Ebbsfleet who purchased a Zafira from Big Cars Ltd. of Chelmsford, Essex.

Gemma bought the Zafira six weeks after the safety recall was first launched by Vauxhall and the car dealer involved had not returned the car to Vauxhall for the required remedial work. The people carrier then caught fire when parked outside a shop, just minutes after Gemma had been driving it with her children onboard.

“The dealer told us nothing; the firemen told us the car was up for a recall. I would have never put my children in that car had I known”. Big Cars Ltd claims that an independent report said the fire was caused by a fuel leakage, and that the car was bought from a Motorbility scheme who had also failed to check for the recall. 

Tim Milson, lead officer for the motor trade at the Trading Standards Institute, claims that it is the responsibility of all in the supply chain to check for recalls before selling a car on. He cites the Sale of Goods Act that says a vehicles needs to be of satisfactory quality, and the Road Traffic Act section 75 that states “no person shall supply a motor vehicle in unroadworthy condition”.  

How did the Vauxhall Zafira fires recall start?

In 2015, Zafira owners began reporting problems with the heating and ventilation system in the Zafira ‘B’ models, on sale from 2009 to 2014, while the London Fire Brigade  said it has extinguished 71 such fires – not including arson attacks – since 2013, compared to just 38 in the previous four years. Concerned owners started their own Facebook page and brought the problem to the attention of the BBC Watchdog programme.

Vauxhall immediately initiated an ‘inspection and rework’ programme, contacting owners of the 234,938 affected cars – which was swiftly upgraded to a full safety recall, with the Driver Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) helping to ensure no potentially affected cars slip through the net.

In July 2016, Vauxhall’s customer experience director Peter Hope and GM’s senior chief Charles J Klein confirmed details of a second recall at a special hearing in front of the Transport Select Committee. Addressing committee MPs, Hope said: “Our focus is on getting the safety recall completed. We don’t have current plans for inconvenience and worry. We will address further steps” after the recall is complete.

“We are truly sorry and I apologise for customers who have been inconvenienced.”

The new fix – originally announced in May 2016 – was designed to “improve the overall robustness of the system” by replacing the current soldered fuse resistor with a wax fuse resistor, reducing the opportunity for manipulation. 

With the estimate cost of around £40 million, a Vauxhall spokesman said: “Money is never any issue these days with General Motors as far as safety is concerned.” However, the firm also said all resources were focused on addressing the issue and there would be no compensation for owners. 

As with the first recall, owners had all work conducted free of charge with all vehicles recieving a new wax fuse resistor, a new blower motor and a new moulding at the base of the windscreen to address water ingress problems.

What is causing the Vauxhall Zafira fires? 

The DVSA agreed with Vauxhall’s root cause investigations into the Zafira fires issue, which identified the cause of fires to have been faulty repairs of a thermal fuse in a resistor that forms part of the heating and ventilation system of cars with air conditioning or with no air conditioning. Cars with electronic climate control were not originally thought to be affected, but Vauxhall subsequently found climate systems could pose a risk, and recalled a further 47,000 Zafira Bs in October 2018. 

In the first recall Vauxhall replaced the thermal fuse in affected cars, while also replacing the cabin pollen filter and checking for a hole in the windscreen surround that might have been caused by the refitting of a windscreen and could let water into the system, causing corrosion to the fan. Corrosion of the blower unit, or wear and tear through use, is the most likely fault, which should trigger the safe activation of the thermal fuse.

Vauxhall’s inspections involved random checks of 1,000 cars, of which 2.6% had been found to have badly repaired fuses. The fuse is designed to deactivate the system in event of a fault, to prevent overheating. However, Auto Express was given exclusive access to some of the unauthorised repairs where the fuse has been bypassed through highly dangerous, yet ingenious means – including using copper wire to reconnect the fuse terminals, holding it together with a crocodile clip or even screwing it back in place.

Healthy fuses use a metal spring that is held in place by a special copper-free solder, designed to release the spring and break the circuit if the temperature reaches 184 degrees Celsius. A replacement unit would cost less than £30, but some repairers have made their own attempts to reconnect the system, including using normal plumbing or electrical solder, which means the fuse won’t break at the required temperature. That can lead to unwanted high temperatures which can cause a fire in the system, with the investigations and correct repair method now being approved by the DVSA.

Vauxhall Chairman Rory Harvey told Auto Express at the time: “We want all Vauxhall owners to be safe in their cars – safety is paramount to us at Vauxhall.

“We recognise that some of these cars could be on their third, fourth or even fifth owners and they may have vehicles which have been improperly repaired without their knowledge or before they bought the vehicle. That’s why we wanted to instigate this safety recall.”

Vauxhall advised owners of affected cars who are aware of repairs being carried out to the heating and ventilation system or with a currently faulty system to only use their fans on the fourth speed to demist the windows, which uses a different fuse system to the first three fan speed. 

After replacing the blower motor, Vauxhall’s 400-strong dealer network then begin to work on replacing the current soldered fuse resistor with a wax fuse resistor to make sure no improper repairs are made to the system again.  

How Facebook raised the Zafira fires issue

Worried mums Sue Freemantle, from Ivybridge, Devon, Claire Wheatley, from Plymouth and Jade Hellewell, from Preston, Lancs, joined forces to start a Facebook campaign to bring the Zafira fires issue to light when their Vauxhall Zafira models unexpectedly caught fire with children and pets inside.

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The group garnered the support of more than 3,000 members, with several other owners claiming on the page that their MPVs went up in flames, too.

Owners reported that thick, black smoke had filled the cabin through the dashboard with many having children or pets on-board at the time. Some drivers had purchased their car just days before it ignited and gutted the interior.

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Sue told Auto Express: “I started the group to raise awareness about these car fires after Vauxhall essentially washed their hands of my plight. I’m gobsmacked by how many others have been through what my family have had to endure.” She added that the group has been set up not to gain compensation but in order to save lives in the future.

Following complaints Vauxhall launched its internal investigation and that led to the recall. A spokesman said: “While the number of incidents is very low in proportion to the number of vehicles on the road, we take this issue very seriously and will take further action.

“The safety of our customers is the number one priority. Our investigations have found that a number of incidents have occurred due to previous repairs being performed improperly or using certain non-genuine parts.”

Owners are advised to contact their Vauxhall dealer if they notice any “unusual characteristics” with the heating and ventilation system – for example a squeaking noise from the dashboard. Dealers have been told to arrange inspections free of charge.

Concerned Zafira owners can find more information here.

Have you seen or experienced a Vauxhall Zafira catching fire? Let us know in the comments section below…

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