This story has been revised to clarify that only a select group of Subaru vehicles will actually need repairs. The automaker, however, needs owner help in identifying which ones.
The New Year has gotten off to a bad start – for Subaru, anyway. The maker is being forced to recall nearly 634,000 sedans, wagons and crossovers due to an electrical problem that could lead to a vehicle fire.
More precisely, says Subaru, it will notify owners of 633,842 relatively late-model vehicles they may be subject to a recall, though only about 54,000 of those Subaru products will actually need to undergo repairs.
Subaru is just the latest in a string of makers, including Toyota, Ford and General Motors, who have had to recall millions of vehicles over the last 12 months due to defects that could lead to fires. In this case, the problem is located in a faulty puddle lamp where wiring could short out if exposed to moisture, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“There have been no incidents of injury or accidents,” according to Subaru spokesman Mike McHale, though the maker has received word of “less than 10” incidents where the short did occur, resulting in smoke. So far, no vehicle has actually caught fire.
Several similar electrical short issues have plagued Japanese manufacturers in recent months, notably including faulty driver door window switches that have led to a series of recalls at Toyota. In October, the maker issued a recall notice for 7.43 million vehicles equipped with those switches – about a third of them sold in the U.S. – the largest recall in Toyota history. A small number of General Motors vehicles also used the same switch and were covered by an earlier recall.
In Subaru’s case, the latest service action involves 633,842 vehicles. In fact, the maker believes that only 53,999 of those actually have the defective puddle lamp wiring but it has been unable to clearly identify which vehicles those are because the lamps were installed by dealers and no accurate and complete records exists. As a result, Subaru will contact owners of all 2009 through 2012 Forester and 2006 through 2012 Tribeca crossovers, as well as 2010 and 2011 Legacy and Outback models asking them to see if they have the optional puddle lamps. Those who do will need repairs. Those unsure may go to a dealer for inspection.
The puddle lamps are located just under the sideview mirrors and shine downward when the vehicles are unlocked. They can collect water or moisture leading to a short. Subaru will add an extra fuse to prevent a fire if the wires do short out.
It plans to formally notify owners next month and will make repairs at no charge.
While final numbers have not yet been calculated for 2012 there are preliminary indications that the industry may come close to or exceed the 15.5 million vehicles impacted by recalls in 2011, if not matching the 20.1 million recalled in 2010.
While Detroit, Korean and European makers all faced significant service actions over the course of the year, Japanese makers appear to have led the list with Toyota and Honda all but certain to top the chart in terms of the total number of vehicles impacted in 2012.
Honda recalled nearly 3 million vehicles during the third quarter alone, including its most recent for products equipped with faulty transmissions that could lead to rollaway vehicles; and the Toyota switch fire issue covered about 2.5 million vehicles just in the U.S. during October.
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