Vauxhall Zafira recall: previously fixed cars recalled again

Fourth fire-related recall sees Zafira B models previously thought to be fixed recalled again; 234,938 UK cars affected

Vauxhall has been forced to issue its fourth fire-related recall for the Zafira B people carrier, after “a small number” of cars that have previously been recalled for fire risk “experienced melting to the plug that connects to the resistor fuse” in their heating and ventilation systems.

This latest recall applies to 234,938 second-generation Zafira ‘B’ models sold in the UK. The cars were built between 2005 and 2014, and are fitted with either no air-conditioning or manual air-conditioning. Customers whose cars were originally fixed under the 2015 action will need to have their cars repaired again. Concerned Zafira owners should contact Vauxhall on 08000 260866.

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Vauxhall worked with engineers at German firm Institute Fraunhofer to help determine the cause of the melting plugs. The fix involves “the fitment of a revised wiring harness, with additional fixing points and a replacement resistor” and takes an hour to carry out. There will be no charge to owners for the work, and Vauxhall has worked in conjunction with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) over the recall.

The Vauxhall Zafira B recall timeline is long and somewhat involved, but began in 2015 when Vauxhall recalled the same 234,938 cars as are being recalled in this April 2019 action. These cars were recalled in two separate actions.

Then, in May 2016, the company announced a third recall that would apply to around 47,000 Zafira B with climate control, built between 2005 and 2014. 

The April 2019 recall affects the same 234,938 Zafira Bs thought to have been fixed in the 2015 recalls.

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.

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

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