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I don’t really understand how recalls work in Canada. Who decides which cars get recalled, and how do they let people know? I bought a 2021 Hyundai Kona EV in the fall, and I love it. But a friend just told me about a safety recall due to a fire risk. I Googled it in a panic. It looks like it’s only a problem with 2019 and 2020 cars, so my car’s not affected. But is there a way to find out for sure? Do I have to wait to see it on the news? – Kai, Vancouver

In Canada, it’s mostly up to car companies to decide to recall a car that may not be safe.

“Vehicle recalls are issued by the manufacturer or importer, sometimes with the encouragement of Transport Canada when they become aware of a defect that is likely to affect the safety of the public,” said George Iny, president of the Automobile Protection Association (APA), in an email.

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Section 10 of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act states that car companies must “give notice of any defect in the design, manufacture or functioning of any vehicle or equipment that affects or is likely to affect the safety of any person.”

They have to give notice to Transport Canada “on becoming aware of the defect” and, then, the current owner of the vehicle.

If your car is part of a recall or a safety campaign, your car’s manufacturer is supposed to send you a letter in the mail.

If you bought your car used, you should register with the car company so they can mail you recall letters. Otherwise, the letters will go to the original owner.

The repairs are free, but it’s up to you to go into the dealership and get them done.

Recall notices also appear on Transport Canada’s website. Most car companies also let you look up recalls for your vehicle on their websites.

The notices don’t always come quickly enough.

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In 2016, a recall notice warning of a rollover risk arrived in actor Anton Yelchin mailbox a week after he was fatally crushed in his driveway by his Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Slow to recall?

How quickly do companies have to let you know? The law doesn’t give a specific timeframe.

This week, Hyundai announced it’s replacing faulty battery packs in 82,000 electric vehicles (EVs) worldwide due to a fire risk.

It follows a recall last year that replaced software in 77,000 2019 and 2020 Kona EVs, including 4,375 in Canada.

This latest EV recall hasn’t been launched yet in Canada and isn’t listed on Transport Canada’s website.

Hyundai Canada said it’s working with Transport Canada and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to file the recalls in North America.

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Hyundai said the 2021 Kona EV will not be affected.

“The issue identified was related to manufacturing variances in the production of the battery cells that go into the high-voltage battery pack,” Hyundai Canada spokesman Jean-Francois Taylor said in an email.

There have been cases where companies have been slow to respond to safety concerns, the APA’s Iny said.

For instance, in 2016, then-Transport Minister Marc Garneau issued a news release warning consumers of a brake issue in some 2011 and 2012 Ford F-150 trucks, even though the company hadn’t issued a recall.

There have also been complaints that recalls might not target every vehicle that has the problem.

For instance, in a CBC report this month, owners of several gas-powered Hyundai and Kia models reported fires and engine failures in their cars, even though they weren’t on any recall list.

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Consequences rare

While Transport Canada relies on car companies to report problems, it can also find out about problems on its own.

While that can happen during crash tests, it mainly happens when owners send in complaints.

“That’s why it’s important to report a defect you think relates to the manufacture of a vehicle to Transport Canada, and not just to your dealership or insurance company,” Iny said. “There is a big gap in reporting in Canada, which sometimes delays safety investigations.”

If carmakers don’t issue a recall, Transport Canada could impose a fine – or get a court order forcing them to issue a recall, Iny said.

Transport Canada said it has started the process to force a recall only four times.

“In all cases, manufacturers chose to voluntarily recall the vehicles prior to the Minister ordering them to do so,” Transport Canada spokeswoman Cybelle Morin said in an email.”

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But several carmakers, including Nissan and General Motors, “decided to voluntarily recall vehicles immediately after being informed that Transport Canada was about to initiate the ministerial order process,” Morin said.

Have a driving question? Send it to and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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