More than a month ago, my car suffered multiple cylinder misfires. I contacted the manufacturer and was told that there was an outstanding recall on the timing chain. Five dealerships later, I finally managed to book an appointment for a month from now. I've had to park my car for four weeks already. Is the manufacturer responsible for providing alternative transportation if the recalled part is causing issues? I need my car for work, but it feels like a ticking time bomb when I am driving it. – Kyle, Kingston
If your car is waiting on a repair or in the shop for long, it's dealers' choice as to whether or not you get a loaner. The same goes with a recall.
"Provincial laws do not specifically require a loaner vehicle," George Iny, director of the Automobile Protection Association, said in an e-mail. "The decision to continue driving or not is usually made in consultation with a dealer after an inspection of the vehicle – when delays are excessive, the dealer usually obtains approval for a rental from the auto maker, particularly where a luxury brand is involved."
The loaner is a "gesture of goodwill," said Terry O'Keefe, spokesman for the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council, which investigates consumer complaints about Ontario dealerships. "Nothing in the Motor Vehicle Dealers Act requires a dealer to give a loaner."
And if you can't drive your car because of a recall?
"If an open recall were to make a vehicle unfit to drive, a consumer could have a right to compensation for a replacement vehicle under the general laws on warranty or under contract law," Iny said.
But, it's not likely that your warranty covers a loaner. That's because warranties from auto makers don't usually recognize loss of use of a vehicle, Iny said.
"[There] are some very limited situations involving a trip interruption in which you may be compensated a couple of nights on the road or the cost of a rental to drive home," Iny said. "To obtain compensation, a consumer usually needs a compelling situation that gets media attention, or has to file a claim in small claims court and let a judge decide – few consumers do."
Is the timing chain issue a recall? While we tend to call any manufacturer warning about a problem a recall, there are service campaigns and safety recalls.
"Generally, a special service campaign is a voluntary action taken by a vehicle manufacturer to address issues that are not likely to affect safety," Transport Canada's website said. "A recall is used for issues that are likely to affect safety."
While the provinces handle car sales, warranties and specific safety requirements for being on the road, recalls are handled by the federal government.
And even if it is a safety recall, the law doesn't force the manufacturer to fix the problem – it just makes the manufacturer send out a notice about it.
Once a company notifies Transport Canada of the problem, it has 60 days to get a letter to customers.
The notice goes to the address the auto maker has on file.
Once the notice is issued, it's up to you to take your vehicle into the dealer to get the problem fixed.
"A recall involves an admission of a defect by the manufacturer and an undertaking to perform a repair," Iny said. "If it's a safety recall, the notice of defect – but not the repair itself – is required under Canada's motor vehicle safety legislation."
The government's proposed recall legislation – the Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians Act – has just passed first reading in the House of Commons. If the bill is passed, Transport Canada could order a recall, force the manufacturer to repair the recalled vehicle for free, and prevent new vehicles from being sold until they are repaired.
But the legislation won't require the manufacturer to provide you with a loaner car if you can't drive it until it can be fixed, Iny said.
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