Vauxhall has recalled more than 220,000 Zafira B cars, more than two months after it learned the vehicles were bursting into flames without warning.
The carmaker acted after investigating reports that more than 100 cars had overheated with some catching fire while on the road. Vauxhall made 280,000 Zafira Bs between 2005 and 2014 and about 225,000 were sold in the UK.
Rory Harvey, Vauxhall’s chairman and managing director, said the company had investigated the fires and believed they were caused by poor repair work to the cars’ heating and ventilation system. The fires, behind the glove compartment, were reported on a Zafira owners’ Facebook page two weeks ago.
He said Vauxhall would write to owners of Zafira Bs using information supplied by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency urging them to take their car to a local dealer.
He apologised for the time it had taken to decide on a course of action and said sending the letters would be a “staged” process, starting on 12 November. Vauxhall, which is owned by General Motors of the US, learned of the problem in August, when it was told about 25 cases of cars spontaneously combusting.
In a video statement, Harvey said: “We are very sorry that this situation has arisen. We have been investigating this issue very thoroughly and with the utmost urgency. Our investigations have found evidence of improper repair of the blower motor resistor and its internal fuse.”
Vauxhall believed the problem was limited to Zafira Bs with manual air conditioning or no air conditioning. Zafira B drivers who bought their cars new and had not had work done to their heating and ventilation systems should not be at risk of a fire, he said.
Evidence of large numbers of fires emerged when worried owners set up a Vauxhall Zafira car fires Facebook page, where people can share information about incidents.
The Facebook campaign was led by Sue Freemantle, Claire Wheatley, and Jade Hellewell. The three women joined forces to call for action after their 2007 models were destroyed when they went up in flames while their children were inside. The Facebook group has since expanded to more than 12,000 members.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said the Vauxhall recall bucked the trend, with safety recalls being generally on the wane in the UK. “The number of vehicle safety recalls in the UK has declined considerably in recent years, although the number of cars affected by any recall will vary according to the popularity of models involved,” the society said.
“Recalls are evidence of the automotive industry’s dedication to ensuring millions of vehicles remain safe on our roads. Motorists can also be reassured that the UK’s vehicle recall process is one of the most robust in the world, delivering an exceptionally high response rate compared to other sectors.”
The auto industry trade body said anyone unsure if their vehicle was subject to a recall could use Motor Codes’ safety recall search tool.
A spokesman for the consumer group Which? said: “It’s good that Vauxhall is taking action to recall cars that are potentially unsafe. If drivers are concerned, they should check whether they have an affected model and contact Vauxhall without delay.”
While the recall will be a blow for Vauxhall, which sponsors the England football team, it pales in comparison to those that have affected rivals over the years.
Volkswagen is recalling about 8.5m diesel cars across Europe after it emerged that they were fitted with a device that allowed them to cheat CO2 emissions tests.
And the world’s largest auto firm, Japan’s Toyota, called back 9m vehicles in 2010 after some of its cars were found to have faulty pedals that caused them to accelerate rapidly.
The biggest recall to affect General Motors was in 1971, when 6.7m cars were called in due to fears over sudden acceleration as a result of faulty motor mounts.