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Major Japanese vehicle manufacturer Subaru has issued its largest vehicle recall as of late, exacting compliance for 48,500 units of the 2015-2017 Outback and 2016-2017 Legacy models over steering issues, as informed by the brand to United States (US) federal regulators.

The recall comes as a great concern for Subaru’s US customers, considering that the Outback has been the brand’s second-best-selling model since 2015, when it sold 140,000 units in the country. Subaru said that steering problems may arise out of the defective build of steering columns in both the Outback and Legacy models. Such may result to the failure of all affected Outback and Legacy units to respond to drivers opting to steer at any given direction. Owners are advised to prevent driving the affected units first until inspections and repairs are finished.

The recall came as a response to findings in an investigation conducted on May 3, 2016, when an Outback owner experienced a specific issue with the steering and reported the matter to Subaru, as said in the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The potential danger of such an issue – the worst being sudden crashes due to the non-responsiveness of steering wheels, prompted Subaru to deem the incident as one that requires a vehicle recall, which it issued a week after the investigation. The investigation revealed appalling details involving the steering defect. Investigators found that the Outback unit concerned had an incorrect setting on a tool used for a steering component, allowing the steering wheel to free-rotate and deny the driver to have the ability to steer the vehicle as a result. The high possibility of crashing involved in such findings prompted Subaru to issue the vehicle recall, but no injuries or accident have been recorded as of late. Apart from the investigation, the NHTSA reported two complaints coming from two Outback owners who complained of steering problems, further compounding Subaru’s decision for a vehicle recall. Subaru’s vehicle recall would not exactly affect the same number of owners proportional to the amount of units, as only 22,000 of those passed hands to ownership, with the remainder still being delivered and sold to dealerships.

Understanding the issue behind the recall

The safety recall report issued by the NHTSA that prompted Subaru to issue a vehicle recall for its 2015-2017 Outback  and 2016-2017 Legacy models all had problems with regard to steering, as detailed in the following excerpts based on the three Outback and two Legacy units reported:

  • (Four units: 2016 and 2017 Outback and 2016 and 2017 Legacy): An incorrect setting of a tool used in production of the steering column may have resulted in improper machining of one of the steering column shafts. If this improper machining condition exists, the steering column shaft may not engage properly. If this were to occur, the steering wheel may rotate freely and the driver would lose the ability to steer the vehicle.
  • (One unit: 2015 Outback): This vehicle is affected because it received a potentially defective steering column as a service repair.

As can be inferred from the excerpts of descriptive information issued by the NHTSA, four of the Outback and Legacy units inspected derived their steering defects on production, given that those new models have yet to undergo repair following their purchase from their respective dealerships. The sole case concerning the 2015 Outback in the NHTSA report attributes its steering problem from potentially-faulty service repair procedures – a matter that nonetheless failed to convince Subaru against the issuance of vehicle recalls for the models concerned. As emphasized, the potential danger of steering problems led Subaru to issue vehicle recalls for both the Outback and Legacy models, given the minute number of cases reported to the NHTSA. This gives Subaru the chance to rectify steering problems waiting to be discovered from among the 48,500 units set for recall, as it exacts accountability from its steering component manufacturer NSK Steering Systems America, Inc. and takes down notes on the vehicle recall experience, with emphasis on avoiding future recalls from further tarnishing the brand’s reputation in the US – a lucrative market by all means. The following is the vehicle recall chronology and description of remedy both cited verbatim from the NHTSA report, both of which provide further information on the proceedings prior to the vehicle recall:

Chronology:

  • May 3, 2016: Customer reported issue with the steering on their 2016MY Subaru Outback and had their vehicle towed to a Subaru retailer. Vehicle was subsequently inspected by retailer technician and requested consultation with a Field Service Engineer.
  • May 5, 2016: Field Service Engineer inspected vehicle with Engineer representatives from component manufacturer, Subaru of Indiana Automotive (SIA) and Fuji Heavy Industries USA, Inc. Quality Assurance. Performed vehicle overall inspections including bore scope inspections of spline for universal joint and slip joint for telescopic function. The group was able to duplicate concern during inspection. Removed vehicle column for further inspection. Performed minor disassembly of column for inspection to isolate concern. Inspection revealed no conclusive root cause of concern. Steering column was collected and returned to vendor lab for further disassembly and inspection for final results.
  • May 9, 2016: Fuji Heavy Industries USA, Inc. Quality Assurance concluded that Subaru will conduct a stop-sale of all potentially affected vehicles in the U.S. market.
  • May 10, 2016: FHI concluded that Subaru will perform a safety recall of all potentially affected vehicles in the U.S. market.

Description of Remedy:

  • Description of Remedy Program: To remedy this condition, it is necessary to inspect the lot number of the steering column. If the vehicle contains a steering column with one of the affected lot numbers, the steering column must be replaced. Until the vehicle has been inspected, owners are advised not to drive their vehicle.
  • How Remedy Component Differs from Recalled Component: Steering column shaft will be machined to meet original specifications intended for this part.
  • Identify How/When Recall Condition was Corrected in Production: Beginning May 6, 2016, potentially affected steering columns are individually screened, via examination of the lot number, prior to their installation into the vehicle.