Lifestyle

Top-of-the-Line Recalls


A high price tag doesn't mean your luxury vehicle won't get recalled. Just ask Lexus and Cadillac

Last year, numerous record-setting recalls made headlines across the country, rocking companies in a wide rage of industries. At issue were defects in products as diverse as Sony (SNE) laptop batteries and Toyota (TM) steering columns. Luxury cars were no exception.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency charged with monitoring automotive safety, more than 215 million vehicles have been recalled for safety defects since it was established in 1966.

Many Top Brands Affected

Most recalls are preemptive, initiated by auto makers for flaws that could potentially have disastrous consequences. Though the recalls affecting the largest number of vehicles tend to involve midrange and economy cars and trucks, there were also some notable luxury recalls last year.

Toyota, which suffered a number of attention-getting recalls last year, called back 367,594 of its Lexus RX line of luxury SUVs because loose clips in the driver's side forward center console could allow carpet to slip and interfere with the accelerator pedal. The company also recalled 28,947 Lexus IS and GS sedans for seat-belt issues.

Lexus wasn't alone. Best-selling models from Nissan's (NSANY) Infiniti, Ford's (F) Volvo, DaimlerChrysler's (DCX) Mercedes-Benz, and General Motors' (GM) Cadillac brands all suffered significant recalls last year, according to NHTSA. Problems ranged from leaking fuel tanks to windshield wipers prone to breaking in cold weather.

Tracking the Data

As part of its mandate to track auto safety, NHTSA maintains a detailed database of vehicle recalls and defects that consumers can use to find out whether a vehicle they own or are considering buying has a recall associated with it. That system, however, isn't helpful in comparing models, let alone predicting potential future problems based past flaws.

Recalls are tracked by only a few organizations, and information can be hard to track down. Consumer Reports devotes pages in every issue to recalls, but the magazine covers all consumer products, not just cars. Edmunds.com launched a safety-oriented section of its site late last year. But, like NHTSA's database, it's better suited to looking up information on a specific vehicle. J.D. Power & Assoc. measures initial quality and consumer satisfaction, but doesn't take recall history into account.

So BusinessWeek.com decided to take a look at which 2006 luxury models have been most recalled.

Do the Research

The severity of some recall issues at distinct manufacturers may stay out of reach. BusinessWeek.com contacted major analysts and auto-data tracking companies in an attempt to compare the number of vehicles recalled with the number of vehicles sold. But because auto companies most often track sales by calendar dates and recall data is organized by model-year date (a 2007 Range Rover, for example, went on sale last year), direct comparison isn't possible.

It's important to note that not all models in a recall may be affected. Cars are built in sets. Not every model of a recalled vehicle may be subject to the same faulty component. Moreover, thanks to component sharing, recalls sometimes span luxury and economy models.

Consumers need to be cautious before, during, and after a purchase, luxury or otherwise. Government crash surveys, as well as independent reliability and quality rankings, should still serve as the main guideposts for buyers. But without a doubt, recalls now make up an important part of the buying decision—even for the most lavish vehicles.

Click here to see the most recalled luxury cars.

Matt Vella is a writer for BusinessWeek.com in New York.

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