Second-hand Vauxhall Zafira sales 'may have been illegal'

Zafira fire Image copyright Brian Adams
Image caption Around 300 Zafira Bs are reported to have caught fire

Used-car dealers may have broken the law by continuing to sell Vauxhall Zafiras which pose a possible fire risk.

More than 234,000 Zafiras made between 2005 and 2014 are subject to safety recalls to prevent them bursting into flames.

The cars should not be passed on to new owners until they've been repaired.

But some cars have been sold without the necessary work done and without buyers being told about the problem.

The potentially illegal sales have been uncovered by BBC Radio 4's consumer programme, You & Yours.

Jemma Osbourne's family from Benfleet in Essex bought a second-hand Zafira in January 2016, six weeks after a safety recall had been launched on that model.

Vauxhall wanted all these Zafiras returned to garages where they could be checked over and fixed free of charge to prevent them catching fire.

But the repair work had not been done on the vehicle Jemma bought and, a few months later, it caught fire.

Really scary

"That day we'd booked to get ourselves some tattoos done", said Jemma. "We set out with my youngest who is a year and a half, drove a few miles up the road to Southend-on-Sea and parked directly outside the tattooist's shop".

Soon afterwards she looked out of the shop window and spotted smoke inside the car.

"We managed to get out of the back of the shop and by the time we'd gone from the front to the back, the car was on fire. It was really scary to think that I'd just got my daughter out of there".

Image copyright Jemma Osbourne
Image caption Fire fighters deal with Jemma Osbourne's family car

Jemma and her partner Lewis Gillingham had bought their Zafira from a branch of the used-car dealers Big Cars Ltd at Witham in Essex. The couple say they were unaware of the problems with model B Vauxhall Zafiras and the sales team never said anything about it at the time of purchase.

"Nothing at all was mentioned about a recall", said Jemma. "It was the firemen that actually told us. I would never have put my children in that sort of car if I'd known the problems that they'd had".

It is not certain the fire was caused by the known fault with Zafira Bs. Big Cars Ltd says an independent report found it was caused by a fuel leak instead. But whatever the cause, the point is there was an outstanding safety recall on the car when it was sold, and that could put Big Cars Ltd on the wrong side of the law.

Possible criminal offence

Guidance for the used-vehicle trade published by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency states that if you are selling a vehicle to a consumer you will need to check for outstanding recalls and these safety recalls must be attended to prior to the consumer purchasing the vehicle.

"It's really important for any motor dealer that is having a Vauxhall Zafira that is affected by this recall on their forecourt to actually have this work done prior to exposing it to sale", said Tim Milsom, lead officer for the motor trade with the Chartered Institute of Trading Standards. "If they fail to do that then they might be constituting a possible criminal offence".

There's a duty under several pieces of legislation that any product sold in the UK must be safe for consumer use. It is a principle enshrined in both civil and criminal law.

Tim Milsom cites the Sale Of Goods Act, General Product Safety Regulations 2005, Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regulations and even - in the case of cars - the Road Traffic Act.

"Stating or otherwise creating the impression that a product can be legally sold when it cannot is also an offence. But it is important to say that only a court of law can interpret the law", he said.

You & Yours asked Big Cars Ltd to explain why a Vauxhall Zafira with an outstanding safety recall was sold to Jemma Osbourne and Lewis Gillingham and why the couple had not been told about the issue at the time of their purchase. In a statement the company said "after taking advice, we would not wish to comment at this time".

It pointed out it had provided a courtesy car to the couple for six weeks after the fire and says it values all its customers. It has now offered to meet with the family to discuss an ex-gratia payment.

Image copyright Brian Adams
Image caption The fires have started on the passenger side of the vehicles

Vauxhall issued a second safety recall on model B Zafiras after the first "fix" failed to entirely solve the problem. The second recall was launched on the 28 May, 2016 but some other used-car dealers have continued to sell the vehicles even though they have not yet had the second recall work done.

It means some customers have unwittingly bought Zafiras subject to not one but two outstanding recalls because work from the first safety recall launched in December 2015 had still not been done on their cars.

There are 234,938 Zafira B models affected by the fire risk. There is no precise number on how many of them have actually caught fire but a figure of 300 has been reported.

Vauxhall is continuing to write to owners to get affected vehicles booked in for the latest remedial work. In the meantime, it says it is "very important" that the cars' heating and ventilation system is set only at fan speed zero or four to protect against the risk of fire.

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