Will Every Car Complaint Now Get Media Attention?

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Over the years, we’ve read numerous firsthand anecdotes from car owners about problems with their vehicles. They’re written in our comments, on message boards and on other blogs. While they serve as a useful resource, they are still anecdotes and not official complaints to the government or automaker, which can lead to recalls.

It seems that with the recent Toyota recalls, we may see a shift in how these conversations are covered by the media.

Today, the New York Times’ Wheels blog posted a story on 2002-2004 model year Honda CR-Vs encountering problems with their air conditioners in a rather severe way. The story is properly written, getting quotes from both Honda and experts on automotive air-conditioning units. It also mentions that 60 complaints about the issue have been filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The story doesn’t mention that Honda sold more than 140,000 CR-Vs each of those years, roughly the same amount as Toyota sold Prius hybrids over the past few years. However, there is no exact number of complaints per cars sold that triggers recalls.

Now that every automotive journalist is a de facto expert on deciphering NHTSA’s website, these types of stories could persist. What do you think? It is the media’s job to scrutinize issues that put the public in danger, and that’s why we cover recalls as thoroughly as we do. But is reporting on pre-recall problems at this level appropriate? Or is it overkill?

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Former managing editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David Thomas

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