With stellar detective work, today’s recalls are not like yesterday’s

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People in this industry have a love-hate relationship with recalls.

Dealers can love them if they ring up service reimbursements from the factory and give people a reason to visit their stores. But they can hate them if the recall leaves a customer inconvenienced or worse, gives consumers a reason to question the integrity of their vehicle.

But a recall that Chrysler Group issued on Wednesday caught my eye because it shows how much the auto industry has changed in the past five years.

Chrysler said it will voluntarily recall 1,934 Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger mid-sized sedans that were assembled last fall to find 16 remaining vehicles that have a broken fuel tank control valve. The busted valve could cause stalling or give operators trouble filling the tank, and Chrysler said it will replace the fuel tank assemblies in the vehicles when they are found.

The impressive detective work that found this defect was laid out in a letter Chrysler filed this month with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It said workers at parts supplier TI Automotive discovered broken pieces from 17 control valves on a factory floor as they were cleaning a holding area on Nov. 2. They knew that the broken parts had shown up during the previous week, and that they were headed to Chrysler’s Sterling Heights, Mich., assembly plant, where the 200 and Avenger are made.

Because of the parts that were found, Chrysler was able to determine that the broken pieces had come from valves installed on plastic fuel tanks built between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2, 2012. But the only way to find the 16 broken valves is to inspect all of the sedans with plastic tanks built that week and look for trouble.

It’s remarkable to think that one conscientious worker sweeping up debris from a loading dock could ultimately prompt an automaker to recall almost 2,000 vehicles just to find the 16 that might still have a problem someday. (One of the 17 vehicles has been located, Chrysler says.)

I don’t know that such a scenario would have been possible five or 10 years ago. To me, it proves that the auto industry today exists in a different world from five years ago.

A better world.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.

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