Car Makers and Dealers Should Make Recall Fixes Easier for Consumers

2573_16_blog_recallsAre you ignoring a critical recall affecting your vehicle? According to the data, many of us are, whether we know it or not. Record numbers of vehicle owners are ignoring, or are unaware of, critical recalls affecting their day-to-day safety. Specifically, more than 45 million cars and trucks subject to safety-related recalls between 2013 and 2015 have yet to be brought in for repairs, according to market research firm J.D. Power.

When recalls are issued, manufacturers are required to contact every owner of record for that particular model by mail. However, this usually excludes second or third owners. So why aren’t manfacturers and dealers doing more to reach used vehicle owners?

This is not only a big problem for these owners, but for all of us who share the road.

Consumer Fatigue or Something Else?

Common wisdom has it that recalls are so numerous, consumers have developed “recall fatigue.” That is, they barely take in the news or the warning, put it on the back burner or forget about it entirely. This makes some sense. In 2015 alone, some 51 million vehicles were the subject of safety related recalls, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). This is more than any previous year, NHTSA reports, so numbers of non-recall compliant vehicles on the road likely has gotten worse.

Along with the consumers who choose to ignore or simply forget recall announcements, manufacturers and dealers bear their share of the blame too, I believe.

Analysis of the J.D. Power Report

The J.D. Power report that analyzed the NHTSA recall data did not include information about repair rates of specific models; that is, which recalls were being ignored the most. However, it did note that only 47% of the vehicles recalled for faulty and potentially deadly Takata air bags have been remedied. Since the Takata recall currently is up to 32 million, that means some 15 million-plus vehicle drivers and their passengers are at high risk of injury or death in a crash.

Other findings from the Power report:

  • Types of recalls most likely to be completed involve repairs to critical components, such as a vehicle’s powertrain (71%), electrical system (62%) and brakes (66%)
  • Along with airbags, most often ignored are issues with a vehicle’s suspension, with only 48% fixed

Newer vehicles are more likely than older models to be repaired, with the total recall completion rate for vehicles from model years 2013-17 around is 73 percent, compared with a rate of just 44 percent for vehicles manufactured from 2003-07.

Repair rates are highest for large work vans (86%) and compact premium SUVs (85 %). Repair rates are lowest for mid-premium sports cars (31%) and large SUVs (33%).
The larger the recall, the greater the chances affected vehicles won’t get needed repairs. The completion rate for recalls affecting more than one million vehicles is 49 percent, while the rate for recalls affecting fewer than 10,000 vehicles is 67 percent.

Ideas to Increase Consumer Compliance with Recalls

Taking a vehicle to a dealership to have a recall addressed presents a major hassle for most vehicle owners. A lot of people don’t live near dealerships, or have the option of taking time off of work to have a vehicle repaired. So why aren’t dealerships taking any steps to make the recall repair process much more convenient?

Ways to help vehicle owners respond to safety recalls are pretty obvious; it’s a wonder dealers and manufacturers haven’t thought of them already (insert sarcastic tone here).

Off the top of my head:

  • Go beyond recall letters; employ other means of reaching the vehicle owners – especially used car owners – such as advertising on TV and Facebook
  • Offer a loaner vehicle to anyone whose repair is going to take more than a day
  • Offer incentives, like gift cards, as a way to reimburse owners for time lost on the job

Vehicle manufacturers need to remember that it’s their screw ups that lead to the need for recalls. They should make much more of an effort to reach all vehicle owners and to make the repair process more convenient. Until then, I predict, consumers will continue to ignore recalls. Just don’t blame us.