With auto recalls reaching their highest level in a decade last year, more and more consumers have begun to tune out, leading to an increasing number of unsafe vehicles on U.S. roads.
Some estimates place the number of unrepaired recalled vehicles as high as 35 million, and a large number of the defects that led to these vehicles being recalled have been linked to multiple deaths. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s deputy administrator David Friedman says, “Any vehicle that is unrepaired is a risk.”
General Motors Company has reportedly repaired just over 60 percent of its vehicles that were equipped with defective ignition switches that have already caused at least 42 deaths. An additional 700,000 recalled autos are still operating in the U.S. with potentially deadly, defective ignition switches.
The problem is not limited to GM vehicles. Approximately 14 million vehicles from a number of automakers were recalled in 2014 to repair or replace defective Takata air bag inflaters. According to Center for Auto Safety executive director Clarence Ditlow, about 90 percent of those vehicles have not been repaired, and Ditlow says, “There’s no doubt someone else is going to die.”
There is evidence to support Ditlow’s warning. Friedman says that about 70 percent of recalled autos are repaired within 18 months of a recall announcement, and the majority of those are late model vehicles. Newer vehicles typically receive routine maintenance from dealers, who routinely check vehicles’ VIN numbers against their recall database. Owners of older vehicles typically don’t have their autos maintained by dealers. In both cases, owners who don’t have their vehicles repaired within 18 months of a recall notice, typically never have the repairs performed.
Despite the best efforts of automakers to notify consumers about recall notices, and the ample media coverage given to recalls in recent years, many owners still say they were not aware that the vehicles had been recalled.
GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney says the problem isn’t due to a lack of effort on the part of automakers. “We have used every possible communications channel to try to motivate people to bring their vehicles in. Over 99% of the people in the U.S. were aware of the recall, but we still did not have as many people as we wanted coming in to get their cars fixed,” says Carney.
Still, Friedman says, “We have to start thinking about marketing recalls in the same way automakers sell new cars.”