Automakers really, really, really want you to fix your recalled car

March 9, 2016

So, your car's been recalled. Big deal. You got the notice in the mail, you've pinned it to your bulletin board or tossed it atop your teetering to-do pile. You'll get to it.

But automakers aren't feeling quite so nonchalant about recalls. In fact, they really, really want you to take your car to a dealership for service--like, now. And as Bloomberg reports, they're going to great lengths to track you down and make sure that you do just that.

Why the rush? It would be nice to think that automakers simply want keep you safe--and sure, there's a bit of that. But beyond goodwill, there's a financial incentive: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's threat of fines for car companies with low recall repair rates.

That threat has been around for many, many years, but it's become more visible since 2014, as massive recalls involving Takata, General Motors, and soon, Volkswagen, have dominated news headlines. Those headlines have create anger among consumers, who've often vented their frustration to elected officials, who, in turn, have vented at at NHTSA, accusing the agency of inaction.

To disprove some of those accusations, last summer NHTSA issued a very loud, very public condemnation of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and its slow handling of recalls. Ultimately, FCA vowed to follow industry best-practices with regard to recalls. The company also agreed to a $105 million civil settlement.

Beyond automakers

Of course, car companies are just one part of the complex recall equation. State agencies are responsible for keeping tabs on vehicle registrations so that owners can be tracked down, if necessary--something that's especially important when older models are involved. Suppliers are responsible for manufacturing thousands, if not millions of replacement parts. And car owners are ultimately responsible for taking their rides to dealerships for service.

Add all those parts together, and you'll find many, many opportunities for recalled vehicles to slip through the cracks.

Here in the U.S., only about 75 percent of new cars get fixed during a recall. When the vehicles in question are between five and ten years old, that rate drops to 44 percent. And when recalls affect cars ten years old and older, the recall completion rate is just 15 percent. In Germany, by contrast, the average recall repair rate is 100 percent.

Back in January, 17 automakers including GM, Ford, and Toyota, agreed to aim for perfect marks on recalls. To do that, they're working closely with NHTSA to keep tabs on their cars--particularly used cars. 

They're also resorting to some unorthodox tracking methods. Honda, for example, has been hit very hard by the Takata recall fiasco. Beyond sending out the usual recall notices, Honda has also printed card for its employees to leave on windshields of vehicles that might be affected by the recall. (Seems a little creepy, no?) It's even hired private investigators to find folks who own older cars with Takata airbags that may be especially vulnerable to explosion.

NHTSA is lending a hand, too. It now maintains a recall website that allows car owners to search for open recalls using their vehicle identification numbers. The agency is also piloting a new program that would require owners to repair recalled vehicles before renewing their registrations. That's an idea we've discussed before, though state DMVs aren't keen on it at all. 

When's the last time you checked to see if your car was under recall? How quickly do you have your car fixed in such cases? Tell all in the comments below.

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