Automobile safety recalls have been raised in profile lately because of the issues surrounding General Motors’ faulty ignition switches. (It is alleged that GM knowingly installed faulty ignition switches on millions of their cars, causing more than 30 deaths.) GM has now recalled over 20 million vehicles in the US under almost 50 different recalls, obviously and publicly erring on the side of caution. Consider that the overall US sales of light trucks and cars were 15.4 million last year, and you can see the magnitude of the recall's effect. Just a few years ago, Toyota had similar issues.
So, if you drive a GM vehicle today, you have pretty decent odds of having a recall notice issued on your car. GM is being required by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to take extraordinary measures to notify people – yet there is almost certain to be a percentage who does not get their vehicle fixed, even though it is free. The average US recall completion for all makes and models is around 75% of affected cars, and lower for older cars.
How can this be? Typical reasons are underestimating the seriousness of the problem, thinking the repair is not free, not receiving the notification, or ignoring the notification.
Recall notifications by mail are often thrown away unopened assuming the contents are junk mail. NHTSA changed the letter requirements in February to include the NHTSA and DOT (Department of Transportation) logos and the phrase "Important Safety Recall Information” in capital red letters. Unfortunately, this matches the hyperbole of today's junk mail. Look for the NHTSA logo, and open any mail that displays it.
Manufacturers are obligated to notify owners of recalls, which they do through matching up vehicle buyers with state registration databases. The notification letter must have four components:
- Description – A summary of the defect.
- Hazards – The potential problems caused by the defect.
- Repair – A description of the repair, when the repair should be available to you at a dealership, and how long it will take to repair. You can get your car fixed outside of a dealer, but the manufacturer may not be obligated to pay for it in that case.
- Further Instructions – If you cannot get the problem corrected for free and/or in a reasonable time, there will be instructions included on how to proceed.
If you are concerned that there may be recalls on your vehicle, you can look up the recalls on virtually any model of vehicle – from a Chevrolet to a Caterpillar, from a Honda to a Harley – on the NHTSA website at www.SaferCar.gov, under "Recalls and Investigations". You will see a list of the recalls with descriptions, as well as supporting documents. You can also find service bulletins under this tab, which address problems that have been reported but do not require a recall.
Most manufacturers have some method of checking for recalls on their website, but starting in August, automaker's websites must include an online search capability based on the 17-character VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). Search capability by VIN will also be available at SaferCar.gov by then.
You have many resources at your disposal to check for recalls on your vehicle. Aside from your dealer or manufacturer, other sites have searchable recall information, such as Motor Trend's site allowing you to drill down by make, body style, and class. You can also register at the NHTSA for recall alerts to be sent to your mobile devices.
With all this information available, there really is no excuse to not have any safety issues dealt with. Be proactive and periodically check for recalls on your vehicles. You owe it to your family and other drivers on the road to help keep everyone safe.