By on July 28, 2016

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Drivers saw a tsunami of vehicle recalls in recent years, and many are choosing not to bother getting the fix.

J.D. Power and Associates tapped its SafetyIQ platform to analyze National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data from 2013 to 2015, and found more than 45 million drivers who didn’t get their recalled vehicles in for repair. The NHTSA can kiss its 100-percent recall completion goal goodbye.

Over the past two decades, 437 million vehicles were recalled in the U.S. — 51 million in 2015 alone. People live busy lives, and many weigh the odds before deciding to accept a fix. The biggest factors affecting completion rates? According to J.D. Power, it’s vehicle age, vehicle type, size of the recall, and recall type.

“The steady surge in recalls, combined with NHTSA’s stated goal of 100-percent recall completion rates have made the number of un-remedied recalls still on the road a critical statistic for automakers and dealers,” said Renee Stephens, J.D. Power’s vice-president of U.S. automotive, in a statement.

Not surprisingly, newer vehicles see the highest completion rates. 2013 to 2017 model year vehicles saw a completion rate of 73 percent, while only 44 percent of 2003 to 2007 vehicles received fixes.

Large/work vans were the most likely to be fixed, with a completion rate of 86 percent, followed by compact premium SUVs at 85 percent. Mid-premium sportscars and large SUVs got the least dealer love. Only 31 percent of 2013–2015 sportscars were fixed, and 33 percent of large SUVs.

Expansive recalls of a million vehicles or more saw the lowest turnout for repairs. Less than half (49 percent) of those vehicles were repaired, compared to 67 percent in the 10,000-vehicles-or-less category. Powertrain issues were the most likely to be fixed (71 percent), followed by brakes (66 percent) and electrical issues (62 percent).

Owners didn’t seem very concerned about airbag issues, though they should be. Only 47 percent of drivers had their airbag issues fixed. Suspension-related recalls didn’t fare much better, with a 48 percent completion rate.

J.D. Power believes the data will help automakers and dealers connect with drivers, hopefully lowering the number of unrepaired vehicles plying our roadways.

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49 Comments on “Recall Apathy: 45 Million Vehicles Went Unrepaired Between 2013–2015...”


  • avatar
    Dilrod

    We just bought a 2011 Hyundai. That thing had SIX unserviced recalls! This included two new brake lines, new interior door handles, an engine test, a clip on the shift lever, new brake pedal linkage and something else that I can’t recall (ha ha).

    I brought it in and they had it all day. Kinda worked out as it was due for a brake fluid flush anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      My son’s 2011 Sonata has been recalled 7 times. Four had not been done when he bought it used (from the same dealer who sold it new), and we’ve had 3 since then. The latest is for the power steering circuit board, whose conformal coating could still permit moisture to short it out, taking the ‘power’ out of ‘power steering’.

      It’s actually a fine car, but Hyundai is being very cautious.

      My 09 Sedona has been recalled twice for the same thing – potentially rusty front control arms. They just spray some coating on them.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Now that’s one place where I think regulation should step in – a car should not be allowed for sale at a dealership until all recall fixes have been performed. Selling a car with a defect like that is dangerous, and should not be legal.

        • 0 avatar

          WE all love to blame dealers for everything that’s wrong with our lives, but they are only a part of the problem.

          A much more effective way to ensure recalls are followed through on is to deal with the source of the issue, the owners. Prevent the owner from getting new tags if there are any recalls on the vehicle that are more than 6 months old. In many jurisdictions cars have to pass emissions, how about having to comply with recalls as well? As long as the recalls are paid for by the manufacturer (which I believe is usually the case) then there is no financial burden on the owner, they simply have to take the car in.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            “Prevent the owner from getting new tags if there are any recalls on the vehicle that are more than 6 months old.”

            So because the -private- company has produced a defective part, the state DMV now must enforce the fix FOR the company, and delay their own payment via registration fees.

            Yeah.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            I tend to agree with JPWhite. Owner non-compliance is the issue. If you can’t look after your vehicle then you can’t put it on the road.

      • 0 avatar
        Dilrod

        Oh yes, the power steering circuit board. That’s what I forgot! Thanks for the reminder.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Unsurprising really. As you go out of warranty and become less and less likely to go do a dealer for service, and you’re less likely to be the initial owner (which is who the car maker ends up sending a recall notice to), it just falls off. The beater status cars involved in the GM ignition cylinder recall are dangerous because about 2% are still under the original owner to receive the notice, and 1.005% would still go to a dealer who’d check for a recall.

    When I had a throttle sensor recall on my car, I called the 800-INFINITI number to see if I needed an authorization or something. The woman was suspicious on the phone, “I don’t see this car as registered to you.” I say yeah, that’s right, I’m not the original owner. But at that point in time I had owned the car for over a year. She proceeded with her suspicious tone and asked how I found out about the recall at all. I had to tell her about the internet.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “Shhh; it’s best if we don’t wake the kids.”

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      Maybe Infinity gets a high volume of scam calls from people looking to get recall repair work done. Right…that seems likely. :)

      Maybe you weren’t supposed to know.

    • 0 avatar

      “I had to tell her about the internet.”

      Did that raise or lower her level of suspicion?

      I mean how likely is it that there exists a technology whereby you can find out pretty much anything you want to instantaneously without having to visit the library. Get real!!

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      No the mfg does not send the recall notice to the original owner, they send it to the current registered owner as of the date of the recall. They get that info from the state DMV. Just this spring I got 2 recall notices from Ford for 3 of our vehicles. One addressed to me for my 03 Marauder and 05 CVPI and in neither case am I the original owner. The other was for my Daughter’s 03 CVPI and as you might expect she isn’t the original owner of it either. All were for the same suspect Lighting Control Module which has relays that are prone to early failure in some instances. All 3 of those cars are on the “haven’t been fixed” list because the letter indicated that they would notify me when parts were available.

  • avatar
    MrCornfed

    My previous car, a 2012 Honda Fit had a recall (not the Takata recall, although, yeah, it did eventually get recalled for that) that required some software re-flashing.

    I dutifully made an appointment but was told they wouldn’t actually see my car until the next day. So I drove off.

    I suspect most service departments run the same way in that appointments don’t mean anything and the simplest thing takes an eternity. And that’s why people don’t bother with recalls.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Here’s how to instantly fix the recall completion problem:

    Provide loaner cars that are delivered to the driver’s home or business, followed by delivery of your fixed car when the work is done.

    Some work could be done in your driveway, such as ignition switch swaps – sort of like mobile windshield repairs.

    This would put the burden squarely on the mfr, where it belongs. Then maybe they’d put more diligence into engineering better products.

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      Some manufacturers do this already. (i.e. dealers coming to me. Picking up my car and leaving a loaner, etc.) This has been offered to me a couple times.

      That being said, it’s not done to ensure recall work is done promptly. It’s purely a business decision.

    • 0 avatar

      A guy I know drove into Church parking lot Wednesday in a new looking car. New wheels I asked? No my wife’s car is in the shop getting the Takata air bags replaced, they loaned me this in the meantime.

      Some dealers will offer a loaner. If the owner doesn’t pick up the phone to get their car worked on, the dealer isn’t going to try and track down were the car is.

      I agree the cost of a loaner should be borne by the manufacturer as part of the recall program. It should be a given.

      The owner still has to pick up the phone….

  • avatar
    Higheriq

    This is a representative comment on how many people detest setting foot on a car dealer’s lot, most likely for a lack of time or because dealing with dealers is inherently unpleasant.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      This is a valid point, and I’d like to see recall percentages as performed per marque. Hard to make it a level playing field since some makers have fewer recalls. But brands with good dealers would generally have higher repair rates, I bet.

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    This reminds me: I still need to get my Takata airbag recall done on my RX-8…

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    My experience with bringing in recall work is that the dealer service department cares about you slightly more than a stain in the parking lot.

    I had to wait 3 weeks for my Tacoma’s rear leaf springs to arrive. It required two trips, one for an inspection and another for the actual work. I had to work around the dealership schedule to get it in, and they would not allow use of a loaner car. Granted, it was a pretty quick fix once it got in, but I had to go on a Saturday morning and wait around the dealership for the work. There aren’t too many people who feel like they have that kind of time – especially if the recall is preventative. If there is no immediate issue, or the issue might not happen, some people say thanks but no thanks.

    Now my Subaru is a real problem. The air bags have taken 6 months to come in. I wasn’t supposed to have someone in the passenger seat the entire time and they did not offer a rental. Now I am waiting for a dashboard replacement since I don’t want to have to take it in twice for work in the same area. I won’t be able to get a loaner car for that work and it’ll take at least a full day. No word on when the dash board will be in, of course, and no word on the air bags until they came in (and I had to call to find out). Rumor says September for the dash but hey, why would anyone need to plan a schedule for recall work in advance?

    The process is terrible and the cars often come back with broken parts because of uncaring techs. If you really want people to have the recall work done, you need to make it so it’s not a colossal hassle to get it done. Loaner cars being the absolute minimum for work taking more than an hour or for overnight drops.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the data points.

      Toyota suck. Subaru aren’t much better.

      If *any* service takes more than 2 hours I get a loaner from my Nissan dealer. I get my cars serviced at the scheduled intervals, so they know I’m a decent customer, so they treat me right.

      • 0 avatar
        Land Ark

        I have been calling the Subaru dealer once a month for “updates” which has consistently consisted of them telling me they have no idea when anything will arrive. This last time I called and was continuously put on hold. I guess the phone starts beeping after 30 seconds and they have to pick it up to stop the beeps, so they picked it up and immediately hit hold again. This went on for about 15 minutes while I waited to talk to someone. I only got disconnected once, which was surprising. At 5:02pm someone finally picked up and told me that the person who had the recall information had just left for the day.
        I was asked for my contact info and was told she would call me back the next morning.

        Anyone want to guess whether or not I got a call back?

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      My wife’s Sienna had been in limbo for a year waiting on a fix for the spare tire winch cable. It goes in next week.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    One issue is that the recall notice you get in the mail looks and reads like a letter from Big Publisher Sweepstakes, or a dealer trying to convince you to come by and trade in your car.

    • 0 avatar
      LeMansteve

      If it’s a safety recall, it has a very obvious label on the envelope: “NHTSA SAFETY RECALL NOTICE ISSUED IN ACCORDANCE WITH FEDERAL LAW”

      If you get so far as to opening the letter, and the letter has the manufacturer’s letterhead, then it might be worth reading.

      Otherwise, yeah – most mailers are junk from local dealerships.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        That works if you have an actual recall notice in hand for comparison to the “IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTICE! IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUIRED!” flyers that turn out to be invitations for an oil change or something.

  • avatar
    LeMansteve

    September 2014: BMW NA sent me a recall notice for my 2004 330i driver’s side airbag, as part of the gigantic Takata recall

    July 2016: I still haven’t brought my car in.

    Why haven’t I brought my car in for this important recall?

    Well, you see, BMW hasn’t received the replacement part from Takata, so the recall cannot be performed.

    I suspect a noticeable portion of those 45 million “apathetic” owners fall into the same category as I do.

    Other possible reasons besides apathy:
    -Dealer is too far away / inconvenient
    -Recall is for a non-critical system
    -Owner does not understand the severity of the recall
    -Owner is afraid the dealership may want to do $$$ additional work

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      All excellent points. Even in my busy metropolitan area, the Hyundai dealer is a 30-minute round trip (at least twice, with a companion car), not to mention the time it takes to schedule the appointment and verify they can actually do the work.

    • 0 avatar
      dividebytube

      I got the same recall for recently departed 2004 325i – and no parts available either.

      My wife’s Mini had a steering pump recall. She scheduled an appointment – three month wait!

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I’m also waiting for a driver-side airbag on a 2003 330.

      A story about how owners are supposedly apathetic to recalls shortly after running a Takata story is ridiculous.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    Until it is in your face (in the case of Takata, literally), most people will ignore recalls. An issue with the engine or a noticeable steering problem gets to the shop fast. A problem that “might occur, in some vehicles, at some point in the future” is out of sight, out of mind.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Cars get sold. The new owner doesn’t get the notice or know about the recall.

    Owners move. The owner doesn’t get the notice or know about the recall.

    Cars get wrecked. There is no car left to recall.

    And that’s in addition to all of those who just don’t care.

    The only way to ensure that everyone knows would be to have something installed in every vehicle that displays the recall message. Of course, that would require actively tracking every car in the US, so the cure may be worse than the disease.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Well, there is the annual registration process, in which VINs are handled.

      A linkage between the 50+ DOTs (including territories, Canada, Mexico, and worldwide markets) and the NHTSA could flag and locate vehicles at least annually. I’ve wondered several times if the EPA would utilize VIN registration as a means of killing off unrepaired VW TDIs.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Given the nature of American federalism, that would be hit and miss. Tying VIN numbers to recalls would add another layer of work for state agencies that would complain about the cost. Changing the state where the vehicle is registered would complicate matters further. The coordination would be difficult.

        Otherwise, that’s obviously the best idea. It could work well in other countries that are more centralized in their vehicle registration process, i.e. much of the rest of the planet.

        • 0 avatar

          How about employing the free market.

          “Your recall notice brought to you by Carfax!!”

          The local county gets paid by carfax to upload VIN numbers that are coming up for registration renewal. Carfax gets valuable data its happy to pay for and provides to the county recall info they pull up online using carfax’s servers while the registration is processed. “Here’s a 30 day temporary tag mr PCH101, mail proof of repair within 30 days and your regular tags (which you just paid for and we are holding back) get mailed to you”.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    Don’t dealers get paid less when the manufacturer pays for a repair? If that is the case, you won’t get the same first class service.

  • avatar
    redav

    With so many recalls being issued, and for ever-diminishing reasons, fatigue certainly has to be setting in.

    • 0 avatar
      Paragon

      THIS!!! Fatigue, as we all have more fun, entertaining things to do. Or, for many of us, so many more demanding responsibilities. Not enough time in the day…

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    There are gonna be two headlines in the news every day…
    There has been another terrorist attack and another 300,000 cars recalled.

    oh, and another 60 shootings in Chicago.

  • avatar

    “J.D. Power believes the data will help automakers and dealers connect with drivers, hopefully lowering the number of unrepaired vehicles plying our roadways.”

    So by continuing to do what is already being done will suddenly get better results because we are now aware how badly the system isn’t working?

    Yeah right!!

  • avatar

    Some of the recalls are complete nonsense, like Jeep’s skid plate recall on Wrangler (IIRC it’s M22). If the owner were to agree to the recall, Jeep would take off the perfectly good skid plate and replace it with some B.S. “skid bar”. Yay for safety! No wonder owners do their best to avoid recalls.

  • avatar
    MMaier - Audi S4

    I’m in the same boat as LaMansteve.

    Every six weeks or so I get a recall notice from Dodge about the Takata airbag in my Power Wagon. Every six weeks or so I call the dealer and am told that I am on the ‘list’ and will be contacted when the needed parts are available.

    For recalls outside the Takata airbag, I’ve never had any issues getting prompt attention from my local dealers getting the problem fixed.

  • avatar
    northeaster

    It may not be entirely surprising that so many airbag isssues are uncompleted.

    Assuming Takata has now recalled roughly 100 million airbags, it’s actually somewhat amazing to find they’ve actually replaced such a large number already.

    I imagine it is no mean trick to suddenly materialize replacement airbags for roughly 5 or 6 times the number of US auto units sold per year…

  • avatar

    Thus far my recalls have been for things which I have deemed not critical, and for my case, in my regular maintenance/repairs, actually already fixed the real root problem. I’ve got two old 1998 Lumina LTZs with the 3800 Series 2 in them. Been getting recall cards for the 3800 engine fire issue for the past few years on them. When they were about 10 years old, I noted they both were leaking oil from the valve cover gaskets…I obtained the parts needed and did the repairs myself. Neither leaks a drop of oil even now, and I’m not concerned they’ll become a CarBQue along the side of the road. The other strike against me being compelled to take them in was I thought too that the ‘fix’ for these recalls was never getting to the full root of the problem (excessive oil leaks via the valve cover gaskets or warped plastic valve covers). The first iteration of the recall (2009) was to simply remove the channel that held the front spark plug wires, citing it was collecting oil. As many found out, the 3800 BBQs continued, even on vehicles that had the first recall done, thus a secondary recall being issued, the most recent recall from last year, for this attempt, the engine cover is removed, and you get a new front valve cover and gasket.

    However, if I were to have gotten a recall for something such as the Takata fragmentation airbags, the car would be taken in as soon as parts were available. Having an airbag that potentially could launch high-speed shrapnel at me is a much more important issue than some leaky valve cover gaskets that per the recall are going to be only half assed fixed, literally – you don’t get a rear valve cover/gasket with the latest 3800 recall.

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