By on March 9, 2018

driving Golden Gate

Automotive recalls in the United States dropped to the lowest level since 2013 last year. In 2017, domestic recalls fell to 30.7 million — far less than 2016’s record high of 53 million. That’s good news, right?

Probably. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration demands manufacturers be Johnny-on-the-spot with fixes ever since General Motors’ ignition switch scandal back in 2014. That means it’s either gotten incredibly lax in its duties under Donald Trump’s watch or automakers simply had a better year. While the NHTSA suffered important staff shortages for literally all of 2017 and has seen the current administration pressing for less regulation overall, the recall decline could also be attributed to the Takata airbag inflator situation finally winding down.

However, it’s no secret that the Obama administration wanted to see the safety administration exercising its regulatory muscle. In 2016, automakers issued a record 924 recall campaigns. That number fell to 813 last year. The NHTSA has also neglected to impose new vehicle safety fines since Trump took office and been operating without permanent leadership for more than 13 months. 

To some extent, this comes down to the Trump administration’s efforts to streamline the federal bureaucracy. But the confirmation process for presidential appointments can also be lengthy. The White House has repeatedly accused Democrats of dragging things out in response to so many nominees coming from the business world, rather than government. Regardless, many have become concerned with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s lack of activity.

“This agency is in a stall … They are not going to do very much without political leadership,” said Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator and prominent consumer advocate, said last fall.

That may be true, however the fact remains that Takata’s airbag recall ultimately affected 42 million U.S. vehicles — with the vast majority cropping up before 2017. It would be presumptuous to accuse the NHTSA’s lax enforcement year as the sole cause of the safety recall decline. However, it might also be unwise to assume it isn’t allowing automakers to fly a few defects under the radar.

[Source: Reuters]

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30 Comments on “Vehicle Recalls Are Down in the U.S., but Not Everyone’s Celebrating...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    I’m making up for the shortfall, I just received the second recall notice this year on my Charger. One for the alternator and now one for the airbag sensor, something about humidity. When you buy an FCA product it comes with the territory. At least in the ‘70s if your Chrysler product had a problem, you always knew it was the ballast resistor.

    • 0 avatar
      FerrariLaFerrariFace

      The one about the airbag sensor/humidity sounds suspiciously like the Takata recall.

      These days every car gets recalled for something. My 09 Escape has recalls for two or three little things, and I’ve got a Toyota Yaris that has, like, 5 open recalls for various stuff, including the same Takata airbag issue.

      The fact that your Dodge only has two is a pro not a con.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “When you buy an FCA product it comes with the territory.”

      But they have come a long way since Daimler did the R&D work. It was worse before Daimler owned Chrysler. Much worse.

  • avatar
    Mud

    Yup its another bad-Trump rant thinly disguised as a car related article. Anytime I see M. Posky as an author I know what to expect, which is generally at the other end of objective writing where it mentions anything related about the current administration.

    Predictable and boring no matter who you do or don’t support.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Mud,
      There are regulations and there are regulations.

      I break regulations down into two groups. Those that protect the consumer and those that protect industry from external and even internal competition and costs like recalls.

      Just removing regulation is ridiculous, the regulations that protect the consumer ensure standards are met. Standards and ensuring improving standards are paramount in moving forward, progressing.

      So, not all regulations are bad, especially consumer protection.

      Just removing all regulations will reduce standards. And industry will first want regulations that cost them money removed in the auto industry this would be FE targets, safety, recalls, etc. This all costs them money.

    • 0 avatar
      AE101Loudlevin

      Look, no disrespect, ive been coming to ttac for roughly 7 years for its outstanding content, please leave the passive aggressive political spin type garbage off the site. Matt Posky im afraid is taking this site in the wrong direction.

  • avatar
    St.George

    It’s amazing to see the spin put on so many stories, I’m sure that the author would argue black was white to try to prove some sort of political point. The story alluded to the fact that recalls were down in 2017 due to the huge amount in 2016 caused in particular by the massive Takata one. Perhaps there was another large one in 2016 (when was VW?). The thing about statistics is that they can be manipulated or presented in such a way as to prove any point.

    Some data and trends presented over a number of years could prove more effectively whether 2016 was an outlier with 2017 following norms, or whether 2017 genuinely was weirdly low.

    It seems unlikely that the reams of bureaucrats at the NHTSA are sitting around twiddling their thumbs, just because there is only an interim agency head, rather than some sort of political appointee telling them what to do. If they really are waiting for a figurehead to tell them what to do, I would suggest that the agency has grown too big and could be streamlined.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      St. George,
      Politics and even international politics play and important role in the auto industry.

      The auto industry lobbiest will want any regulation that costs them money to be removed and this would include recalls.

      As can be seen historically, whether its a Japanese (Toyota, unintended acceleration), EU (VW, Dieselgate) or the US manufacturers will try and avoid meeting standards which saves them money, even at the cost of lives.

      • 0 avatar
        IBx1

        Another swing and a miss from BAFO.

        St. George, you’re correct, we need to see a historical chart with a few more years behind 2010 because of the Toyota unintended acceleration recalls, GM’s murderous ignition switches, and then practically every car ever made being recalled in 2015 and 2016 to remove the hand grenades in their steering wheels. To say nothing of VW’s ongoing diesel recalls recently expanded to the V6’s.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          IBx1,
          How did I swing and miss? I talking about now, not historical sh!t.

          A reduction in the quality of ensuring conformance and compliance from the manufacturers in the future will impact standards.

          Maybe you might need to re-read my comment.

          • 0 avatar
            IBx1

            As you should read St. George’s. If you only look at info now without considering overall trends, that’s like setting the first lap time in a group and saying oh wow that’s such a fast time. You don’t know if you’re fast or slow until you have something to compare it to.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            IBx1,
            I’m sorry, but I work in the area of conformance and compliance and I do know what affects quality.

            The first areas ANY organisation uses to reduce costs is in the area of quality management. This can be from human resource issues to funding.

            The NHSTA is no different, than any many producer.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Another swing and a miss from BAFO.

    St. George, you’re correct, we need to see a historical chart with a few more years behind 2010 because of the Toyota unintended acceleration recalls, GM’s murderous ignition switches, and then practically every car ever made being recalled in 2016 to remove the hand grenades in their steering wheels.

    • 0 avatar
      IBx1

      This was supposed to be a reply above, but TTAC’s comment system is extremely buggy and won’t let me delete or edit things I’ve just posted.

      • 0 avatar
        St.George

        Understood, thank you, I feel validated!

        I’m not a data expert but have a healthy dose of skepticism and a nose for BS.

        I would like to have a beer with BAFO to get a feel for him in person, unfortunately his comments come across sometimes ‘strangely’.

        Nowadays there is so much political cr*p that frankly it’s tiring. Trump as a person is perhaps not that likable (at least if all you read are the main ‘news’ sources) but generally speaking I like his approach of patriotism, simplify doing business here, put the citizens first and no bullsh*t.

        I’m a Brit who lives in Texas, this is a fantastic country and I feel that we need to get a little closer to the can-do spirit and away from the massive swing towards derangement and far-leftism that the formerly great Democratic party has moved towards.

        Rant over!

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          St.George,
          With a name like St George I figured you were a Pom.

          I would be a Tory in the UK. But Trump I unfortunately see as a sham. Patriotism is different to Nationalism, which I view Trump. Nationalistic people are a danger, very subjective in thought.

          I see the NHSTA as an organisation stripped of resources. When this occurs you will have gaps in performance, that are easily identifiable.

          If the organisation I worked for confronted massive challenges as the NHSTA does right now we would need to prioritise were our limited resources go. So, many issue that require addressing get put to the bottom of the stack.

          That’s how I see the NHSTA.

          The easiest way for the US to save money in this area of government is to become a signatory of the UNECE Vehicle Harmonisation Treaty. The US then wouldn’t need to duplicate the many regulations and use what other countries already achieved. A huge money saver for the US.

          • 0 avatar
            St.George

            Are the NHTSA starved of resource? Having had a quick look at their Fiscal year 2017 estimates, we see a requested ‘significant’ budget increase over that of 2016. The actual budget figures are:-

            FY 2015 $830m
            FY 2016 $869m
            FY 2017 $1.181bn (estimated, actual spend not available yet). $200m of the increase is for autonomous vehicle research. Despite that, funding for admin, research and safety grants has markedly increased.

            Links to corroborate below:-

            https://www.nhtsa.gov/about-nhtsa/2017-budget#2017-budget-nhtsa-budget-information

            https://www.nhtsa.gov/about-nhtsa/nhtsa-budget-information

            Now, I am calling your statement that the NHTSA as being ‘stripped of resources’ one of those glib, throwaway soundbites that we’re subjected to 24/7 (BS in blunter language).

            Tends to make one disbelieve a lot of your other statements, correct?

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            St. George,
            I’ve already had that information.

            As the figures you have given shows the NHSTA is down a couple hundred million.

            The information you provided show actual 2015, enacted 2016 and estimates 2017.

            If you dig a little deeper you’ll see the NHSTA recieved $878 million in 2011.

            I’ll stick with my view. As Matt alluded to it seems odd there is this overly large reduction. If you use KPIs and there is a great shift in data you must wonder why.

            The shift in performance from the NHSTA would be easy to find. Especially if motor vehicles are much safer.

            Do the consumer reports support this?

            I’ll stick with my resourcing view.

          • 0 avatar
            St.George

            I have to respond to your 11.06pm comment here, for some reason the reply box disappears. I’m also refuting your statement about the NHTSA budget being subject to an overly large reduction. As someone of your stature no doubt understands, the agency’s budget consists of 2 basic parts, namely Operations & research (one part) and grants for various safety programs (the other part). These safety programs don’t run forever, they ebb and flow depending upon the favorite topic du jour.

            Lets look a little closer:-

            2010 Ops & research $246m; Grants $620m
            2011 Ops & research $246m; Grants $620m
            2012 Ops & research $249m; Grants $550m*
            2013 Ops & research $248m; Grants $554m
            2014 Ops & research $258m; Grants $562m
            2015 Ops & research $268m; Grants $562m
            2016 Ops & research $296m; Grants $573m
            2017 Ops & research $396m**; Grants $585m

            *Please note that in 2012 the Section 406 Safety Belt Performance Grant Program wound down, that previously was $124.5m per annum

            **Also note that 2017’s budget request includes $200m for autonomous vehicle research but doesn’t include a charge from previous years for ‘Vehicle Safety Research (GF)’ (was approx $130-150m p.a). However, there is a new budget of $250m for ‘Vehicle Safety Research (TF)’ (whatever that is!!).

            So, if you already had that information a/ you didn’t reference it and b/ you have misrepresented it.

            Which figures show the agency is down $200m? I see that grants ebb and flow (eg large grant program ending in 2012) but the basic operating budget has increased from $246m to $396m over the above years.

            Also, if 2016 was a bonanza year for recalls, does this mean that the agency was doing a superlative job that particular year? The budget didn’t seem markedly different. If you throw more money at them, do the number of recalls go up?

            I know that you love to throw around fancy buzz words like KPI, and statements like ‘great shift in data’ but with no context provided. You are of course entitled to your views, but we all get bombarded daily with ‘views’ and ‘feelings’, few of which are backed up with meaningful, unbiased data.

            Goodnight!

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            St George,
            I’m sorry but I really didn’t say “money”, but it could be judging by the flat budget at the organisation for the past little while.

            My comment is directed at resourcing and at the end of the day it could be money, human or whatever.

            If you look at the NHSTA it appears there is some kind of structural, budgetary, etc change occurring.

            They are implementing a process to gain more data, not “vehicle” data but business data for risk management of project, programs and undertakings.

            To me this suggests that there are some issues inside the organisation.

            I do work for the government and we started a similar cost reduction program over the past few years or so. Budgets are not cut back, but budget increases are flat until you are no longer able to effectively function.

            If NHSTA are implementing better methodology in gauging “business” performance, I would bet that they are having some issues.

            Believe it or not manpower is decided on 90% of requirements, then deficiencies and gaps are filled.

            Money at the end of the day would be the driver behind any changes within NHSTA.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            St. George,
            Another thing is the workforce size now and back in 2011.

            I would think proportionally the NHSTA would have a significant salary and wages overhead.

            The cost in the US have risen much more since 2011 than the last eight figures you have in your post.

            What new departments have been created to allow for technological change, whilst keeping on top of their traditional work?

            I think like all government departments money is not freely available as it once was.

  • avatar
    St.George

    Understood, thank you, I feel validated!

    I’m not a data expert but have a healthy dose of skepticism and a nose for BS.

    I would like to have a beer with BAFO to get a feel for him in person, unfortunately his comments come across sometimes ‘strangely’.

    Nowadays there is so much political cr*p that frankly it’s tiring. Trump as a person is perhaps not that likable (at least if all you read are the main ‘news’ sources) but generally speaking I like his approach of patriotism, simplify doing business here, put the citizens first and no bullsh*t.

    I’m a Brit who lives in Texas, this is a fantastic country and I feel that we need to get a little closer to the can-do spirit and away from the massive swing towards derangement and far-leftism that the formerly great Democratic party has moved towards.

    Rant over!

  • avatar
    St.George

    @BAFO Lots of ‘I think’ statements backed up with no facts. The figures I quoted are the latest available data. The original post refers to 2016 & 2017 wrt the number of recalls dropping.

    You’re now moving away from budgets (now that the evidence has been presented to you on a plate) and guessing about staffing levels. Just give up my friend and perhaps stick to your chicken tax obsession moving forwards.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      First, again address me as Al, Big Al or Big Al form Oz (an you are aware of this).

      Second. I have read the data you presented and perused at the site myself. You obviously didn’t read further into the NHSTA and how the organisation is managed.

      Third. And significantly the data you presented show an overall flat budget for the past eight budgets.

      Fourth. The NHSTA is and must be making some structural changes in how they do business. This is evident by the methodology of collecting more business data for improvement. This means they have made adjustments to their Quality Management System.

      Fifth. Unlike you I don’t believe ALL the auto manufacturers have suddenly transitioned to meet the “US” needs for automotive safety.

      If you are not aware any large organisation, corporation, whatever is instituitionalised. What does this mean? It means you can’t have change, like the article illustrates overnight. It takes years to make. Just basic workplace cultural changes take seven years.

      So, I’m calling your belief BS that all the global vehicle manufacturers got together to produce this change, all because of Trump (probably).

      And, if you state that isn’t your belief. Then what is it? Put something solid pointing to the cause of this huge change of direction as shown by the data.

      Oh, did you read the part where the term “regulation” in the NHSTA is going to be altered to the effect of “regulation or guidance”. That was signed this January by President Twitter.

      So, why the change in the data?

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Clickbait, with no facts, just speculation.

    Thank you, St. George, for bringing at least a few facts into the picture.

    As a quasi-native of the DC swamp, I’m pretty familiar with how this works. The political appointees set the policy direction for the agency, the career people carry it out. Since most career people at regulatory agencies are regulators at heart, in the absence of contrary directions from the top, they’re gonna regulate. So, in the absence of new leadership at the top, it’s pretty unlikely that the career folks at NHTSA have given up regulating.

    • 0 avatar
      St.George

      99% of the cr*p we’re subjected to day in day out from all corners of the legacy media is all emotion & feelings based. If stats are involved, they’re cherry picked and/or manipulated to prove some sort of point. It really grinds my gears! (to get back to an automotive theme).

      I have lurked on this site since approximately 2008 or so, it used to be chock full of interesting car related articles, we’re getting thin gruel at the moment.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        St. George,
        All you need to do is look at other nations and assess their indicators against the US.

        Not hard. The auto industry is sort of global.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      DC Bruce,
      The data put forward by the author is factual.

      What caused this change? A change like this in my organisation would raise more than a few eyebrows, there would be an inquiry or investigation into the running of the business.

      I understand safety and how it’s managed, you don’t get changes like this.

      So, the author raising issue is good.

      What is the NHSTA doing? What changes have occurred within the NHSTA for the data to change so dramatically?

      All the global auto manufacturers did not get together for this to occur.

  • avatar
    brn

    Recall rates dropping from all time highs doesn’t necessarily mean enforcement is lacking. Recall rates started rising up in the 2007 era. If we’re “the lowest since 2013”, we’re still higher than we used to be. Historically, 2013 was a very high year for recalls.

    Keep things in perspective. Recall rates are still very high and may simply be stabilizing.

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