Recalled vehicles – from the tiniest subcompacts to heavy-duty trucks – are often going unrepaired, leading to deadly consequences.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently confirmed that an 11th person died from an exploding Takata air bag in a vehicle that had been recalled eight years ago but never repaired.
The victim, a 50-year old woman driving a 2001 Honda Civic in Riverside County, Calif., died in the hospital after a crash with a Chevrolet pickup making a left turn. Her injuries were linked to the rupture of a recalled air bag.
To date, nearly 69 million U.S. vehicles have been recalled to fix defective driver- and passenger-side air bags, making it the largest recall in the nation’s history. Only 11 million of the defective air bags have been repaired, according to NHTSA.
“If [owners] do not have recall repairs performed, they place themselves, their passengers, other drivers and pedestrians at risk of injury or death should the defect arise in their vehicle,” said Michael Brooks, staff attorney for the Center for Auto Safety.
The average recall brings in only 70 percent of covered vehicles. That’s why NHTSA was pleased when it announced last month that each of nearly 16,000 Volvo heavy trucks in the U.S. suspected of having a steering defect was successfully located, repaired or taken out of service.
To achieve this result, NHTSA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration collaborated with Volvo Trucks to implement a nationwide information campaign via social media and traditional news outlets to alert trucking companies and their drivers as well as federal and state roadside inspectors about the recall.
“The successful conclusion of this large-scale national recall is a testament to the vital importance of everyone working together,” said Scott Darling, FMCSA administrator. “Many people were called upon to play a role in alerting carriers and drivers of the recall – from the trucking trade media to roadside safety inspectors.”
But with so much attention being given to this important issue, why is 100-percent completion a buzzworthy anomaly?
“The No. 1 reason for low recall completion rates is owner inaction,” Brooks said.
Other reasons that play a less substantial role include “vehicle age, perceived severity of the safety defect, improper notification and availability of timely repair,” he said.
The used vehicle market – both dealer sales and private party transactions – are also to blame, said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.
“When the cars have changed hands, registrations may be out of date,” Shahan said. “Plus, many consumers are driving cars they cannot get registered for a number of reasons, including dealers selling cars that fail to comply with smog standards or that have unpaid liens.”
Shahan advises consumers to “never buy a car that has an unrepaired safety recall, even if the dealer claims it’s passed a [thorough] inspection and qualified to be sold as ‘certified.’”
Here are some other ways consumers, big-rig drivers and fleet operators can be proactive about road safety and learn if their vehicles have been recalled.
Auto Recalls: How to check if your vehicle is under recall?
- Check NHTSA.gov. There are many ways for consumers to check their vehicles for recalls implemented over the last 15 years by VIN lookup. The organization also powers a more specialized site, Safercar.gov, which is a portal into specific recall information, including child car seats. Consumers can follow along on Twitter and Facebook for real-time updates or elect to receive email updates. Some of the more publicized recalls such as the Takata air bag problems are featured prominently on both sites.
- Stay connected with your vehicle’s manufacturer. Some automakers are taking special steps to notify customers of recalls. For example, customers can use the Toyota Owners app to snap a photo of any VIN and find out if a vehicle has been recalled. The Lexus Owners app will soon follow suit with the same functionality. Owners should also ensure their car manufacturer has accurate contact information so drivers can be notified promptly in the event of a recall.
- Discover the Center for Auto Safety. CAS maintains a vehicle information system that allows visitors to org to look up all vehicle recalls as well as complaints, investigations, crash tests and technical service bulletins. CAS also accepts calls from consumers and frequently updates its site with breaking news on ongoing safety issues and recalls.
- Maintain your car at a dealership, at least occasionally. Independent garages and servicing centers can save money, but when regular maintenance takes place at a dealership, certified technicians have access to proprietary information from the automaker, including data on any recent recalls.