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Why do so many recalled vehicles go unrepaired?

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We’ve seen a significant rise in the number of vehicles being recalled for safety issues as automakers and federal regulators work to get them repaired before they can cause injury or death. The number of vehicles impacted by a single recall has increased as well, because many parts, such as the faulty Takata airbags, are used in multiple models of vehicles made by more than one manufacturer.

Pressure from the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration and the fear of multi-million-dollar lawsuits have automakers turning to social media as well as the traditional recall notices to notify customers of recalls. General Motors even offered gift cards as an incentive for customers to bring vehicles with the infamous faulty ignition switches in for repair.

Despite all this, a recent study by J.D. Power and Associates found that at least one in six vehicles on U.S. roads have an unrepaired safety issue that was the subject of a recall — and that’s just recalls since 2013. That amounts to about 45 million vehicles. Because of the difficulty in tracking older recalls, the market research company says that the actual number could be much higher.

According to NHTSA, they consider getting 70 percent of vehicles fixed on a particular recall a good number, even though their goal is 100 percent. Often the response rate is under one-third. While some recall issues are more serious than others, even with the Takata airbag problem, which can cause shrapnel to fly into the occupants of vehicles, only about a third of vehicles with these airbags have been brought in for repair.

There are a number of reasons why recalled vehicles aren’t repaired, even when the replacement parts are available at the dealers. (That has been an issue with a number of large recalls.) For example, some people don’t consider the problem important enough to fix. When recalls impact older vehicles, the original owners may have relocated or sold the vehicle to someone else.

Fortunately, NHTSA has a page on its website where consumers can check their car’s vehicle identification number to find out if there are any outstanding recalls. Whether you believe that you’ve kept up on your recall fixes or you’re contemplating buying a used car and want to verify its recall repair history, it’s worth checking the vehicle on this site.

Source: NBC News, “1 in 6 Cars on the Road is Recalled but Not Fixed,” Paul A. Eisenstein, July 27, 2016

Jason Fuiman

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Co-Managing Partner and Chair of O'Dwyer & Bernstien's Labor & Employee Benefits practice, Jason has over twenty years of experience in the New York legal industry.