The year of the recall might be 2015

The year of the recall might be 2015

General Motors became one of the most mentioned companies in 2014 after recalling almost three million vehicles for an ignition switch defect early in the year. As the year continued, GM would go on to recall almost 30 million vehicles, accounting for half of all the vehicles recalled in the United States.

While 2014 is heralded as the year of the recall, 2015 may surpass 60 million.

Mark Rosekind, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration administrator, believes this year will expose more defects with more vehicles in need of repair. His goal is to improve the NHTSA’s tracking of possible issues and enforcing automaker recalls.

The number of vehicle owners contacting the NHTSA with complaints nearly doubled in light of GM’s publicity through awareness and congressional hearings, increasing from around 40,000 to more than 75,000 in 2015.

Prior to 2014, the record number of recalls in a given year was 30.8 million in 2004. A large portion of the increase came from Takata and GM in a rapid attempt to save lives from their defective products.

At this time, about 8 million vehicles from 10 different automakers with Takata airbags have been recalled after learning the bag can malfunction and shoot shrapnel into the vehicle. Because it’s believed to be more dangerous in humid conditions, many automakers were hesitant to release large-scale recall alerts and instead targeted the affected areas. After pressure from Takata and others, the automakers began to recall all those affected from 2002 to 2008. So far, five fatalities are connected to the issue.

GM pushed aside its deadly defect for more than a decade. The detent plunger, used to hold the key in the ignition, was millimeters too short in several models made from 2003 to 2011. If jostled, the key could slip from the ‘on’ to ‘accessory’ or ‘off position,’ causing the vehicle to shut off, disabling brakes, power steering and airbags. At this time, 42 deaths have been attributed.

Between Takata and GM, other companies began recalling vehicles for a myriad of issues in an attempt to avoid the scrutiny directed toward GM due to its delay. This coverage and awareness will cause automakers to be more cautious and learn from the mistakes of Toyota and GM and recall vehicles more quickly, even for seemingly inane problems.

Unfortunately, recalls do not ensure repairs.

A number of factors keep vehicle owners from visiting dealers for the fixes necessary to ensure safety. Some remain oblivious to defects or assume the odds are in their favor. Because many of the recalled models are older and owners haven’t experienced any issues, they assume they’re safe.

In some cases, owners wait for months for the recalled pieces to be delivered. High demand, especially on parts no longer produced, creates delays in the repairs. If loaners aren’t available, most owners cannot stop using their car until the repair is made. GM insists the vehicles are safe to drive with a single key, but tragedies still occur.

Last year, two drivers operating recalled GM vehicles were killed after the ignition switch defect was announced. In both cases, the women attempted to have their cars fixed, but there either wasn’t a part available or no available appointments at the dealership.

At the end of last year, GM replaced more than 60 percent of the faulty detent plungers, heading toward its goal of 100 percent repaired. An average of 70 percent of all recalled vehicles are fixed during the 18 months after the announcement, according to the NHTSA.

With 2014 recalls still posing safety threats, 2015 is shaping up to be a sequel to the startling amount of vehicle recalls made last year.

Sources
  • Consumer Reports, “Everything you need to know about the Takata airbag recall,” (Dec. 19, 2014). [Link]
  • Jerry Hirsch, “Many recalled vehicles do not get repaired, posing a safety risk,” Los Angeles Times (Dec. 27, 2014). [Link]
  • Jeff Plungis, “Auto recalls this year may surpass record 2014, NHTSA Chief says, Bloomberg Businessweek (Jan. 6, 2015). [Link]
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