U.S. Headed for Record in Auto Recalls This Year, and Here’s Why the Repairs May Not Happen for Some

Since the beginning of this year, an increasing number of auto manufacturers have issued safety recalls for their vehicles. In June alone, five of Japan’s largest automakers have recalled a total of 6 million vehicles, all due to airbag issues; General Motors, however, is in the lead with 36 recalls this year for a variety of problems, with around 20 million vehicles worldwide affected.

Estimates from analysts in the industry propose that there will be more recalls this year than last; in fact, not only will it beat the almost 28 million vehicles affected last year, but the number could reach as high as the 33.01 million vehicles record from ten years ago in 2004. In total since 1966, 540.8 million vehicles have been recalled — in the United States alone.

However, there is also a concern that many vehicles won’t even see the repairs they need, and some of this neglect could result in serious danger. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that one out of four vehicles covered by a safety recall won’t receive repairs; CarFax, which tracks vehicle histories, states that there are approximately 36 million vehicles being driven in America with at least one recall-related repair not completed.

This spells disaster for many drivers, as many of these defects can lead to serious injuries or even fatalities — both for the drivers of these cars and those who are unrelated, like passengers and others on the road.

Of the more recent recalls, Honda reported several fatalities last year due to malfunctioning airbags, which sent shrapnel flying into the passenger compartment. For GM, which manufactures Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, and other brands around the world, at least 13 people have died due to the faulty ignition switch.

That problem caused 22 crashes and 6 deaths due to just the 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalts and 2007 Pontiac G5s alone, and this May, the NHTSA fined the company $35 million for failing to recall cars with faulty ignition switches despite GM knowing about the problem for the past decade.

Although Kia issued a recall in February because of a sticker inside the driver’s door pillar listed the wrong tire pressure, something seemingly innocuous could still be deadly. Clarence Ditlow, director of the Washington-based Center for Automotive Safety, pointed out that under-inflated tires could lead to a blow out or cause a vehicle to skid or roll in an emergency.

Although manufacturers like GM and Toyota, which recalled vehicles a few years ago to fix the unintended acceleration issue, set a goal of 100 percent completion, it can be difficult to achieve. Manufacturers have become more aggressive about sending out reminders, as a result; Chrysler emails and calls owners about recalls in addition to sending mail, which has boosted their completion of repairs from 70 percent to 80 percent, and GM mails out a recall reminder notice every three months. Several manufacturers allow car owners and lessees to check the recall status of their vehicles online.

However, the older a vehicle is, the less likely some owners are to get it fixed.

Thanks to new regulations, however, all car companies that operate in the U.S. will have to have databases where users can search for recall information using their Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, in place by August 14, and many manufacturers already do.

While some experts believe that car owners may feel “recall fatigue” from the sheer amount of recalls being issued and not take the warnings seriously, there are also several other reasons why repairs are sometimes ignored. Some may mistake their recall notices for junk mail and throw them in the trash; others may simply procrastinate, even though the repairs are covered at no cost by the automakers.

Also a concern for the recalls is that there may not be enough parts to cover the repairs; GM service techs have, thus far, only replaced 180,000 of the 2.6 million faulty ignition switches due to a shortage from supplier Delphi. Through the new recall efforts, GM hopes to complete the repairs by October.

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