Recalls: Perhaps California has the Solution?

It’s always frustrating to read articles about the challenges legislators, manufacturers and states have with low recall compliance rates. And, even worse than the challenges is the finger-pointing going on, the lack of cooperation and the unwillingness to invest in what is a major public safety issue.


A recent article in Automotive News illustrates this perfectly.


The article describes a rather broken system filled with organizations who perhaps do not feel this is “their problem.” The NHTSA is hounding manufacturers to increase recall repair compliance rates, but manufacturers cannot do it alone as their information is typically limited to the original purchaser, and, if the vehicle was sold as a certified per-owned vehicle, perhaps a second owner.


To reach those second, third and older generation owners, manufacturers need help getting recent owner information, so they can be contacted. One of the easiest and most accurate sources available is vehicle registration records at the state level. The problem is that these states either provide incomplete information (if any at all); or say they cannot help due to a lack of technology, funding and manpower.


Currently, recall repair compliance levels are rather poor -- only 70 percent of recalled vehicles are getting fixed. And, as vehicles get older, that number drops to 44 percent (5 to 10-year-old vehicles); and as low as 15 percent for vehicles 10 years or older. The statistics fall to even more dismal levels when you also include those vehicles with recalls that are considered by the OEM as “voluntary.


Outside the US, some countries have better success gaining compliance from consumers (Japan 80%, Germany 100% and the UK-92%.) Why are these countries so great at getting consumers to fix open recalls while a workable solution evades the United States market?


It turns out that the solution to the recall crisis is rather obvious for the international market. The simple fact is that these countries don’t let consumers drive cars with open recalls. A consumer cannot even register their vehicle until any open recall is repaired. So, why doesn’t the U.S. follow the lead of what is obviously working in other countries?


Part of the reason is that the federal government doesn’t have the legal authority to enforce compliance. States are the gatekeepers of information and control their own vehicle registration processes without federal oversight. There is also the anticipated consumer backlash should a state try to mandate this.


But would it work? Yes, and here’s how I know: It’s been done.


The State of California, in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), implemented a joint initiative whereby vehicles in the state of California could not be registered with any outstanding vehicle-emission related recalls.


The result? Vehicle emission related recall repair compliance in California is at 90 percent! The program is proof positive that collaboration and cooperation works. And this initiative was designed solely to preserve and improve the AIR QUALITY in California. Imagine what a similar initiative for safety-related recalls could accomplish. I’ll tell you: It could save lives!

California has proven that this system can work, produce results and, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t caused the consumer backlash that agencies predicted.

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