Four straight years of mounting auto safety recalls in the U.S., including two record recall years, have led to a high number of unrepaired recalled vehicles on the road, global marketing information services firm J.D. Power said Monday.
Of the nearly 109 million cars, trucks, and SUVs recalled from 2013-2015, 40 percent of them remain on the road without the safety defects repaired. That means there are more than 45 million vehicles on U.S. roads and highways at risk of some kind of malfunction.
Analysts attribute the steady surge of recalled vehicles to several factors.
Standardization of parts has meant that defective components could find their way into thousands or even millions of vehicles – a problem that the Takata airbag recalls demonstrate. More than a dozen automakers relied on Takata to supply airbags for their vehicles. But when it became apparent that the inflator mechanisms could potentially cause the airbags to explode with deadly force, they had already been installed in more than 100 million vehicles worldwide.
New technologies have also prompted recent recalls, such as the “Monostable” shifter designed by German supplier ZF and integrated into various Jeep, Dodge, and Chrysler vehicles, which does not operate like a traditional automatic shifter and can trick drivers into thinking their vehicle is parked when it is actually in neutral. This poses a rollaway risk with potentially fatal consequences, as the crushing death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin showed.
Stricter federal regulations brought on by a number of recent recall scandals have also prompted automakers to voluntarily recall more vehicles.
Analyzing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and proprietary data, J.D. Power also identified several factors contributing to the low recall repair completion rates.
The older the vehicle, the lower the completion rate. J.D. Power found that owners of newer vehicles are more connected to the dealer. Generally, the older a vehicle gets, the more owners it will have and the more difficult they will be for the automaker to track down. The completion rate for vehicles with model years between 2013 and 2017 is 73 percent, compared to 44 percent for vehicles made between 2003 and 2007.
Vehicle type is also a factor, with large vans and premium SUVs having the highest overall recall completion rate of about 85 percent. The lowest recall completion rates were found among mid-premium sports cars (31 percent) and large SUVs (33 percent).
Larger recalls mean longer delays. When a safety recall exceeds 1 million vehicles, the recall completion rate is just under half. But when the recall affects less than 10,000 vehicles, the completion rate rises to 67 percent. Parts shortages and dealerships not receiving the necessary repair parts provide the likely explanations for these numbers, J.D. Power found.
The type of recall also matters. The highest recall completion rates for components are for powertrains (71 percent), brakes (66 percent), and electrical (62 percent). The lowest rates are for suspension problems (48 percent) and airbag defects (48 percent). Analysts believe that the way an automaker handles its recalls makes a significant difference in completion rates, with some automakers rewarding customers with gift cards or providing other incentives for returning their vehicles to dealers for certain safety fixes.