Automotive Recalls: Ignore Them at Your Peril

Automotive Recalls: Ignore Them at Your Peril

Vehicle recalls may be a burden, but not handling them immediately can put yourself and everyone else on the road in danger. It is estimated that only 25% of vehicles with recalls are repaired.

An envelope comes in the mail. Emblazoned on it are three words that will likely strike dread into any vehicle owner: Safety Recall Notice.

Unfortunately, vehicle safety recalls have become all too common over the past several years, particularly in the wake of the more than 40 million defective Takata airbags installed in U.S. vehicles. While significant, this recall isn’t the only one that has occurred over the past several years.

In fact, the past several years — thanks only in part to the airbag recall — have seen record-breaking numbers of vehicles being recalled, with the high of 53.2 million reached in 2016, before plunging to 30.7 million in 2017 according National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics.

More troubling is that only about 25% of recalled vehicles get repaired, according to research by NHTSA. And this is another troubling trend that looks to be on the upswing. In 2017, Carfax estimated that there were more than 63 million vehicles on the road with open, unrepaired recalls, a 34% increase from 2016 (and possibly also an inflated consequence of the airbag recall).

There’s no denying that getting a recall notice in the mail may cause you headaches — a trip to the local repair shop, the need for a rental — but having an open recall may cost you more than a few inconvenient hours: It could be deadly.

No Time Like the Present

The danger of waiting to handle a recall-related repair can’t be understated. In the U.S. about 17 people have been killed and more than 200 have been injured because of defective airbags, according to recent NHTSA statistics.

But there are other dangers drivers have to be aware of besides just airbags — for example, fire risks created by improperly installed or faulty components. According the Highway Loss Data Institute, non-crash fire claims from 2007 to 2017 were 14% higher for vehicles with a fire-danger recall than the frequency of claims for those without a recall.

The notice of a recall shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are strict government regulations that cover vehicle safety. Recalls are triggered if a safety defect exists in a motor vehicle or piece of equipment that poses a risk to motor vehicle safety and exists in a group of vehicles or equipment of the same design or manufacture.

If you receive a notice of a vehicle recall:

  • Verify that the vehicle that you’ve been notified about is yours. In a recall, not every vehicle may be affected by the recall — and, if you’ve sold vehicle, the recall notice may be for a car you no longer own (in this case, if you sold the vehicle privately, contact the buyer).
  • If you haven’t been notified that your vehicle is part of the recall, but it’s a model that’s been recalled, go to and check using your vehicle’s VIN, which can be found on the lower left of your car’s windshield, on your registration, or insurance card.
  • Contact your dealer as soon as possible. Delaying a repair because it’s inconvenient is no excuse — and could lead to a crash, injury, or worse.

There is no reason to delay. Typically, recall repairs will be handled by the dealer either for free or for a portion of the cost.

In the case of the airbag recall, some drivers have found it difficult to receive timely repairs for their vehicles. In the instance of a lengthy repair or wait for parts, drivers should ask if they can get a loaner car for the duration of the remedy process.

Keeping Track

Awareness is your best defense against driving an unsafe vehicle. While it is required to send a written notification to vehicle owners about any recalls, there are a number of reasons that you may not receive it.

Not updating your address, buying a vehicle from a private seller, mis-deliveries, or even accidently throwing the notice away are just some of the myriad circumstances that could lead to you driving an unsafe vehicle.

To guard against this possibility, download the app for iPhone or Android devices, check the manufacturer’s website, or go to NHTSA’s secure Safety Issues & Recalls website ( and input your VIN. The NHTSA tool is secure and doesn’t require a login or personal information aside from the vehicle identification number.

Whether you receive a notice or suspect that your vehicle is part of a highly-publicized recall, as with any preventive maintenance you may do on your vehicle, schedule an automatic reminder to regularly check for any open recalls on your vehicle.

You owe it to yourself.

Drive Safely!

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