In light of both the volume and frequency of car, truck, and SUV recall notices issued by vehicle manufacturers in 2014, it’s almost no wonder that some consumers seem to be tuning out these important safety notices. In the early 2000s, and likely for the first time post-Unsafe at Any Speed, the Firestone tire defect first provided a sense of how widespread, and how dangerous, a single product defect could be when even a single parts supplier has an issue.
However, in 2014 – on the heels of the Toyota unintended acceleration defect – a string of auto recalls began that would eventually amount to about 64 million recalled vehicles in just 2014 alone. The largest contributors to this dubious honor for 2014 are the General Motors defective ignition switch defect and the Takata exploding airbag defects. Further leading to a sense of consumer fatigue is the numerous minor recalls that affected only a few thousand vehicles. In all and on average, vehicle manufacturers issued 2.2 recalls a day during 2014.
While the endless pronouncement of dangerous vehicle defects is sure to eventually desensitize even the most safety-conscious individual, the costs of ignoring a recall notice can be extremely high. Furthermore, if you choose to ignore a notice it may not only be you and your family who bear the risk, but also the next owner of the vehicle and his or her loved ones.
Why Do Motorists Fail to Repair their Vehicles after Recall?
The reasons a driver may fail to heed the warnings and information received on a recall notice are numerous. In most situations, it is probably rare that any one factor is the sole reason for the failure. Many times a combination of factors and concerns prevents a driver from taking appropriate action regarding their defective vehicle. These reasons can include:
- Dealer’s schedule does not accommodate owner’s availability.
- Owner does not perceive defect as threat.
- Driver does not think the defect will happen them.
- Owner does not receive notice or does not realize its contents.
- Unaware of loaner car programs.
- Forgot to take action.
- Parts were not available.
- Risk seems remote.
- Lack of perceived reward or benefit of taking action
- The driver believes he or she can avoid the issue by taking certain actions or by not taking certain actions.
- They think that the repairs will cost money or more money than they are willing to spend.
In short, the reasons motorist neglect to correct known defects in their vehicle is extremely diverse and varied. A single one-size-fits-all approach to improving response rates is unlikely to be effective. Rather, a more nuanced approach to the problem is likely necessary.
NHTSA is Demanding Changes to Communications – What is Effective?
Due to the extreme number of safety defect problems in the industry last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is advocating for changes in how recall notices are sent out. One suggestion by NHTSA has forwarded is mandatory labeling of all recall notices. The proposed design would carry a government seal along with red colorings designed to attract consumer attention. Automakers themselves have implemented measures intended to increase the recall response rate. One tactic involved incentivizing early responders with gift cards to popular restaurants and retailers.
However despite the fanfare and praise that programs of this type have received, few seem to be asking important questions like, “Do the programs work?” Or, “Are there more effective means of encouraging consumers to get their vehicle defects repaired?” The remainder of this blog post will look at one study that has analyzed the efficacy of certain steps and measures in improving vehicle recall response rates.
What Methods are Effective in Motivating Action?
While there is not yet a wealth of data regarding the effectiveness of methods of communication, there is a study that examines the issue. The study was presented at the January 2012 meeting of SAE International. The study largely focused on differences in the response rate to a variety of styles and methods of recall notice mailings.
- Follow-up Mail Type– The study found that there were differences in response rate depending on the method that the follow-up notice was sent by. First-class mail received the lowest response rate with priority mail second. Mailings sent by FedEx received the highest rate of response.
- Follow-up Mail Type with and without Pre-Call – Whether a pre-call was made a day or two before the follow-up notice was received also showed a correlation in response rate. While the data in the previous bullet point holds true, a pre-call boosted response rates for all methods of sending. The effectiveness of the Fed Ex notice increased from a 20% response rate to approximately 33% when a pre-call was made – an increase of about 13%.
- Follow-up calls vs. pre-calls – In general, the study found pre-calls to be more effective than follow-up calls. However, both types of calls increased consumer response rates.
- Inclusion of small gifts such as a novelty magnet – USPS suggests to bulk mailers that increasing the weight of the mailing can increase the opening rate. Unfortunately, including a 4” x 6” magnet with the mailing had no effect on response rates.
- Envelope size – The size of the mailer (the envelope) used to send the notice also showed a modest effect on response rates. Increasing the size of the envelope from a standard 6” x 9” to 9” x 12” yielded a small 2.4% increase in response rates.
- Other follow-up measures – Personal telephone calls and 1st class mail follow-up letters were also tested. The first-class mailer had a moderate effect on response leading to a 6.9% increase in responses. Following a direct personal call to the vehicle owner, the rate improved another 8.6 percent. In all, both interventions combined resulted in a more than 15% increase in responses.
It appears that both follow-up calls and pre-calls have at least some effect in increasing the response rate to vehicle defect notices. However, including a free gift with the mailer appears to have very little impact on whether motorists heed the warning. Whether the problem with the former is the gift itself or gifts in general, may reveal as to whether the gift card giveaway program touted by GM is likely to have a positive impact on recall repair rates.
Used Vehicles are Sold with Open Recalls to Unsuspecting Drivers & Families
Encouraging consumers to repair their recalled vehicles does not only protect the health and safety of the current owner, but it also protects future vehicle owners. Under current federal law, there is no requirement for sellers of used vehicles to fix or even notify new purchasers of known vehicle defects. If the original owner fails to take action and correct the defect, this means that the new owner is often in a position where he or she cannot reasonably know of the defect and thus he or she cannot take action to correct it. Furthermore, if the new owner was aware of the defect, it is unlikely that he or she would have purchased the vehicle in the first place and incurred the costs of fixing a problem the original owner knew about or should have known about. If in the market for a used vehicle, one of the most important things a consumer can do is to search for open recalls by vehicle VIN on NHTSA’s Recall Check website.
The Reiff Law Firm Attorneys Have More than 30 Years of Experience Handling Defective Vehicle Injuries
A recalled and defective vehicle can result in extremely serious injuries to the driver, the vehicle occupants, and even future owners. If you have suffered a serious injury due to a vehicle defect, rely on the personal injury attorneys of The Reiff Law Firm. To schedule a free and confidential initial consultation, call (215) 709-6940 or contact us online.