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Ignoring Recalls Puts Car Owners at Risk of Fire

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Recalls Cuts Risks

Courtesy HDLI

Vehicle owners risk fires if they do not heed recall notices, according to a new study; and in a related item, the U.S. agency responsible for recalls is understaffed and underbudgeted. In the first story, as David Shepardson writes for The Detroit News, the study, by the Highway Loss Data Institute (a branch of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), examined 2007-12 claims for car fires that were caused not by crashes but by problems in electrical and fuel systems.

The study found that in the years before a recall, insurance claims were 23% higher than for other vehicles, whereas after a recall, the frequency of claims was only 12% higher. And that 12% would be even lower if more owners responded to recall notices, writes Jerry Hirsch for the Los Angeles Times. He notes that fires caused by electrical and fuel problems are a “fairly common” reason for manufacturer recalls.

There have been about 15,000 vehicle recalls of nearly 540 million vehicles since 1966, Shepardson writes. He quotes David J. Friedman, acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

‘For recalls to work, consumers must be aware of them first. To help, NHTSA has required all manufacturers to now use a distinctive label on required mailings to notify owners of recalled vehicles or equipment, making it easier for consumers to recognize important safety recalls.’

HLDI mentioned a recent Carfax study that found that in 2012, almost 2.1 million recalled cars that had not had the necessary repairs went on sale online; and that only accounts for those cars sold online, Shepardson writes. He adds that some countries take steps to make sure car owners get recalled cars repaired. In Germany, for example, a driver’s registration can be cancelled if he or she does not bring a car in after a recall. In 2010, 1,000 registrations were cancelled in Germany, Shepardson writes.

Hirsch quotes John O’Dell, senior editor for, a car shopping website, as saying that consumers should take a few minutes every now and then to check and see if there are any outstanding recalls on vehicles they own or are thinking of buying. “And once a consumer has bought a used car, it’s a good idea to register it with the manufacturer via its website,” O’Dell said, adding that that way, consumers will be in the “recall-communication loop.”

NHTSA logoIn a related news item, Jeff Plungis writes for Bloomberg Businessweek that the NHTSA, the U.S. office responsible for monitoring safety defects in cars, has been hampered by budget shortages and staff cuts. The agency has had its staff reduced by one-fifth since more than a decade ago, when Congress attempted to strengthen it. Safety advocates say that investigators lack the resources to keep up with data and detect patterns, Plungis writes.

Although the number of registered cars in the U.S. rose to 248 million, NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigations shrunk to 51 employees, and its $10 million annual budget has stayed the same since 2005, Plungis reports. He quotes Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety:

‘You look at the number of people working on this, you look at their inadequate funding, and you think to yourself, no wonder this is happening over and over again.’

Legislation was introduced in the Senate this week that “would require NHTSA to publish information it collects now and do so in a searchable, user-friendly format,” Plungis writes. If that legislation is approved, it will make it easier for watchdog groups, competing car companies, and personal injury lawyers to analyze a carmaker’s safety data. Plungis writes:

‘A massive information breakdown at NHTSA has led to deadly vehicle breakdowns on our roads,’ said Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, who along with fellow Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced the legislation [on March 25] to make more defect data available to the public.


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