Consumers are ambivalent about recalls. Slightly more than half of motorists – 56 percent – bring their vehicles in for repairs after receiving a recall notice, according to new data from AutoTrader. That means more than 4 in 10 cars with safety flaws don't get repaired.
Even that number sounds optimistic to Paul Nadjarian, CEO of Mojo Motors, another car-shopping website. "In a study we did last year of nearly 20,000 email messages to car dealers, not a single person mentioned the word 'recall' despite recalls playing a prominent role in the news," he said.
While that study may need a refresh in light of this week's news that global supplier Takata will recall approximately 34 million vehicles that may contain airbags that shower occupants with lethal fragments of shrapnel upon deploying, it nonetheless underscores the nonchalance which customers have for recalls. Here's a complete list of makes and models affected by the Takata recall.
General Motors issued 84 recalls for almost 27 million cars in 2014, but customers hardly stopped considering purchasing cars from the leading domestic automaker. Overall sales have risen 5.1 percent between March 2014 and March 2015. Chevrolet, the brand at the center of the deadly ignition-switch problems, saw sales rise 0.6 percent over the same time period.
If customers haven't paid attention to the recalls, the federal agency that regulates automotive safety has at least noticed their disinterest. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hosted a workshop for automakers and safety advocates aimed at raising the recall completion rates.
"While NHTSA has worked hard to improve our processes for identifying vehicle safety defects, simply identifying problems isn't enough," agency administrator Mark Rosekind said. "Recent high-profile recalls have taught us important lessons about the obstacles to higher completion rates."
Ignoring recalls can have real-life consequences. Safety advocate Sean Kane, founder of Safety Research & Strategies, says in 77 percent of the cases in which Takata airbag explosions killed or injured drivers, the vehicles had already been recalled but not yet repaired.
NHTSA established a new website last year that allows drivers to enter their Vehicle Identification Numbers and see whether there are open recalls on their cars. In a possible sign consumers actually are now starting to pay attention, the website was experiencing a high volume of traffic Friday and not functioning. While it's a step in making the process easier for consumers overall, it comes with the caveat that it's not updated with real-time information.
It can take days, or in some cases, weeks for the latest recalls announced by manufacturers to reach NHTSA's website. So customers who are curious about whether a recall affects their car after hearing about it on the news are urged to check the site more than once.
For example, the list of the latest vehicles affected by the ongoing Takata recalls may not yet be in the system. AutoTrader.com's Brian Mooday said, "the lesson here is that being mindful of recalls is an ongoing and important part of vehicle ownership."