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The problem with automobile recalls: Lots of people ignore them

While automakers recall between 20 million and 30 million vehicles every year, millions of those notices go unheeded, are missed or completely ignored as motorists let their own safety ride with older cars and trucks.

Average safety recall "completion rates" are about 75 percent for all vehices, according to data from The Auto Alliance (also known as the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers) - the leading advocacy group for the automotive industry. But the numbers vary widely, for instance, between new motor vehicles (83 percent recall completion rate), and vehicles older than 10 years (29 percent recall completion). Change in ownership, sometimes multiple times, over the course of a vehicle's life makes it more challenging for auto makers to do effective outreach.

Even "mid-life" cars - from 5 to 10 years old - have only a 44 percent completion rate for recalls. A "completion" is considered the point where a recalled make and model vehicle has been remedied. Automakers can be subject to significant fines for not meeting National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) requirements for safety recalls.

An August report from Agero, which provides white-labelled roadside assistance programs and other car owner support services, said the process of reaching vehicle owners through multiple channels is difficult, time-consuming and imperfect.

"Automakers must overcome multiple hurdles as they execute recall campaigns. They are required to quickly notify car owners of the recall, but resources can be limited and the campaigns are typically unforeseen, restricting their ability to scale up rapidly," wrote Jason Peters, Agero's Vice President for Consumer Affairs, in the report called "Rethinking Recalls: Best Practices for Better Outcomes."

Agero suggests automakers must take a comprehensive approach - using multiple steps and strategies - to be as effective as possible with reaching consumers and completing recalls. This includes "contacting customers through a variety of channels and at the time of day when they are most likely to be available," as well as making the repair process more streamlined and easier on the customer. "Follow up as parts become available at dealerships, pick up the vehicle from the owner’s home, and offer loaner cars or alternative transportation," Peters from Agero recommends to auto manufacturers and dealerships.

See the complete "Rethinking Recalls" report here for all six steps in the Agero recommendations.

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