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The Evolution of Motor Vehicle Recalls

| Dec 24, 2020 | Auto Recalls |

Motor vehicle recalls are usually headline fodder in all forms of media. Reports receive a great deal of attention due to the notoriety of various automobile manufacturers and the need to provide a public service for vehicle owners.

Recalls cause financial impacts to carmakers on a variety of levels, falling into various categories that include:

  • Voluntary recall – A manufacturer announces an optional recall
  • Voluntary recall over risks of minor injuries – Usually resulting from customer complaints
  • Recall resulting from an NHTSA investigation – Lawsuits often play a role in a defect or design flaw usually involving a significant number of vehicles
  • Recall after results from an NHTSA investigation reveals serious injuries – Also involving numerous vehicles and fines that can severely impact both revenues and reputations

A Shift to Technology

After a spate of bad publicity that eroded consumer trust, vehicle quality came under more intense scrutiny by manufacturers. Recalls were on the downslide as sophisticated technology was being introduced to cars and trucks that now housed digital features. However, with that innovation came more complex systems that began to fail, resulting in record numbers of defects and recalls over faulty software and electronics.

Twenty years of increases in recalls hit a benchmark that few, if any, in the automotive industry saw coming. In 2016, recalls reached 1,000 for the first time. The following year saw 3.1 vehicles recalled for each vehicle sold.

Airbags once dominated recalls for five years, with 71 percent of units having issues before declining. Electrical and electronic (E&E) systems, the proverbial new kid on the block, once made up six percent. Those defects remain on an upward and dangerous trajectory. In 2017 alone, three million vehicles were recalled over technical issues, doubling the number from the previous year.

The number of vehicles per recall has also grown. While once unit numbers rarely reached 30,000 units actually tripled in 2016. Fifty percent involve more than one model, with 14 percent involving more than one brand.

As motor vehicle recalls grow in volume and complexity, open lines of communication with consumers is paramount. The smallest of defects can result in the most catastrophic of consequences.