How do car recalls benefit buyers?

recallsSo far, for this decade there have been less than half the number of car recalls from the previous decade. Yet, from all of the hype, one would think that there is nothing but safety problems on the road and that any car that is recalled is a potential death trap. But that just isn’t true. There are a couple of developments that are causing this phenomenon and it is actually good news.

Car recalls are a common part of car-ownership and it is a sign that the safety system is working the way it should. True, there are more recalls than there used to be, but safety and the quality of cars have both improved in recent years. In general a recall notice provides peace of mind, it means the manufacturer or the government agency involved have decided that the defect in the vehicle is of concern and they want to make sure it never causes an issue.

Cars are more complex, so there are more components that can fail and Consumers have more ways to complain. We have access, electronically and instantly, to a global network that wasn’t available in the early ’90s.”
           Sean Kane, President
Safety Research & Strategies Inc.

Most car recalls, aren’t a big deal. For instance, in 2013, automakers recalled almost 22 million vehicles — that’s about 40% more than all the new cars sold last year. However, almost none of those recalls made the news, since most required a quick trip to the dealer for a routine fix at the manufacturer’s expense. Interestingly one major manufacturer led the list with about 5.3 million vehicles recalled in 2013. That same manufacturer also faired well in Consumer Reports and J.D. Power surveys, so you could make the case that there is little to no connection between recalls and poor quality. If anything, a higher number of recalls might indicate the opposite.

In 2013 the total number of vehicles recalled by major automakers was the highest it’s been since 2004. In the ‘90’s recalls were relatively uncommon, but in the mid part of that decade they hit an elevated level and stayed there ever since. Some people feel that this reflects a greater attention by regulators, however, other trends may have more to do with it: an increase of new technology in cars and an increased availability of information to consumers on the Internet.

Recall HistoryThe digital revolution transformed automobiles improved performance, efficiency and safety, but also made cars a lot more complicated. Cars have become mobile computers that use millions of lines of code. That code affects the throttle, braking, steering, transmission and any other systems that have gone from mechanical (analog) linkages to electronic controls. This has improved performance, efficiency and safety, but it’s also made cars much more complicated.

Case in point a recent analysis shows that about 20% of the recalls in 2013 were for air bags — which barely existed 20 years ago and are large complex systems.  Also, up to one-third of the 2013 recalls were related to electrical systems, things like seat heaters, automatic tailgates, sliding doors, and video systems. Some of the recalls were for things owners might notice — interior lights, blurred digital readouts, or weak A/C systems — these are not things that can cause harm.

Automakers are also more eager to fix issues due to social media and quality rankings. With the advent of third party rating sites like Edmunds or KBB it’s very easy for a buyer to get up-to-date info on how other owners regard their vehicles.  These new “dis-interested third party” rating sites have become a greater factor in the purchase process.  The availability of ratings and in-depth vehicle info has giving automakers more reasons to fix issues.

So, yes, there have been a few attention getting car recalls along with news grabbing manufacturer oversights and they’re obscuring the fact that driving is getting statistically safer. For the record the total number of traffic deaths in the U.S. peaked in 2006 at over 43,000, but since then it has fallen to less 33,000. Due in large part, to life-saving new technologies and perhaps even more aggressive recalls.  So as consumers we should all be happy when our manufacturer recalls our vehicle, it means the system is working and we are more safe than ever. 

 

 

About Krystal Koons

Krystal Koons is the spokesperson for Jim Koons Automotive Companies, one of the country's largest privately-held dealership groups headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area. Visit us at www.koons.com.

Posted on May 28, 2014, in Automotive, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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