About 63 million cars, one out of every six, are on the road with an unfixed safety recall. Some of the needed repairs are minor issues that will not lead to an accident, but others are far more serious. Legally, a car can be sold even if there is an outstanding recall. The owner of a car does not have to get the recall repairs done. They may not even know there is a recall outstanding. If a car has changed hands multiple times, state privacy laws and varying or complicated Department of Motor Vehicles’ systems can make it difficult to notify the current car owner of the recall. There is also a phenomenon known as “recall fatigue,” where a car has had so many notices for recalls, owners start to ignore new notices. Even if the car owner is found and then notified, the repairs may not be made if the local dealership’s service department does not have the required parts. The car then goes back on the road until the parts can be obtained.
Motor safety groups are clamoring for a change in policy. Recently, several auto consumer groups brought a lawsuit against the Federal Trade Commission to keep car dealers from advertising and selling pre-owned cars with outstanding safety recalls. One company, Recall Masters, is trying to help the situation. The company uses data mining to find current vehicle owners who can then be notified of their car’s recall. To turn a profit, the company sells the data found about car owners to car dealerships for their own records. The dealership may also use the company’s call center to start the process, calling the car owners to let them know about the recall. One larger auto chain, AutoNation, had declared that it will not sell vehicles with an open recall. Soon after the policy began, there was an airbag recall that affected so many vehicles AutoNation could not find enough parts. They changed the policy and now disclose the needed recalls via a sticker placed on the affected car. Consumers can attempt to find out if a potential purchase has any outstanding recalls by visiting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website safercar.gov or the nonprofit consumer site motorsafety.org and entering the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).