I recently had a conversation with Joan Claybrook, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about the extremely low rate of recalled vehicles that actually get repaired.
I have heard some pretty low compliance numbers over the years -- less than 20 percent on some recalls, depending on how serious the consumers consider the situation.
But even on the most serious recalls, the percentage of owners who get their cars and trucks fixed is mighty low -- even with the manufacturer paying the tab.
Joan's suggestion is so simple it makes you wonder why it hasn't been tried: If a vehicle hasn't had all recall repairs made, the owner can't register it to operate on the road.
If it's a trade-in, the new owner would be unable to register the vehicle, so it would behoove the dealer to make sure everything is up to snuff. The same would apply for a private-party sale. Either the buyer or seller would have to make sure all recall work had been completed before the vehicle is registered to the new owner.
And vehicle owners would be unable to renew their registration without making sure all recall fixes have been made.
Today, every recall starts with a computer run of vehicle identification numbers and Polk registration data to make sure every affected owner is contacted. So it would be easy to determine whether all recalled vehicles have been repaired.
Recalls are issued for a reason. If there is something unsafe about a vehicle, I don't think anyone believes it's OK to ignore the recall notice. Whatever the circumstances, those vehicles need to be fixed -- and sooner rather than later.
Requiring vehicles to be repaired before they receive new state registrations makes a lot of sense. Each state will need legislation to make it happen, but with the help of the National Automobile Dealers Association and state dealer organizations it should be possible to get all 50 states on board.
The industry has a commitment to notify owners when vehicles are recalled. It also needs to do everything possible to encourage compliance with those recalls.
The automobile industry owes this to its customers.