WASHINGTON -- The National Safety Council on Thursday launched Check To Protect, a national campaign to encourage drivers to check for and quickly resolve open recalls on their vehicles.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is providing initial funding for an online tool and advertising to help comply with broad terms of a 2015 consent agreement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that resolved alleged lax handling of nearly two dozen recalls over several years.
Getting greater recall response rates has proved vexing for automakers even though repairs are done for free at authorized dealerships. Having vehicles on the road with outstanding defects is a liability for car companies by potentially exposing them to large claims, and bad publicity, if the defect contributes to an accident.
"Too many drivers are complacent when it comes to recalls, or they are unsure whether their car is subject to one. Check To Protect should help close that knowledge gap and, by extension, make our roads safer," National Safety Council President Deborah Hersman said in a statement.
More than 53 million vehicles -- about a quarter of the total on U.S. roads -- are operating with unresolved safety recalls, according to NHTSA. Automakers legally are required to send letters to owners within 60 days of a recall notifying them about the defect and how to get it fixed. Recalls involve outreach efforts, having adequate replacement parts on hand and inducing owners to bring their vehicle in for repairs. Efforts to narrow the number of open recalls varies by manufacturer.
The problem is most acute among owners of older and used vehicles. According to automotive trade groups, 83 percent of owners with newer vehicles get their cars fixed under a recall, but the compliance rate drops to 44 percent for vehicles five to 10 years old. Older vehicles tend to be resold, and tracking down non-original owners is a challenge.
FCA acknowledged in 2015 that it failed to provide prompt remedies in three recall campaigns and to keep up with federal reporting and notification requirements governing recalls. Under the consent agreement, FCA is obligated to spend $20 million on internal controls, supplier training, product buybacks, industry education and raising awareness about the safety reason for recalls and how to address them.
FCA said it commissioned a survey in December showing about one-third of owners of older vehicles (sample size of 1,000) received a recall on their vehicle, but 40 percent of them said they wait to take a car in for repairs rather than fixing it immediately, while 5 percent said they wouldn't take their car in at all.
The National Safety Council created a website, www.checktoprotect.org, where drivers enter their vehicle identification number to find out the recall status of their vehicle. The site links back to a tool already available on the NHTSA website. Check To Protect also will begin running advertisements in July encouraging drivers to check the recall status of their vehicles.