ORLANDO — More than 70 million cars and trucks under recall in the United States for dangerous safety defects are not fixed. Getting these vehicles into franchised dealerships' service bays for repairs would save many lives.
Recall work can build dealer service
That's the message from Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, who spoke at Automotive News' second annual Fixed Ops Journal Forum here last month.
He said recall work offers an underused opportunity for dealerships to attract and keep large numbers of service customers by identifying their shops as the place for safe repairs.
Industry studies show that owners tend to ditch dealerships in favor of aftermarket service providers once factory warranties expire and vehicles are more than 5 years old, he noted.
"We want those cars to go to you," Levine told his audience of fixed operations professionals. "The only place that defects are addressed, and the only place that recalls are addressed, are your shops" — that is, dealerships' factory-authorized service centers.
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader formed the independent, nonprofit Center for Auto Safety in 1970 after the recall of the Chevrolet Corvair, whose deadly defects Nader had brought to Americans' attention.
The group has advocated tougher federal safety standards for vehicles along with state lemon laws. It seeks to end sales of unsafe vehicles and parts and to force public disclosure of automakers' "secret warranties," which it says should require formal recalls.
Levine emphasized that "recalls are not cosmetic — no one's doing a recall for chipped paint." Yet many owners of recalled vehicles still don't know that recall repairs by dealerships are free, he said.
Another obstacle, Levine added, is that automakers often fail to identify second and third owners of vehicles and notify them of recalls. He said his group is seeking broader electronic notification of all owners about recalls, along with mailed notices.
But despite prodding by Congress, Levine added, NHTSA has not developed regulations mandating such notification. He said he would not give NHTSA a passing grade for its performance and industry oversight during the Trump administration.
Levine acknowledged complaints by many dealers that the reimbursement rates automakers pay dealerships for recall repairs are inadequate for the cost of the work.
"We don't want the dealer to have to make a moral decision: 'It comes out of our pocket if we fix this, but we know it's unsafe to put it back on the road,' " Levine said. "That's not supposed to be part of the deal."
Levine noted that vehicle crashes kill about 40,000 people and cause nearly 2 million serious injuries in the United States each year. Car-crash deaths are the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 5 and 25, he said.
Recall repairs place dealership service departments on the front lines of vehicle safety, he said.
Fixing defective cars and trucks can build strong bonds of loyalty and trust between customers and dealerships, he added.
"Here's an opportunity to engage with someone because of the recall — to rebuild and renew relationships," Levine said.
"The repairs you provide, the fixes you do, the service campaigns you undertake, which should be recalls, can and will save lives.
"Not all heroes wear capes," he said, "but a lot wear coveralls."
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.