Changes to the Motor Vehicle Recall Program Could Reduce Potential Safety Hazards

CED-82-99: Published: Aug 24, 1982. Publicly Released: Aug 24, 1982.

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GAO reported on the Motor Vehicle Recall Program's safety defect investigation process and its owner response rates. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which administers the program, conducts defect investigations of approximately 50 to 70 percent of the recalled motor vehicles, and the motor vehicle industry voluntarily initiates investigations of the remaining recalls. Since 1966, about 128 million motor vehicles, tires, and other related replacement items have been recalled because of safety defects. GAO reviewed the recall program to determine if: (1) NHTSA could hasten its safety defect identification process; and (2) the number of owners responding to recalls could be increased.

GAO found that NHTSA investigations often take years to complete, while vehicles continue to be exposed to possible safety deficiencies. The average time for each case in the NHTSA Office of Chief Counsel is approximately 14 months. As a result of delays, information to support some case findings often has to be updated. GAO also found that about 50 percent of the owners notified of potential safety defects do not take their vehicles in for inspection and/or correction. A 1980 survey indicated that some owners do not respond to recalls because they do not perceive the defect as a problem or do not believe the recall is important. GAO believes that the reason behind those perceptions and beliefs could be that the recall letters are too difficult for many owners to understand.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should instruct the Administrator, NHTSA, to take corrective action to speed up the defect investigation process by reducing delays caused by the Office of Chief Counsel review. Specifically, the Administrator should look at whether better coordination and more direct communication between the Office of Defects Investigation and the Office of Chief Counsel could achieve this goal and how specific review time frames could be established to eliminate further delays.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Associate Administrator for Enforcement stated that research was completed and that the tests did not show much improvement. NHTSA is considering testing another change which may increase the recall response rate. This would delete the requirement that the manufacturer state that a defect was determined. If both changes are appropriate, they would be made into a single-regulation revision.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should instruct the Administrator, NHTSA, to work with motor vehicle manufacturers to change the wording and format in a recall letter to lower its reading level and test the revised letter in an actual recall to determine its effectiveness in increasing response rates.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Associate Administrator for Enforcement stated that research testing was completed on this recommendation and showed that post card notifications resulted in a 2- to 4-percent improvement in the recall response rate. He said that the Department of Transportation does not have the authority to require such notifications, so NHTSA may request legislation providing that authority.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should instruct the Administrator, NHTSA, to work with motor vehicle manufacturers to test various reminder techniques in actual recalls to determine whether they increase response rates and are cost-effective.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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