Study / surveys

Why don’t people get their recalled cars fixed?

When you receive a recall notice from your car’s manufacturer, do you immediately make plans to take it in for repairs? That question lies at the heart of “Consumer Preferences Regarding Vehicle-Related Safety Recalls”, a new paper written by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle from the University of Michigan Sustainable Worldwide Transportation.

To gather data for that paper, Sivak and Schoettle polled 516 American adults. Respondents represented a rough cross-section of U.S. population by age, sex, income, and location.


In the survey, Sivak and Schoettle asked participants about their responses to a wide range of recalls–not just those involving cars, but also recalls related to child seats, appliances, electronics, power tools, food, prescription drugs, and more.


The good, the bad

The good news is that the vast majority of consumers said that they would respond to a recall of their vehicle. In fact, on a scale of 0 (“Definitely would not respond”) to 10 (“Definitely would respond”), 79.8 percent of those polled rated an automobile recall as a 10. An additional 12.1 percent ranked the matter between six and nine on the scale, suggesting that they’d be inclined to have their cars repaired.

Only 4.7 percent said that they wouldn’t be inclined to have their vehicles serviced, including 2.1 percent who said that they’d absolutely refuse to do so. A curious 3.5 percent didn’t know what they’d do.

All told, the figures for auto recalls were higher than for almost any other type of recall apart from tires (which was within a couple of percentage points and therefore within the survey’s margin of error). Consumers were least likely to respond to recalls of outdoor work equipment, household electronics, and power tools, with fewer than 50 percent of respondents putting those in the “Definitely would respond” category.

Also good: the majority of those who had had their products repaired or replaced did so within a few weeks.

That said, the survey did yield a few alarming results. For example, owners of newer cars were far more likely to prioritize repairing their recalled vehicles than owners of older vehicles were. While 82.8 percent of the former group said that they “Definitely would respond” to a car recall, only 50.4 percent of the latter group felt the same.

Also, among respondents who said they’d been notified of a recall, 12.7 percent said that they never bothered to contact the manufacturer for repairs or a replacement. When those folks were asked why they didn’t respond, the most common answer was that they weren’t concerned about the recall.

Room for improvement

So, how can automakers improve their response rates for recalls? Sivak and Schoettle offer some interesting hints.

For example, when asked about the ways in which they preferred to be notified about recalls, 73 percent chose conventional mail. Though respondents could choose multiple methods of notification, snail mail was still number one. (For reference, the number two response, email, was popular with 64.3 percent of participants.)

That suggests that even though there’s a push toward moving recall notices online, eliminating postal mail would almost certainly reduce the number of consumers who respond to recalls./


  1. Billy says:

    The other side of this issue is why are the Auto Manufacturers allowed to get away with not including ALL the V.I.N. numbers in the recall of vehicles that are affected by faulty parts or assembly ? A good example is the Ford recall # 04S16 NHTSA # 04V328000 affecting 2003 Lincolns, Fords and Mercurys that are not only privately owned but still in service in Police fleets. The recall was due to rear axle shafts that were inadequately heat treated allowing the wheel bearings to cut into the axle shaft surface with potential catastrophic results. NHTSA site records many complaints from owners saddled with large repair bills about cars experiencing this problem but not included in the range of V.I.N. numbers that Ford recalled.

  2. murray says:

    Recalls should be tracked by a vehicle’s registration. Any recalls not fixed should be listed, and the vehicle owners should have to have them fixed within a reasonable period to renew their registrations

  3. Melan says:

    Like the Air Bag issue. Took Honda a while to get the parts to replace mine. I would have any recall fixed right away, but if the parts aren’t yet available, then you wait.

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