FCA Backs New Public Education Campaign on Auto Recalls

Last week, the National Safety Council 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.

Safety Marketing

Online advertising will be appearing on used-car, parenting and Facebook sites, with an emphasis on seven southeastern states that have among the highest percentages of open recalls.

At a news conference kicking off the campaign, Hersman said the congressionally chartered National Safety Council hopes to see results similar to its iconic Click It or Ticket campaign, which helped increase seat belt use from 61 percent to 82 percent over a 10-year period in the 1990s and 2000s. General Motors was the lead supporter of that $45 million campaign and included many other industry partners.

“We are optimistic that this campaign will increase awareness and ultimately improve highway safety,” said Mark Chernoby, chief technical compliance officer at FCA. “We want checking for recalls to be as natural for drivers as checking their oil or tire pressure.”

FCA is spending about $1 million to spread the word about recall follow-through, with $200,000 of that going to the NSC, Hersman said.

FCA’s independent efforts will include promotions at county fairs, rodeos and other events to target consumers driving older products and in more rural areas “where some of our larger dealers may not even exist,” Chernoby said.

The Council is seeking automobile companies, other safety organizations and government agencies to join the Check to Protect coalition. The duration of the campaign will depend on how many partners join the effort, Hersman said.

Meeting Obligations

FCA is doing a good job meeting its consent order obligations, Chernoby said in response to a press question.

“We’re not in this campaign because we want to roll up an accounting number in relation to the consent order. It’s got nothing to do with that. We’re into this campaign because we think it’s an extremely important initiative. And we’re also facing a challenging exercise in facing the Takata airbag [recall],” he said.

Takata, the troubled airbag supplier responsible for the largest recall in automotive history, is expected file for bankruptcy protection next week as the industry continues to replace the supplier’s defective airbag inflators around the world.

This article originally appeared on autonews.com

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