Vehicle Recalls Are on the Rise, Study Finds

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Vehicle recalls in America hit record numbers in 2016 – both in the number of problems and the quantity of cars and trucks affected. A recent study shows that changes in auto manufacturer priorities have put quality in the back seat.

The Corporate consulting firm Alix Partners, LLP, recently published a report, “The auto industry’s growing recall problem – and how to fix it.” The report, released in January 2018, reviewed trends in vehicle recalls from 1995 to 2016. The overwhelming pattern was that cost cutting had undercut the auto manufacturing industry’s quality control efforts, shifting the burden to consumers in the form of vehicle recalls.

Vehicle Recalls by the Numbers

In 2016, auto manufacturers selling vehicles in the United States participated in 919 recall campaigns according to the National Highway Safety Administration. Those recalls affected a total of 53.1 million vehicles. That included 23 million GM cars and trucks with ignition switch issues or Takata airbag recalls.

Alix Partners says that these two massive recall efforts, which made headlines throughout 2016, are masking a bigger, and more disturbing increase in increased vehicle recalls. Recalls to fix electronic or electrical system issues have grown 30% in recent years. Many of these recalls come from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and can span a variety of makes and models.

Unlike manufacturing defects, which may be limited to cars produced at a particular factory within a certain span of time, systems-based recalls usually affect 100% of vehicles models in question. These recalls are the result of problems in the software used to run the car’s on-board computer, cabin comfort, safety features, or entertainment features. As OEMs use global platforms, issues with their software can affect millions of vehicles at once.

Lack of Quality Control Blamed for Vehicle Recall Trends

The Alix Partners study went beyond the numbers, trying to nail down the cause of all the vehicle recalls. Its report notes that recalls cost US-based auto manufactures and OEMs billions of dollars in 2016, including $11.8 billion in claims and $10.3 billion in warranty and recall accruals. It found the source of the problem in the companies’ quality control departments, or lack thereof.

The report found that companies have prioritized sales volume, customer satisfaction, and profit over the quality of their vehicles. This is a trend that has been in the making since the financial crisis. When auto manufacturers’ were facing loss of profits, many took deep cuts in quality control. Many OEMs and auto suppliers cut their investments, and their quality control personnel, by 30% to 50%. But even though the car-buying market has recovered in years since, funding and staffing levels have remained low.

Alix Partners went so far as to say companies don’t understand the total cost of quality control options. They have trouble conceiving of the cost of quality or placing a priority on finding issues before vehicles and components hit the market. They don’t take the time to identify and eliminate the root causes of quality failures. This can lead to manufacturers putting unsafe vehicles on the road, and in the hands of consumers.

Vehicle Recall Notices Don’t Ensure Safety

When manufacturers take short cuts on quality control, they treat vehicle recalls like band-aids. Even though manufacturers promise to repair or replace recalled vehicles and systems, it is up to consumers to bring the car in for service. Vehicle recall notices are easy to ignore and inconvenient to respond to, so many people drive unsafe vehicles for months or years before the defect is corrected. Used car owners, or those who receive cars as a gift, may never even receive the notice to begin with. Instead, they must be proactive – going to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recall lookup site to find what repairs must be made.

The vehicle recall process covers everything from minor inconveniences to life-threatening safety concerns. By cutting corners on quality control and relying on vehicle recalls to correct the errors they miss, auto manufacturers put motorists at risk of serious auto accidents and undercut consumer confidence in the auto industry as a whole.

At Macomb Law Group, our product liability attorneys know that defective cars and trucks can cause serious harm that won’t be fixed with a vehicle recall. If you have been injured by a defective vehicle, contact Macomb Law Group and get our team working for you.



  • James Spagnuolo

    I began working in personal injury law more than 20 years ago, starting as a law clerk during my first year of law school at Wayne State University School of Law in Detroit. After passing the bar exam in 2002, I went on to become a partner at a series of law firms before opening the Macomb Law Group in 2017.

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