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

Gao ID: CED-82-99 August 24, 1982

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.


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