The New Jersey car accident attorneys at Breslin and Breslin are reporting that tens of millions of U.S. motorists are driving vehicles that have been recalled because of potential safety issues but have not yet been brought to a dealership for repair, according to a new study.
Colorado-based Carfax, which sells automobile history reports, examined state vehicle registration data to determine that more than 46 million cars, trucks and SUVs in the United States have at least one outstanding recall that has not been addressed by a qualified repair service. In New Jersey, nearly 1.3 million of 6.5 million registered vehicles have been recalled but not repaired, nearly one in five vehicles.
"Either the manufacturers' letters are not getting to the car owners, or they are being ignored," said Christopher Basso, a Carfax spokesman. "One of the most alarming things is that minivans and SUVs, which are family-oriented vehicles, have the highest chance of having an unfixed recall." Nationwide, one out of every three minivans and one of every four SUVs have unresolved recall issues, he said.
New Jersey ranked 11th in the country by number of vehicles with unresolved safety recalls, according to Carfax. The percentage of recalled-but-not-yet-repaired vehicles to total registered vehicles in New Jersey was 19.7 percent, the seventh-highest rate among the 50 states, Basso said.
The ratios were fairly consistent across the country, all falling within a range of about two percentage points, he said. The states with highest percentages were New York, West Virginia and Michigan, he said.
Although crash tests and highway fatality statistics show that automobiles are, in general, safer than ever, the numbers of safety recalls have been on the rise amid heightened public scrutiny.
High-profile government investigations into whether manufacturers have been doing enough to make the public aware of defective auto parts linked to highway fatalities, such as General Motors' faulty ignition switches that turned off engines in moving cars, have made carmakers more proactive in initiating recalls, industry experts say.
Nearly 64 million vehicles were recalled last year, a record.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced at the end of January the recall of more than 2.1 million Acura, Dodge, Jeep, Honda, Pontiac and Toyota vehicles for a defect that may cause air bags to deploy inadvertently. It is the second recall over the same issue as the fix used in the previous recall was not always effective. About 1 million Toyota and Honda vehicles involved in the new recall are also subject to a recall related to defective Takata air bags that can deploy with enough explosive force to cause injury or death.
Although dealers are prohibited by law from selling new automobiles that have an unresolved recall issue, used-car dealers, individual sellers of used cars and rental car companies have no such requirement. Nor are they required to disclose open recalls to customers.
According to Carfax, 5 million of the 46 million recalled and unrepaired vehicles were resold in 2014.
Despite efforts of manufacturers to notify current owners, sometimes these notifications fall through the cracks.
The consequences can be deadly.
Last month, Carlos Solis died after the Takata air bag in his 2002 Honda Accord, acquired from a Texas used-car dealer, deployed in an accident, ruptured and sent a piece of metal into his neck.
Solis' death was one of six linked to the defective air bags used by a number of automakers. His family has filed a lawsuit against the dealer alleging Solis was not informed the car was recalled and not fixed.
Federal law requires car companies to notify owners of a recall within 60 days of finding a safety defect. But there's no such requirement that new owners be contacted if the car has been resold. The onus falls on consumers to find out if their vehicle has been recalled, and they can do so through manufacturers' and the federal government's websites.
State regulators, which register vehicles and issue license plates, are not in the loop.
"Unfortunately, recall notices are attached to VIN numbers and not to registrations, because vehicles may pass from one owner to another," the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission said in an emailed statement.
"MVC has always stressed that consumers should be diligent about the maintenance of their vehicles and do their homework before and after the purchase of a car," the statement said.
"I don't think a lot of people perceive that [a recall notice] is a safety thing, and for them it's just an inconvenience," said Rick DeSilva, owner of a Hyundai dealership in Mahwah and a Subaru dealership in Oradell, both of which sell new and used vehicles.
DeSilva said the staff at his dealerships check to see if used vehicles are on a recall list before they are resold.
"Anyone who wants to keep their good reputation is getting [the repairs] done," he said.
Foxx, the Transportation secretary, has been urging Congress to pass legislation to prohibit used-car dealers and rental car companies from renting or selling recalled, unrepaired vehicles. Used-car dealers not affiliated with manufacturers have opposed such legislation in part because they have had more difficulty determining if a car is on a recall list.
Independent dealers have "no more control over the recall process or access to recall information than consumers do," said Andy Friedlander, director of communications for the Arlington, Texas-based National Independent Automobile Dealers Association, which has 16,000 members.
Also, independent dealers must take recalled vehicles to manufacturers' franchise dealers for repair, and those franchisees are often direct competitors.
Used-car dealers also say the federal government's database of recall information, launched last summer, is overly labor intensive, allowing users to look up only one car at a time, using a vehicle's 17-digit VIN number.
Steve Jordan, the dealer group's chief executive officer, has said the association may support a used-car dealer recall disclosure law if the database would allow his organization's members to check more than one number at a time.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a New Jersey car accident, contact the trusted and experienced Breslin and Breslin car accident attorneys today for a free consulation. Victims of accidents caused by someone else's negligence may be eligible for compensation for damages including but not limited to lost wages, medical bills and pain and suffering.