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A Banner Year For Defective Vehicles

Recalls are not the ideal way to handle a defective car or truck. In an ideal world, safety testing would prevent vehicles with dangerous defects from ever reaching consumers. The fact of the matter is that every year, a certain number of potentially dangerous vehicles make their way onto American roads. In 2014, the number of vehicles recalled for potential safety problems reached record numbers. More than 63.9 million vehicles were recalled for a wide variety of concerns, some more serious than others. The number eclipsed the total number of recalls in the three previous years, combined.

Some might suggest that a large number of recalls is a sign that the process is working. If we assume that these defects can't be identified before consumers are put in danger, at least the cars are being recalled once the danger shows itself. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. If a potentially deadly defect is identified in 2014, there is little reason to expect that consumers will know about it or that the vehicle will be recalled prior to 2020. Investigations drag on for years while people are injured in traffic accidents that could have been prevented. Meanwhile, the law supposedly requires auto makers to report safety defects to owners, purchasers and dealers within 5 days of learning of the problem. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was the driving force behind roughly 15 percent of the total number of recalls. In those cases, auto companies often knew of the defect for years and refused to take action. If a repair is costly or there is no known way to fix the problem, the auto companies are likely weighing the cost of wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits against the cost of upholding basic consumer safety standards. That's not the ideal solution if you happen to be the owner of one of the defective vehicles.

Source: The New York Times, "A Record Year of Recalls: Nearly 64 Million Vehicles," by Christopher Jensen, 12 February 2015 

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