March 12th, 2010
04:08 PM ET

How effective are auto recall campaigns?

The new year brought a rash of recalls. Since January millions of cars have been recalled from major manufacturers and horror stories of malfunctioning autos have filled the airwaves. As many owners rushed to get the requisite fixes, CNN Fact Check Desk wondered: what happens to the cars that are not fixed?

Fact Check: What makes a recall campaign successful and what percentage of consumers typically respond?

–According to Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer watchdog organization co-founded by Ralph Nader, the larger the recall the fewer consumers who will respond. Recalls involving older model cars also have lower response rates, Ditlow said.

–According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration historically twenty-five percent of drivers ignore announced recalls. The Recall Management Division of the NHTSA, monitors recall efforts "to ensure that the scope is appropriate and that the recall completion rate and remedy are adequate."

–Under federal law, manufacturers have three options to remedy the safety defects involved in recalls. They can repair the defect, provide a replacement or give a refund. If either the remedies or the recall communications are deemed insufficient, the NHTSA can require further efforts.

–Victor Schwartz, a lawyer with the firm Shook Hardy & Bacon who specializes in advising companies on recall campaigns, says that companies must use all viable means to contact affected customers. According to Schwartz, reaching car owners is much simpler than reaching those who have purchased other recalled products "No one knows who the soup buyers are at grocery stores," he said.

–Also vital, according to Schwartz, is communicating efficiently. "You need to be crystal clear as to what is involved in the recall." Once the consumers have been reached, companies must have a plan on how to advise the consumers. "Should you tell the consumer to drive to the dealership? Not if the defect will cause the car to blow up!"

Bottom Line:

Normally the rate of response for recalls does not exceed 75 percent. If the recall affects older makes and models, contacting owners directly can pose a challenge because the cars may have changed owners. Drivers wanting to stay abreast of recall efforts can subscribe to recall alerts from the NHTSA.

–CNN's AJ Jenkins contributed to this report.

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