NHTSA Seeks Ideas on Performing More Recall Fixes

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April 28, 2015—Frustrated that cars recalled for serious safety defects aren't getting fixed quickly enough, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Mark Rosekind hosted a gathering of automakers on Tuesday to search for solutions.

In some recalls for problems as serious as air bags that can spew shrapnel into drivers or fuel tanks that can rupture in a rear-end crash, completion rates are below 15 percent six months or more after the recalls were announced. These recalls involve millions of vehicles, challenging automakers to find both replacement parts and the cars' owners. Regulators at times have fined automakers for dragging their feet. Meanwhile, concerned car owners are left waiting for repairs and worrying about the safety of their vehicle.

In the past three years, 17 million vehicles have been recalled because air bag inflators made by Japanese parts supplier Takata Corp. explode when met with too much force, blowing apart a metal canister. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) said Monday that the problem has caused six deaths and 105 injuries.

Honda, which is Takata's largest customer, said it has fixed just over 1.5 million inflators out of 8.1 million being recalled—a completion rate of 19 percent. Some of the recalls date to 2013. 

Fiat Chrysler said recently it has fixed only a fraction of 1.56 million older-model Jeeps that have gas tanks behind the rear axle, making them vulnerable to puncture in a rear-end crash. The company, which makes Jeeps, said in letters posted in April that just 4 percent of Grand Cherokees and 27 percent of Libertys recalled had gotten the fix—a trailer hitch to protect the tanks in low-speed crashes.

NHTSA may reopen its investigation and says it is considering action against Chrysler to speed up the pace. Chrysler maintains the Jeeps are safer than other vehicles of the era and that it's made extra efforts to reach owners.

GM started slowly because its parts supplier had to equip factories to make the switches for 2.6 million cars like the Chevrolet Cobalt. But GM said that as of early April, 70 percent of the U.S. owners had been in for the service, 14 months after the recalls began. The switches are linked to at least 90 deaths.

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