Vehicle Recall Records Offer Opportunity for Aftermarket

March 1, 2016
As NHTSA recalls reach an all-time high, industry experts say vehicle defects don’t need to lead your customers back to the dealership

Addressing the audience at the North American International Auto Show in January, Mark Rosekind detailed the rise of vehicle recalls across the U.S. auto industry.

According to Rosekind, the administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 51 million vehicles were recalled in 2015— an all-time high that included nearly 900 separate recalls initiated by either manufacturers or the NHTSA. Then, there was the record amount of fines; a staggering $175 million penalty to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and a $40 million fee to BMW North American, among the most notable.

Rosekind said during the Detroit event that this isn’t due to neglectful manufacturing, nor a country-full of roadways clogged with unsafe vehicles. Rather, he said the record numbers are due to more stringent oversight by his organization and the full industry- wide shock wave caused by the Takata airbag scandal.

Due to advanced technology, vehicles today are safer than they ever have been, Rosekind said, but there is still plenty of room for improvement—both in terms of preventing minor vehicle defects from turning into full-blown recall issues, and in getting defects addressed and fixed. 

This is where you and your business come in, says Bill Haas of Haas Performance Consulting. Haas, a longtime consultant and former shop owner who has served in a leadership capacity for numerous industry organizations, says that recalls are not a dealership or automaker issue.

Recalls are a customer issue.

“These are your customers whose vehicles are being recalled or have defects and issues,” he says. “These are the people you’ve spent your time and energy earning the trust of. Why would you want to leave it up to a dealer, or send them to a dealer, to get a recall issue fixed?”

According to NHTSA data, only 75 percent of all recalled vehicles are fixed by automakers and their dealerships within 18 months of the recall being issued. A quarter go unrepaired.

“Vehicle recalls are a serious safety issue and they’re an opportunity for you to be there for your customers,” Haas says. “Be that trusted shop to them, and [the process] to do that is very, very simple.”


FCA went years without disclosing known vehicle defects to the NHTSA

and consumers. General Motors had its well-publicized ignition switch scandal. BMW acted slowly in its Mini recall. And Volkswagen had its emissions issue—one in which the company was found to have intentionally deceived regulators.

This isn’t just automakers behaving badly, though, Rosekind explains. After receiving its own share of criticism in recent years for laxed enforcement, the NHTSA has worked to increase its oversight on vehicle safety. And after back-to-back record years of recalls, it appears the organization is taking that task very seriously.

In 2014, 803 recalls were initiated, totalling just under 51 million vehicles. (Numbers were originally reported above 64 million vehicles, but Rosekind said in January that it has since been lowered to account for vehicles involved in multiple recalls). Then, there were the increased numbers in 2015.

For context, just 22.1 million vehicles were recalled in 2013; 11.2 million vehicles if you look back 10 years ago to 2006 totals.

Now, the goal, according to the NHTSA, is to begin catching defects before they turn into recalls. The orga- nization has partnered with 18 vehicle manufacturers to share data that can lead to the discovery of safety concerns, a process that’s been compared to the FAA’s safety management system.

“[R]eal safety means finding and fixing defects before someone gets hurt, rather than just punishing manufactur- ers after the damage is done,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx wrote in announcing what he called an “historic agreement.” “It’s a new way of doing business for everybody, and new ways don’t come easily. But that's what you have to do to when the mission you share—making sure Americans can get safely to and from their destination every time they get in their car—is so important.”


Be the messenger, Haas says. That’s Step 1.

“I want to capture that customer and use every opportunity I can to stay in touch with that customer, and this creates another one of those touch points,” he says. “If I see there’s a recall for a specific make/model/year, I know I can search my customer database and find all my customers that have that make/model/year of car. I can touch that customer and make them aware of the recall sooner than they’d hear about it from the manufacturer.”

Currently, the manufacturer only has one way to send out recall notifi- cations, and that’s by traditional mail. (Rosekind did say recently that the NHTSA is working to add other modes of communication to its notification process.)

So, reach out to your customer before the automaker does, Haas says. The information is available to everyone through the NHTSA website. That early contact not only helps your shop engage that customer, it also displays an awareness your team has for the vehicles you service, Haas says. It builds trust.

From there, Haas says to utilize a process he used years ago at his own shop regarding automaker warranty work.

“The last thing I ever wanted was to send a customer to a competitor, and that dealer is your competitor,” he says. “So, we’d handle the entire process for them. If you have a vehicle in that has a recall, notify the customer. Let them know that you’ve identified it and already have it set up with the dealer to drop off their vehicle, pick it back up and have an invoice ready for them for their records.”

Take the dealership contact out of it for the customer, Haas says. Act as the go-between. When notifying customers who aren’t already in the shop, Haas says to call or use email to notify them, and explain that you will set it all up for them; the customer only has to deal with you.

“It really is that simple,” he says. “And, sure, you might be offering free work this time around, but you’re keeping that customer and avoiding them having an experience at the dealer—good or bad. That’s your customer.” 

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