5 On Your Side

Carfax estimates 1 in 6 NC vehicles has open recall

Posted November 25, 2014

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— The U.S. Government called for a nationwide airbag recall, but Japanese manufacturer Takata claims its not necessary. The company isn't budging to pressure to expand the recall beyond mostly southern states. Whether it's Takata, Toyota or GM, safety recalls have impacted millions of car owners this year.

Recalls caught fire this year after the GM ignition switch issues. Estimates by Carfax show 1 out of at least every 6 vehicles in North Carolina has an open safety recall. Getting owners to get it fixed is one problem. GM recently offered gift cards to get people to the dealer. The concern is not just for the driver – it's for anyone riding next to them.

“The GM ignition switch and all the attention on it and the fact that GM had covered it up for so many years made all the auto makers take a fresh look at their vehicles, and the recalls just started coming out of the closet,” said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

Ditlow says Toyota's record $1.2 billion fine in March was a wake-up call for the entire auto industry.

"The American public doesn't expect a perfect car when they buy it, but they do expect it to be repaired quickly when there is a defect in the vehicle,” he said.

A quick repair did not happen for Rick Hickman. His 2007 Pontiac G5 had the GM ignition switch problem. Between him and his son, they had three accidents in the car, causing thousands of dollars in damage. After the crashes, Hickman says he repeatedly questioned why the airbags didn’t deploy but never got an answer.

Hickman says he feels lucky he and his son walked away from the crashes, knowing that, for others, that was not the case.

“They knew they had a problem. They knew they were going to have to fix it eventually,” Hickman said. “Why 10 years? Why so many lives lost?”

Many viewers have complained to 5 On Your Side about long waits and little information. One viewer, Betty Kingsberry, blamed a defect for three separate crashes in her GM vehicle. The third one happened while she was waiting for the recalled part to come in, she said.

John Hartley, of Cary, said the ignition switch fix took four months. Betty Ann Suss, a 75-year-old widow from Willow Spring, said she felt “isolated” when her recalled car couldn't be repaired for eight weeks. Her request for a rental car was denied, and her insurance company warned that if something happened, she'd be at fault.

“Clearly, there are too many recalls where it’s taking months, if not years, to make parts available,” Ditlow said.

With millions of recalled cars on the road, Ditlow says it’s a very serious problem “because every single car that has an outstanding recall in it has a safety defect that could cause a death, injury (or) crash of that vehicle.”

Buyers of used cars may also face recall issues. Under the law, cars don't have to first be fixed, and buyers don't have to be told. Phillip Godfrey says he didn't find out this Chevy HHR had a recalled ignition switch until after he bought it.

“Yeah, it's a used car. I understand you want to get it out of there quick, but you still need to check over it and make sure everything is good, make sure there's no safety issues,” he said.

To find out if your vehicle has an open safety recall, go to SaferCar.gov and enter your Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN. Also, any time you get your vehicle serviced at a dealership for anything, even an oil change, ask them to check for recalls. If parts aren’t available right away, stay on top of it.

Ditlow advises car owners to cut down on usage if their car has an open recall and don’t let a teenage driver use the vehicle until it’s fixed.

"Become the squeaky wheel. Complain to the dealer. Complain to the manufacturer. Complain to government,” Ditlow said.

That's what Hickman did. He repeatedly called and even contacted Ditlow. Within a couple days of that call, but still four months after he first questioned the problem, his car was fixed. For him, though, it's all still too little, too late for too many people.

"I saw a bumper sticker that said ‘GM's alive,’ but it's unfortunate that some of their customers are not, and I can tell you one thing, I would not buy another GM product as long as I live,” Hickman said.

GM's CEO Mary Barra has testified before Congress, apologizing for what's happened and promising changes to keep it from happening again. She told Senators that GM is "dramatically enhancing (its) approach to safety."

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