HLDI Study Highlights the Importance of Vehicle Safety Recalls

A recent study shows the importance of heeding manufacturer recalls of defective vehicles. The results certainly apply to drivers of recently-recalled GM vehicles, whose defects have been linked with several deaths.

The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) conducted a study of insurance claims on vehicles due to fires unrelated to crashes. The vehicles were divided into two categories: a group of those for which a recall was issued due to fire-related defects, and the control group, for which no such recalls were issued.

As you would expect, the study showed a significantly higher rate of fire-related insurance claims on the defective vehicles. During the time period before the recall was issued, claims on defective vehicles were 23 percent higher than non-defective vehicles. But, importantly, that gap shrank to 12 percent in the time following the issuance of the recall.

The study demonstrates that issuing a recall makes a significant difference in the rate of defect-related damage – in this case, it was cut in half. But it also shows that aggregate risk remains elevated even after the recall. An exact conclusion on this second point was beyond the scope of the study, but researchers reasonably theorized that some vehicle owners were unaware of the recall or failed to comply with it.

Auto owners can check for recalls on their cars by going to safecar.gov.

The biggest vehicle recall of the moment has been issued by General Motors. GM has recalled some 6 million cars of various models for faulty ignition switches and power steering. GM itself has linked the faulty ignitions with 13 deaths and 31 crashes. Some claim the number is higher.

The ignition switch may cause the engine to suddenly shut off while driving, which also prevents the airbags from inflating if the car then crashes. A crash is quite likely; many drivers are startled and confused when their vehicles suddenly turn off for no reason.

GM has issued urgent guidance to owners of the recalled vehicles. Owners should, of course, take their cars to GM service stations as soon as possible. But if they must drive in the meantime, they should drive with nothing extra hanging from the vehicle’s key – no extra keys or key fobs. Apparently, the weight of larger keychains pulling down on the key makes the defective ignition more likely to malfunction.

Recalls are almost always free of charge. Do your part to make driving safer – look for and heed vehicle recalls.