What Automakers Say
Car companies are notoriously shy about commenting on recall issues, seeming to believe that no news is the best kind of news. But representatives of several major automakers talked to Edmunds, provided that their names were not used.
The gist of their comments is that carmakers are more sensitive to public opinion these days and more willing to order a recall without being required by NHTSA to do so, as consultant Trahan told Edmunds. They acknowledge, though, that NHTSA has gotten a bit tougher on them in the past year.
Car companies also have seen that prompt recalls can save money because assembly-line errors can be corrected or faulty parts fixed before being installed in vehicles and affecting a larger number of them.
Some automakers acknowledge privately that they have ordered recalls this year for issues that in the past would have been handled without fanfare through technical service bulletins. The bulletins are notices to dealership service departments to check for and fix a particular problem when a customer brings a vehicle in for a regular service or repair.
"This year was a bit of an aberration because of the GM recalls, but in the future we will see the number of recall campaigns growing, but the number of vehicles per campaign will be smaller because automakers will be quicker to pull the trigger," said one Washington, D.C.-based auto industry insider who works closely with car companies and safety regulators.
Automakers also maintain that the general improvements in vehicle reliability that have extended the life of most cars also add to the numbers when recalls are ordered. That's because many recalls involve older vehicles and more of them remain road-worthy. American Honda, for instance, says that 75 percent of all the cars it has sold in the past 25 years are still in operation.