Even though the news that 34 million vehicles in the US are being recalled due to potentially life-threatening airbag defects is making headlines around the world, there's a very real possibility that many owners of affected cars will do nothing.
According to research from Autotrader, US consumers are often ambivalent to recalls. It found that even when an owner was made aware of an outstanding recall on their car, only 56% subsequently took the vehicle in for repairs every time.
Vehicle recalls are a surprisingly common occurrence. In the US alone there were 350 individual recall campaigns over the course of 2014. However, if Autotrader's research is to be believed, consumers finding out about them isn't. Just 61% of respondents claimed to make an effort to keep informed of recalls relating to their vehicle.
But perhaps that's not surprising because unless the problem is serious, wide scale or ‘exotic,' the recall doesn't get reported beyond the motoring press.
That's why when Porsche recalled all of its 911 GT3 supercars in 2014 because of fire risk, it made international headlines, despite affecting fewer than 800 people, globally.
Likewise, the unprecedented scale of the Takata airbag problem means that it's getting sufficient coverage for consumers to take notice and, Autotrader hopes, to create a new system for reporting and undertaking recalls.
"The huge number of high-profile recalls recently makes it even more imperative for automakers to get consumers to come into dealerships for repairs and for consumers to proactively check to see if their cars are recalled," said Michelle Krebs, Autotrader senior analyst. "The record-setting recall of vehicles equipped with potentially flawed Takata airbags could ultimately result in new approaches by the government and manufacturers on how recalls are addressed."
Perhaps the most worrying finding from the research is that only 35% of consumers shopping for a used car check for outstanding recalls. Some of the vehicles covered in the Takata recall are upwards of 10 years old.
The simplest way to determine if a car is the subject of a recall is to enter its VIN number into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website.
"If a vehicle you're shopping for has open recalls, make sure to ask either the dealer or seller if the repairs have been performed. Don't be afraid to ask for proof, and if the repairs have not been performed, request that they are before you buy," said Autotrader's site editor Brian Moody.