NHTSA Under the Recall Gun

We’ve been thinking a bit about NHTSA or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of late (July 2018). We follow them on twitter and for the last several months they’ve been blowing up the twitter account in an effort that smells of desperation.

Acura recallWe’ve seen the same alerts concerning air bag recalls repeated over and over again. They involve 2002-3 Acura TL models and 2003 Acura CLs, 2001-2 Honda Civics and Accords, the 2002 Honda Odyssey and CRV and the 2003 Pilot. Finally are the do not drive warnings for the 2006 Mazda B series and Ford Ranger pick ups, which are essentially the same vehicle.

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Mazda do not driveThen came reports that an audit by the Office Inspector General for the Department of Transportation faulted the agency for poor tracking of recall repairs, which may be obvious under the circumstances. But we’ll come back to that below.

In terms of the tweets, NHTSA is clearly trying to get the word out on remaining air bag recall issues, particularly in vehicles that have seen the bulk of problems. Likely as not they are doing this on Facebook and other social media as well.

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We can only imagine that this is an attempt to go viral. Remember, they have only about 52,000 followers on Twitter, another 1,000 on a recall account. and as it turns out, 64,000 on Facebook. We also see the repeated warnings about air bags there as well.

But we are talking about millions and millions of cars and drivers, and many of those cars are well into the used car market.

And who are the most likely followers of a government agency? We follow them for new recalls, and can imagine that the vast majority of followers in any venue are car people — not the average everyday driver the agency is trying to reach.

So, we’ll shift for a few minutes to the audit. The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Transportation examined NHTSA’s recall oversight covering several years featuring an unprecedented number of recalls and vehicles. This includes the Takata airbag recall, that NHTSA says involves some 50 million devices alone.

However, the report states that NHTSA only has an eight-person office to manage recalls and that NHTSA doesn’t verify recall completion rates even though it has the authority to do so.

This would seem understandable if the number of people is as small as stated. And NHTSA, while not disputing the numbers, did offer a rebuttal that was included as an appendix to the report.

Whether NHSTA is adequately tracking recalls or not, given the level of social media posts, the agency clearly knows something and is trying to get something done. We simply think they are barking up the wrong tree.

The level of disconnect from government agencies to drivers is enormous, and NHTSA shooting messages out to its social media accounts stays in the bubble. If they really want to reach those folks driving potentially dangerous cars, and it does, its going to have to go old school. Its going to need to advertise. Broadcast and cable TV and radio, but it will have to choose markets carefully. Treated as an advertising venue, social media is in play as well, but outside the bubble.

However, paying for advertising is a money problem, so rather than doing the advertising themselves, how about insisting that the manufacturers in question do the job. Whether they have the authority to force the issue or not, NHTSA clearly has a bully pulpit it can use to push Honda, and by extension Acura, Ford and Mazda to get their drivers in to their service departments.

And we don’t mean to single these manufacturers out — NHTSA has done that with their posts. The truth is, air bag recalls have touched nearly all manufacturers selling into the North American market.

The bottom line for drivers? Visit NHTSA.gov and check to see if there are open recalls on your car. There’s never a charge for the repair, and it could save your life or the life of a loved one.

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