While a vehicle safety recall from an OEM or the National Traffic Safety Administration can result in unplanned downtime for fleets as vehicles spend time at dealers, unresolved recalls could lead to breakdowns or worse: an accident involving injury or death to the driver, passengers and others on the road. - Photo: gettyimages.com / uatp2 

While a vehicle safety recall from an OEM or the National Traffic Safety Administration can result in unplanned downtime for fleets as vehicles spend time at dealers, unresolved recalls could lead to breakdowns or worse: an accident involving injury or death to the driver, passengers and others on the road.

Photo: gettyimages.com / uatp2 

One of every five vehicles — nearly 60 million — on U.S. roads today pose potentially grave risks to drivers, occupants and others: dangers presented by open vehicle recalls.

A simple, free solution, however, is available to significantly diminish this risk to human safety: the Vehicle Recall Search Service (VRSS).

Launched in 2018, VRSS is a collaboration by online vehicle history provider Carfax and industry group Alliance for Automotive Innovation, representing manufacturers and suppliers of nearly 99% of cars and light trucks sold in the U.S.

Their mission: “Create a touchpoint/awareness/closure” process to quickly and easily pinpoint vehicles with open safety recalls, leading to their resolution.

‘All About Safety’

“Our ongoing partnership with Carfax has led to an innovative tool allowing businesses to automatically check their vehicle inventory for open recalls. It can also provide companies, such as insurance providers, with important safety information to help notify their customers,” said Alliance President and CEO John Bozzella.

“It’s all about safety,” said Faisal Hasan, Carfax general manager of data. “This VRSS tool echoes OEM messaging to take care of safety issues as soon as possible,” he explained.

Recalls are issued when a manufacturer or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines a vehicle, equipment, car seat or tire creates an unreasonable safety risk or fails to meet minimum safety standards.

According to NHTSA, OEMs most often voluntarily decide to conduct a recall and remedy a safety defect are made voluntarily prior to any agency involvement.

Manufacturers are required to fix the problem by repairing or replacing it offering a refund, or in rare cases repurchasing the vehicle.

While many recalls are issued for minor problems, others present possible deadly consequences, including defective airbags, brake systems, ignition failings, etc.

Prior to VRSS, recall status information was individually formatted and accessible from OEMs, NHTSA, and other services.

“The Alliance, NHTSA, and Carfax realized we could make it easier for business, government and consumers to check on recalls, with all data reported and accessible in the same way,” said Hasan.

His Carfax team, which has been working with OEMs for more than 20-years, went to work to adapt its vehicle information database.

“We created a standard format so that users will find the same information from OEMs and NHTSA reported in the same way,” said Hasan.

No Cost & Batch Runs

VRSS is available at no cost to fleet managers and providers; insurers; dealers; service facilities; federal, state, and local government; as well as consumers. Users simply sign up at www.carfax.com/recall, and within 24 hours recall data can be retrieved.

VRSS powers the entire process, running some 27 billion records in Carfax data storage, said to be the world’s largest vehicle history database. No personal information is used. The system is entirely based on the vehicle identification number (VIN), according to Hasan.

The search tool covers more than 99% of all open recalls; Tesla declined to participate in VRSS.

Importantly for fleets, up to 10,000 VINs can be batch-checked in a single upload. Reported safety and emissions recall data, as well as vehicle service campaigns, is returned “within milliseconds.”

VINs can be run each night and the recall remedied immediately. Feedback from fleet managers has been enthusiastic. “This is great! I’ve got a 90-percent closure rate,” said one.

More than 500 million VINs have been run through VRSS since its inception. State governments, including Ohio, New York, and California, use VRSS to print recall notices on car registrations or vehicle/smog inspection receipts.

“In New York, the state sent a notice highly recommending this free service to all public sector fleets, and we’ve seen user numbers increase sharply” Hasan reported.

Other groups taking advantage of VRSS include the New York Cab Commission, ride-sharing services, and the federal government’s General Services Administration.

Recall’s Impact on Fleets

Vehicle recalls present a number of issues for fleet managers. Unplanned downtime while vehicles are taken to dealerships can be an administrative nuisance.

While total downtime for a single recall fix may not be lengthy, the impact can be substantial when applied across an entire fleet of same make/model vehicles.

Unclosed recalls also could result in a vehicle breakdown and more time in repairs.

Unresolved recalls that result in or contribute to accidents can lead to lawsuits, court costs and repair expenses.

The paramount issue, however, is simple: the safety of drivers and others on the road.

The rate of vehicles with open safety recalls in the U.S. is growing. Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi currently record the highest numbers. - Photo: NSC

The rate of vehicles with open safety recalls in the U.S. is growing. Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi currently record the highest numbers.

Photo: NSC

New NSC Tool ‘Checks to Protect’

The National Safety Council (NSC) is utilizing a new on-the-street high-tech tool to help curb the number of vehicles with open recalls.

NSC and Carma Project, a safety technology platform, have joined forces in NSC’s Check to Protect safety initiative, a national campaign to encourage drivers to check the recall status of their vehicles and have open recalls fixed immediately.

The campaign’s new tool—Carma Project’s recall identification technology—utilizes proprietary license plate recognition cameras mounted on specially designed cars.

The camera-bearing cars canvass a pre-determined geographical area believed to contain a sizeable percentage of vehicles with unrepaired recalls.

Carma’s technology scans license plates of vehicles parked on neighborhood roads, retail parking lot, etc., linking each plate to a corresponding VIN. The technology pings any vehicle with an open recall. A Carma team member then places a notification on the vehicle windshield advising the owner of the recall.

This notification is an important step, according to Tom Musick, NSC senior program manager, transportation safety.

“Vehicle owners do not always know they have a recall. That could be because they drive a used vehicle, and the notification went to the previous owner or because they moved since purchasing the vehicle and the notification went to an old address,” said Musick.

Initially implemented in Southern California, the NSC plans to expand the program in 2021 to include locations such as Miami, Houston, Dallas, and Chicago.

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