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Why do so many defective autos go unrepaired?

The past couple of years have seen more automobile recalls than ever before, with a record 64 million vehicles recalled in 2014 alone. Some recalls are for relatively minor problems, but others, like the recalls related to Takata airbags and ignition switches in General Motors vehicles, are because of a potentially life-threatening defect.

Issuing a recall might save lives, but it is rare to actually get the defect repaired in all affected vehicles. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which oversees auto safety in the U.S., estimates that only about 70 percent of vehicle subject to a recall ever get the necessary repairs.

Getting the word out can be difficult. Auto companies issuing a voluntary recall must first notify NHTSA and dealership, then alert owners based on the affected vehicles’ vehicle identification numbers. But notices sometimes get mailed to the wrong address, or accidently thrown away.

Another way people learn that their car is being recalled is through news reports. Ironically, that often does not help either, because the news story might come out before dealerships receive official notice. Thus, an auto owner might bring her vehicle to the dealership to get a defective part fixed, but the dealership will not be equipped yet to do the repair.

Then, once the dealership is ready, it could be months before you can get an appointment. It is easy to see how 30 percent of recalled vehicles might never get fixed.

MarketWatch.com suggests that people who suspect their vehicle needs to be recalled check their car’s VIN on a NHTSA website, www.safercar.gov.

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