The growing problem of cars with recalls

More than 47 million vehicles have safety recalls

Has the American public become blasé about safety recalls? It may appear so based on new research showing 47 million vehicles have outstanding safety recalls. It’s a number that keeps growing.

According to CarFax, more than 47 million vehicles that people are driving, buying or selling in the U.S. have at least one unfixed safety recall. The company's annual research on the issue suggests a net increase of more than one million vehicles from last year.

In addition, every state now has at least 100,000 vehicles with an open recall.

Recalls in your state

OK, at first blush that last stat sounds impressive in some ways and others it doesn’t. After all, divide 47 million by 51 (including the District of Columbia) and you average 900,000 plus per state.

Of course, not all states are equal in population. That’s where the number gets impressive. California, New York, and Texas represent one-fourth of the country’s population of 308 million (approximately). It’s not surprising you’re going to find recalls there.

Start to look at states with less than a million people and you can see where the problems arise. Lets look at the 10 smallest states (which includes Washington, D.C.):

  • New Hampshire, 1,316,470;
  • Rhode Island, 1,052,567;
  • Montana, 989,415;
  • Delaware, 897,934;
  • South Dakota, 814,180;
  • Alaska, 710,231;
  • North Dakota, 672,591;
  • Vermont, 625,741;
  • Washington, D. C., 601,723; and,
  • Wyoming, 563,626

Most impact by recalls

Now you can see where 100,000 vehicles with a recall can have quite the impact. In Rhode Island, it’s a per capita of 1 in 10. In Wyoming it’s less than 1 in 6.

According to the Los Angeles Times, in 2014 there were about 253 million vehicles in the United States.

That means almost 1 in 5 cars on the road probably have a safety recall on them.

That’s a daunting number. We’ve explored in the past the issue of buying a used car with a recall. It’s not a deal breaker but it helps if you know what t do to protect yourself.

CarFax has some other interesting details about the number of used cars with recalls. If you own an SUV or minivan, or live in Texas, Mississippi, Alaska, Utah or West Virginia, then you're most likely to have an unfixed recall. Especially if you fall into one of these two groups, using resources like myCarfax helps you take the all-important next step of bringing your vehicle to a local dealer. While finding opportunities to get a recall fixed can be challenging, a safe family vehicle is paramount.

Too few repair facilities?

Quick aside – I wonder if a dearth of auto repair facilities makes a difference when it comes to the high number of unfixed recalls in Alaska? It seems as if it might be hard to find certified facilities to get your used car fixed there.

"Our data shows there's still much hard work to be done in addressing recalls," said Larry Gamache, communications director at Carfax. "Many people still are unnecessarily risking their lives by not staying informed or taking action when their vehicle is under a recall.”

Gamache said that is one of the many reasons family-oriented vehicles, including one in four minivans, are the most-highly impacted. Carfax continues to work closely with the auto manufacturers so we can alert people in the U.S. and Canada that their vehicles have a potentially dangerous defect that needs to be fixed."

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced that new recalls were issued for more than 51 million vehicles in 2015, the most-ever in a year.

"Millions more vehicles will likely be recalled this year, adding to the ones already with outstanding airbag recalls, ignition switch recalls, electrical system recalls and more. Resources like myCarfax that continuously monitor your car and send alerts to your mobile device are helping people everywhere find and fix more recalls," said Gamache.

(The Takata airbag recall is having an effect on used car prices.)

Understanding VINs

Car owners simply enter their license plate, a feature unique to the myCarfax app, or vehicle identification number (also known as the VIN) to get started. In addition, anyone worried about buying a car with an unfixed recall can shop with confidence at Every vehicle listed for sale there comes with a free Carfax Report, which includes open recall information reported to Carfax.