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Vehicle Manufacturers

Tips for Increasing Recall Completion Rates

In 2023 alone, there were 894 vehicle safety recalls in the United States. In the last decade, NHTSA has overseen over 17,000 safety recalls affecting more than 750 million vehicles and pieces of equipment. With work that affects so many Americans on a regular basis, manufacturers and NHTSA work hard to maximize completion rates for safety recalls. 

When it comes to motor vehicle and equipment recalls, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach for maximizing completion rates due to many factors. The age of the vehicle or equipment at the time of recall, consumer appreciation of relative risk, manufacturer access to current owner contact information, the vehicle or equipment’s price point, a consumer’s relationship and experience with a manufacturer or its dealers and representatives, the ease and convenience of obtaining the free recall repair, and a myriad of other factors influence whether an individual owner will act to have his or her vehicle or equipment fixed. 

NHTSA continues to work with regulated industry to develop and test new strategies, facilitate sharing of lessons learned, and conduct behavioral research. NHTSA will continue to monitor individual recall progress and examine trends in order to continuously maintain its awareness of tactics and strategies and act together with recalling manufacturers to influence improvement of recall completion rates. 

As discussed at NHTSA’s Retooling Recalls workshop in 2018, several tactics and strategies have improved completion rates across the industry. This material helps to aid in that effort. The considerations and tactics outlined below will not necessarily result in the same outcome across the industry since every recall campaign needs to be tailored and a thoughtful approach applied. Rather, this description of various approaches is meant to be illustrative of the various “tools” that have been used to improve completion rates with previous safety recalls. Nevertheless, every manufacturer should consider this information, with its own experience and lessons learned, in developing a strategy for maximizing recall completion rates.

Common traits of recall campaigns with high completion rates:  

  • Direct and plain language about the risk 
  • Current owner contact information 
  • A strategy that includes a multi-channel and multi-touch approach 
  • Emphasis in all recall material that the repairs are FREE 
  • Noticeable use of the manufacturer’s brands or logos on recall material 
  • An approach that is considerate of current owner demographics, what barriers exist to owners obtaining the repair, and a plan that mitigates those barriers 
  • An execution strategy that best leverages the suggested best practices that maximizes the expertise, resources, and relationships within the manufacturer’s dealer/retailer network and customer base


Sources for identifying owners and/or vehicles/equipment and using that information to inform engagement strategies 

  • Purchaser, repair, and maintenance records of a manufacturer and those of its dealers, distributors, retailers, and wholesalers  
  • State registration and titling records (vehicles and equipment with a VIN)
  • Vehicle history reports – provides potential touchpoints who may have records
  • Loyalty programs and cards
  • License plate recognition programs
  • Consumer data sources and providers, including phone and electric company record providers
  • Vehicle end-of-life or vehicle transition data providers
  • Data visualization software to understand what groups are where and to develop targeted communication pieces

Opportunities for improving owner, purchaser, and vehicle/equipment data, and supporting a data-driven segmentation strategy 

  • Convenient point- and time-of-sale registration (e.g., retailer opt-ins at checkout, photo texting, QR codes, incentives)  
  • Robust processes and systems for updating owner information at time of servicing and capturing that information from the service provider (e.g., asking at time of service how owners want to be contacted in the event of a safety recall) 
  • Regular updating of vehicle registration, titling, and end-of-life data from data sources 
  • Outbound messaging that assures the owner that data will not be shared or used for anything other than safety recall notices and robust compliance with that assurance 
  • Demographic data sources that provide, or can be used to interpret, owner demographics including age, household income, education level, religion, language preference, etc.


Utilizing a multi-channel and multi-touch approach 

  • Communicate safety recalls via a variety of direct and indirect communication methods, such as different sized mailings (letters, postcards, third-party services (e.g., FedEx, UPS), certified mail, oversized mailers, etc.), emails, text messages, magazines, non-English language media, local community events, radio advertisements, press conference, etc.  
  • Communicate safety recalls more than once and through multiple different channels.   
  • Use advertising to expand awareness and influence owners to be more proactive in the recalls checking and repairs process. 
  • Multiple channels increase perceived urgency and credibility and provide reminders to get the recall repaired. 
  • One-after-another set of outreaches have proved more effective than outreaches at established intervals (e.g., every few months, semi-annually). 
  • Use motivating language.

Tips for effective messaging 

  • Use clear, concise, and accurate language. Avoid technical terms.  
  • Personalize greeting (“Dear Mr. Smith” not “Dear Owner”) 
  • Use of the word “urgent” or other terms that convey urgency, repetitively 
  • Emphasize wherever possible that the remedy is “FREE OF COST” or “AT NO COST TO YOU”. Use enhanced formatting such as caps, bold font, or underlining to make it more impactful. 
  • Reinforce the consequences of not getting recalls repaired. 
  • Communicate the risk of not checking for recalls and emphasize that checking for recalls is quick and easy. 
  • Mentioning that a recall repair is a smaller inconvenience compared to being stranded or injured is compelling and influential, especially among rural consumers and older adult consumers. 
  • Use high-impact graphics specific to the risk and/or the recalled vehicle or equipment (e.g., picture of the vehicle/equipment under recall, or the make, model, and model year of the vehicle under recall, including the color of that owner’s car where possible). 
  • Use graphic language and images to portray severity but be cautious with over dramatization, as this could detract from messaging effectiveness. 
  • Do not use generic or low-impact images (e.g., scenic pictures or a computer). 
  • Use and prominently display the manufacturer's logo as well as that of the U.S. DOT and/or NHTSA to increase perception of credibility (the latter are restricted to recalling manufacturers; do NOT encourage use by dealers). 
  • Prominently display the phone number owners should call to schedule a repair or request a refund. 
  • Include in every communication instructions for the consumer to report that they no longer own or use the vehicle/equipment and to report, if known, who does own or use it, or to whom it was sold or gifted. 
  • Do not use disclaimers or other language that mitigates the risk or the urgency (e.g., “no injuries have occurred to date,” or “out of an abundance of caution we are recalling”).

Social media strategies 

  • Often most useful as a supplemental strategy  
  • Use repetitive messaging that shares the look and feel of other channels’ messaging to reinforce brand and message recognition. 
  • Use clear and direct communication of risk. 
  • Use a call to action with clear next steps. 
  • Add an image of consumer’s vehicle or equipment (including, where possible, the color of their vehicle). 
  • Have a customer service link or phone number clearly displayed, and ensure adequate staffing is available to support it. 
  • Offer ability to “tag” or forward message to others. 
  • Engage trusted or familiar sources to promote the message (local leader, local dealer, or retailer).

Retailer communication strategies 

  • Develop a system that can identify recalled vehicles or equipment from sales histories and notify purchasers at email, billing, and shipping addresses. 
  • Post posters on front doors (inside and outside-facing). 
  • Post notices and warnings in aisles and areas where the vehicles or equipment are sold. 
  • Post notices online and in store apps; consider a dedicated and conspicuous space for safety recall notices and/or the area where the purchaser would go to reorder or purchase a similar vehicle or piece of equipment. 
  • Bolster messaging with specifics about incentives, whether financial or related to convenience, but be careful with coupons that could be perceived as soliciting for paid services when a recall is free. 
  • Include a specific call to action with clear instructions on next steps.


Optimizing completion rates through franchised or other third parties (dealer, retailer, distributor, independent repair facility, etc.) 

  • Use manufacturer’s network to help carry the recall message and influence repairs. 
  • Provide manufacturer’s network with owner contact information, material, subsidies, software, and other support needed to maximize marketing about the recall. 
  • Solicit manufacturer’s network for what approaches they have used to influence and what outreach strategies they use. 
  • Use motivational tools, such as performance metrics and incentive programs and contests targeted at both management and staff. 
  • Aggressively monitor parts supply and usage and have a plan to be able to react quickly to disruptions. 
  • Communicate clearly and frequently information related to parts availability, particularly if parts are constrained. 
  • Be clear on what services the manufacturer is supporting to reduce owner inconvenience, and any restrictions on those services (e.g., towing, or mobile repair for owners a certain minimum distance from a dealership). People are motivated to get recalls repaired when they see that the dealership is taking extra steps to make things as convenient as possible.

Ideas for reducing owner inconvenience and encouraging proactive consumer action 

  • Mobile repair – dealer or third-party executed options 
  • Repair-a-thons (pop-up repair sites at fairs, sporting events, etc.) 
  • Towing 
  • Free rental car 
  • Courtesy shuttles, taxis, and complimentary ride sharing services

Last updated July 3, 2024