Short-term rentals or leases are worth considering if a vehicle make and model that is popular in your fleet is recalled.  -  Photo: Canva/Automotive Fleet

Short-term rentals or leases are worth considering if a vehicle make and model that is popular in your fleet is recalled.

Photo: Canva/Automotive Fleet

Managing vehicle and equipment recalls is a necessary part of fleet management, but it can be tough to keep up with which vehicles have been recalled. It can also be tricky to figure out how to keep critical governmental services in operation when the recalled vehicles are models that take up a large portion of your fleet.

In our second installment of Government Fleet Fundamentals, we’re breaking down the basics about recalls and sharing advice from a seasoned fleet manager on best practices for managing them.

Vehicle Recalls 101

The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act gives the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) the authority to issue vehicle safety standards and to require manufacturers to recall vehicles that have safety-related defects or do not meet federal safety standards, according to NHTSA.

When either a manufacturer or NHTSA determines a vehicle creates an unreasonable risk to safety or fails to meet minimum safety standards, the manufacturer is required to fix that vehicle at no cost to the owner, or in this case, the fleet.

That can be done by repairing it, replacing it, offering a refund for equipment or, in rare cases, repurchasing the car.

The decision to issue a recall generally comes after the manufacturer has investigated owner complaints or incidents like crashes or vehicle malfunctions.

NHTSA announces recalls on its website and has a database of recalls, as well as documents associated with them, like details on incidents leading up to a vehicle recall. Vehicle manufacturers also send letters to owners to notify them of recalls.

Additionally, fleet managers can go into the OEM’s customer portal to find out more information about a specific recall.

How to Manage Recalls

The way you navigate a recall will depend on the circumstances behind the recall. For instance, a recall on a reserve vehicle will be handled much differently than a recall on one of your fleet’s most commonly used vehicles.

The fleet management team for the city of Boynton Beach, Florida, has a recall committee. Dave Persad, CAFM, CEM, director of fleet management, meets with the committee to determine how to prioritize the recall based on the risk the potential issue poses to drivers.

The team then calls the local dealer to schedule a repair.

Establishing a Recall Committee

Here is the process Persad’s recall committee goes through when addressing recalls:

  1. Discuss severity of recall
  2. Determine how many vehicles in departments/ fleet are affected
  3. Contact the dealer to confirm parts availability, length of time, and schedule repair
  4. Contact the affected department
  5. Explore vehicle options/ solutions to use during recall (i.e. another department, motor pool, rental, etc.)
  6. Create work order in fleet management system, upload recall notice, pictures, repair invoice, and notes

Finding Out About Recalls

Persad recommends taking advantage of NHTSA’s website, as well as OEM customer portals, to stay informed about recalls. He also suggests fleet managers remain in contact with their local dealers during the repair process.

In March 2024, NHTSA launched a new tool allowing users to check for recalls using only a vehicle’s license plate number to make it easier to learn about new recalls. Previously, users needed to enter their VIN or year/make/model to search for recalls.

The search tool is also broken down into four different sections: vehicle, car seat, tire, and equipment.

Keeping Track of Recalls and Repairs

Fleet information management systems are a great resource for staying on top of vehicle recalls. You can use your system to create a work order for the specific repair date for the vehicle so you are alerted when it’s time to take it to the dealership, and add follow up notes from the dealer regarding the repair.

You can also manage the vehicle’s repair history on the system by uploading the relevant documents, photos, and other information which will be critical if you are ever audited after a major recall.

What if Your Most-Used Vehicles are Recalled?

From time to time, OEMs announce recalls on thousands — and even millions — of vehicles. When this happens, there are ways to navigate scheduling the repair without causing a major disruption in your fleet’s operations.

Several years ago, major air bag recalls wreaked havoc on the automotive industry, with tens of millions of vehicles recalled. Fleets were not immune to the effects of the recall. Cases like this require flexibility and quick thinking from fleet managers.

“We must make decisions that are fluid enough so we can keep the operation going. We as fleet managers have to be able to pivot and make the best decision of any given situation,” Persad said.

If enough vehicles are taken out of service while waiting for a repair to be completed due to a major safety recall, it might be a good idea to consider renting vehicles to fill gaps where needed. Short-term leases can also work well for fleets, given the complexity and severity of the recall.

Another option, Persad said, is to consider whether to extend the lifecycles of other vehicles in your fleet that may be going out of service so they can fill those gaps while the others are out of commission due to the recall.

One way to avoid these major disruptions altogether is to have a mix of vehicles from various OEMs.

“Fortunately, we have a diverse fleet, so it wouldn't cripple or ground our entire fleet. We have a good healthy mix of different manufacturers,” Persad explained.

Why Repairing Your Vehicles Matters

Persad urges fleet managers to remember that staying on top of recalls is crucial for driver safety.

“You have peoples’ lives that are behind the wheels of the truck they're driving or riding in. As fleet managers, safety is not our number one priority — it’s actually our job. Ensuring that we have safe running and operating vehicles out there for our departments to use so they can provide services to the residents is of paramount importance,” Persad said.

Did You Catch Our First Installment of Government Fleet Fundamentals? Learn About Vehicle Classes 1-8

About the author
Christy Grimes

Christy Grimes

Senior Editor

Christy Grimes is a Senior Editor at Bobit, working on Automotive Fleet and Government Fleet publications. She has also written for School Bus Fleet.

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