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Can Technology Improve Recall Repair Rates?

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Oct. 8, 2020—Carfax has estimated that some 57 million vehicles on U.S. roads have open recalls, representing more than one out of every five.

Consumer tools to find recalls have improved over the years past the dealership mailer. is one tool, on which car owners search by their VIN to determine whether they have an open recall. But that’s still not having a complete reach, meaning that potentially serious repairs are going undone.

“There’s definitely a problem, and that’s why we have millions and millions of recalls out there that are not being addressed,” says Fabio Gratton, co-founder of the Carma Project.

The Carma Project is an organization that creates tools for people to more readily check for recall notices. It has previously developed a mobile app for people to search. Now through a new partnership with the National Safety Council, it's using a proprietary license plate reader to identify and flag recalls on the road.


Recall Tech

At the heart of this initiative is the Carma Project’s license plate reader. The organization says it can scan up to 1,500 plates an hour and search databases for open recalls. If there is an open recall, a team member puts a notice on the vehicle for the driver to get information.

“Once we identify the car, we put a notice right there on the car that says this is the problem that you have,” Gratton says.

The massive scope of the Takata airbag recall was part of the impetus for this effort, and Carma Project is growing by bringing its license plate readers into new markets. An inaugural scan event in Orange County, Calif., checked 11,300 vehicles and alerted drivers to 338 open recalls, according to Carma Project.


Fleet Assistance

A big part of this initiative is the fleet of Carma Project vehicles. The cars are outfitted with those plate readers, and the drivers are the ones who flag recalls and place notices on vehicles. 

“We bought cars and outfitted them and trained people who are all into doing good,” Gratton says. “So the whole brand is about keeping people safe and doing good.”

He adds that they’re looking to get people familiar with their vehicles. Like when you see a Google maps vehicle with its large camera on the roof, people know what it’s doing. If you see a Carma Project branded vehicle on the street, they hope that people realize that it's out working to identify recalls.

The fleet is expanding in southern California, and Gratton says that they’re looking to jump into other states. With a current fleet of up to 30 cars, a single area might have five or 10 on patrol.

Co-founder Tony Lim says that their work with the National Safety Council has given them a boost in growing their network.

“Partnering with an organization like the national safety council is a tremendous step forward,” he says.

Image: Carma Project

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