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Record Numbers of Software Complaints and Recalls Threaten Trust in Automotive Technology

Record Numbers of Software Complaints and Recalls Threaten Trust in Automotive Technology

By Joseph Dobrian, May 27, 2016
Vehicle software has been growing steadily as a source of consumer complaints over the past several years, and so far in 2016 they’re coming in on pace with the record-setting level of 2015, according to data collected by J.D. Power through its SafetyIQ program. To date in 2016, consumers have filed 202 formal complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) pertaining to software that controls the electronic technology in their vehicles. The NHTSA had received 204 software-related complaints during the same time a year ago, and logged a total of 615 for the full year in 2015, surpassing the previous annual record of 505 set in 2014. During the past 5 years, consumers have registered 2,011 complaints with the NHTSA related to automotive software.

“Consumer complaints are the canaries in the coalmine for automobile manufacturers when it comes to anticipating future recalls and longer-term customer satisfaction,” said Renee Stephens, Vice President of U.S. Automotive at J.D. Power. “Software-related problems have become much more prevalent and, if not addressed, could begin to erode consumer trust in new automotive technology.”

Using SafetyIQ, an online application developed by J.D. Power that integrates NHTSA data with J.D. Power automotive data, investigators can see a connection between the complaints lodged and recall decisions. Vehicle recalls are also on the rise: up 45% between 2014 and 2015. To date, 189 separate software recalls have been issued in the past 5 years, affecting more than 13 million vehicles. According to manufacturer analyses, 141 presented a risk of crashing; 44 could have resulted in injury.

“Using this information from owner complaints, automakers can quickly identify whether the problem crosses model lines, components, or even other companies with similar components/suppliers, and can begin to address the breadth of the concerns,” Stephens said. “Not every complaint registered by consumers becomes a recall, but they are all very important to manufacturers.”

Technical Service Bulletins on the Rise
Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) trends are a further indication of the increasing concerns raised about automotive software. TSBs represent communications from the auto manufacturers to their dealer bodies on the recommended repair procedure for a consumer issue raised. Manufacturers typically only use this form of communication if they’ve received many complaints, particularly if these complaints do not seem to be addressed through regular warranty repairs. SafetyIQ shows that TSBs pertaining to software issues increased from an average of 58 per year between 2006 and 2010 to an average of 160 per year from 2011 through 2015.

Consumers may report suspected safety defects in their vehicle, vehicle equipment, and child safety seats by calling the NHTSA at 1-888-327-4236.
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