My car is under recall. What do I do now?

auto recall

Reading news headlines, it can start to feel like vehicle safety recalls are being issued daily. While the number of vehicles affected continues to grow, you might be asking yourself if this means vehicle safety is declining?

The truth is that it depends on the model, make, and year of manufacturer of the car you drive. Many of the recent recalls have to do with older vehicles, and we’ve seen some historically massive recalls in recent times. One example is the Takata airbag recall which is still growing.

Headlines boast big numbers, but they don’t provide much detail. So, how dangerous is a recall anyway and what should vehicle owners do after one is identified?

What is a recall?

An auto recall is a way for manufacturers to warn you that something about your vehicle presents a potential for injury or property damage. After the NHTSA determines that a safety risk exists, they issue a recall and manufacturers are required to fix the problem. A safety defect is a problem that:

  • poses a risk to vehicle safety
  • exists in a group of vehicles of the same design or manufacture

Whether the manufacturer offers you a refund, or free repairs or replacements, you should never be on the hook for costs associated with recall fixes.

If your vehicle, car seat, or tire is under recall, a safety defect has been identified through the recall process.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recall process

In the U.S. the NHTSA sets safety standards. Part of what the NHTSA does is require manufacturers to repair safety-related defects at no cost to vehicle owners.

Costs associated with the parts and labor that go into getting defects repaired are significant for manufacturers and can lead to resistance to full-scale recalls. However, the NHTSA follows a recall process to ensure that safety-related defects are addressed. The process is as follows:

  1. Complaint – Sometimes manufacturers themselves discover hazards and start the recall process willingly. For other manufacturers, the NHTSA or the courts kickstart the recall process. The latter can come as a result of consumer discovery. If you find a safety concern there are three ways you can report it to the NHTSA:
    • Call the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Vehicle Safety Hotline: 888-327-4236 or 800-424-9153.
    • Report the issue online here
    • Send a letter addressed: S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Office of Defects Investigation (NVS-210) 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE Washington, DC 20590

If there are enough reports filed about the same issues with the same make, model and year of the vehicle, the NHTSA may open an investigation.

  1. Investigation – At this point, the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) will take charge of performing the auto recall investigation. The investigation process is as follows:
    • Screening: Review of consumer complaints to determine whether an investigation is necessary
    • Petition Analysis: Review of petitions for defect investigations
    • Investigations: Two-phase investigations into alleged safety defects
    • Recall Management: Monitoring the effectiveness of safety recalls

Manufacturers can dispute claims and present new information, but ultimately it is up to the NHTSA Administrator to issue a safety defect recall.

  1. Recall – Once the recall is issued, the word is spread, and consumers are informed of the next Most often consumers are asked to make an appointment with their dealership to have their vehicle serviced.

If you’re worried about recalls and aren’t sure whether your vehicle may be affected, you can subscribe to notifications.

Auto recall notifications

Manufacturers are required to notify car owners within a reasonable period of time and expected to send registered owners a notification letter within 60 days of notifying NHTSA of a recall decision.

You can always sign up for email notifications for NHTSA recalls by visiting  https://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/nhtsa/subscriptions.

Additionally, you can check the NHTSA recall database to see if your car is under recall. You can do this by searching your car’s 17-character vehicle identification number (VIN).

You may be curious if recalls affect some manufacturers more than others and the answer is that recall rates vary by make and model.

Least and most recalled vehicles

Using data from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) recall database, a study was conducted to identify vehicles with the highest and lowest recall rates.

Top 10 Highest Recall Rates

  1. Mercedes-Benz C-Class
  2. GMC Sierra
  3. BMW 3/4 Series
  4. Dodge Durango
  5. Nissan Pathfinder
  6. Ram Pickup
  7. Toyota 4Runner
  8. Dodge Charger
  9. Chrysler 300
  10. Chevrolet Tahoe

Top 10 Least Recalled Cars

  1. Hyundai Accent
  2. Chevrolet Equinox
  3. Toyota Corolla
  4. Honda Civic
  5. Honda CR-V
  6. Honda Accord
  7. Subaru Crosstrek
  8. Toyota Camry
  9. Hyundai Elantra
  10. GMC Terrain

We understand what prompts a recall, but what types of defects exactly are considered “safety-related” and therefore monitored by the NHTSA?

Common defects considered safety-related

  • steering mechanisms that break suddenly, causing loss of vehicle control
  • accelerator controls that break or stick
  • wheels that crack or break
  • seats that fail during normal use
  • airbags that deploy when they are not intended to deploy
  • car seats with defective safety belts, buckles, or parts that create a risk of injury

Common defects not considered safety-related

  • ordinary wear of equipment that is required to be checked, maintained and replaced regularly like brake pads
  • excessive oil consumption

 Auto recall FAQs

Who is responsible for reporting a safety recall?

Manufacturers are responsible for their vehicles and all original equipment installed on them.  Meaning they have the responsibility to report defects to the NHTSA and notify owners and offer them a free fix to the problem.

Equipment not originally installed by the vehicle manufacturer becomes the responsibility of the equipment manufacturer to notify, report, and recall.

It’s essential to ensure that your vehicle registration is up-to-date (including mailing address) to get proper notification.

Do I have to pay for repairs?

Manufacturers are required to cover the cost of safety defect fixes. If you do pay for any costs associated with the recall you are entitled to reimbursement, this may even include the costs you incurred before the recall announcement. Manufacturers are required to reimburse owners for expenses they footed up to one year before the notification of a defect.

Can I take action for injuries I may have suffered?

Yes, your best course of action is to consult with a lawyer to explore your legal options and what compensation you may be eligible to receive.