Understanding vehicle recalls and what you need to know to keep your car safe. Photo is of a car engine, the hood is up and someone is holding a red towel and a mechanics tool above the engine, looking like they are working on it.

Understanding Vehicle Recalls and Car Safety

Tarun Sridharan Legal Editor & Attorney Contributor Read Time: 8 minutes

Understanding Vehicle Recalls and Car Safety

Reading news headlines, it can start to feel like vehicle safety recalls are being issued daily. While the number of car complaints and vehicles affected continues to grow, you might ask 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 recent automobile 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 to keep their car safe?

Topics and questions this article will help to answer:

What Are Vehicle Recalls?

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 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines a safety risk exists, they issue a recall, and manufacturers are required to fix the problem.

Safety Defects

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   

If a product is recalled, you should not have to pay for any repairs or replacements. 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 Recalls Process

In the U.S., the NHTSA sets safety standards that keep your car safe. Part of what the NHTSA does is require manufacturers to repair safety-related defects at no cost to vehicle owners and drivers. 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. Car complaints
  2. Office of Defects Investigation, or ODI, Investigation
  3. NHTSA issues a car recall

Car Complaints  

Sometimes, manufacturers discover hazards and start the recall process willingly. For other manufacturers, the NHTSA or the courts kick-start the recall process. The latter can come from consumer discovery. If you find a safety concern, there are three ways to report it to the NHTSA:   

  • Call the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Vehicle Safety Hotline: 877-421-5154 or 844-660-5805.   
  • 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

ODI Investigation

If there are enough reports about the same issues with the same make, model and year of the vehicle, the NHTSA may open an investigation. At this point, the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) will take charge of performing the car 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

NHTSA Issues a Car Recall

The NHTSA is responsible for issuing safety defect recalls. Manufacturers can dispute claims and present new information, but the NHTSA has the final say.  

  • Once the recall is issued, the word is spread, and consumers are informed of the next step. Most often, consumers are asked to make an appointment with their dealership to service their vehicle.   

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

Vehicle Recall Notifications: Is My Car Under Recall?  

You may wonder, “Is my car safe or under recall?” If it is recalled, you should receive a notification. Manufacturers must notify car owners of a recall decision within 60 days, and send a notification letter to registered owners within that time frame. You can always sign up for email notifications for NHTSA recalls by visiting this link. 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 Vehicle Recalls

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   

  • Mercedes-Benz C-Class   
  • GMC Sierra   
  • BMW 3/4 Series   
  • Dodge Durango   
  • Nissan Pathfinder   
  • Ram Pickup   
  • Toyota 4Runner   
  • Dodge Charger   
  • Chrysler 300   
  • Chevrolet Tahoe   

Top 10 Least Recalled Cars   

  • Hyundai Accent   
  • Chevrolet Equinox   
  • Toyota Corolla   
  • Honda Civic   
  • Honda CR-V   
  • Honda Accord   
  • Subaru Crosstrek   
  • Toyota Camry   
  • Hyundai Elantra   
  • GMC Terrain   

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

  • 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
  • Ordinary wear of equipment is required to be checked, maintained and replaced regularly, like brake pads  
  • Excessive oil consumption  

Car 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, notify owners and offer them a free fix to the problem. Equipment not originally installed by the vehicle manufacturer is the responsibility of the equipment manufacturer to notify, report, and recall. It’s essential to ensure your vehicle registration is up to date (including your mailing address) to get proper notification. 

Do Car Recalls Expire?

Car recalls do not expire, no matter how much time has passed. So long as the manufacturer is still in business, you are entitled to take your vehicle in for free repairs to fix the issue that got the vehicle recalled in the first place. Additionally, a car recall will follow the vehicle even with a change in ownership. For example, suppose that you buy a used car, and you later discover that there was a recall a few years ago, due to an engine issue. That recall follows the vehicle, so you’re entitled to take it in for repairs to get the engine fixed in accordance with the recall. Car recalls can be used as supportive evidence in a lawsuit. After all, it’s easier to legally prove that the vehicle is defective if the manufacturer themselves have admitted it through a recall. 

Do I Have to Pay for Repairs to Keep My Car Safe?

Manufacturers must cover the cost of safety defect fixes. If you pay for any costs associated with the recall, you are entitled to reimbursement, which may even include the costs you incurred before the recall announcement. Manufacturers must 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 During Vehicle Recalls?

Yes, your best course of action is to consult with a lawyer to explore your legal options and what compensation you may receive. Call 888-943-0190 for a free consultation with an accident lawyer near you today.

Understanding vehicle recalls and what you need to know to keep your car safe. Photo is of a car engine, the hood is up and someone is holding a red towel and a mechanics tool above the engine, looking like they are working on it.

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