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FAQ: Vehicle Recalls

The number of motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. continues to rise yearly. Many of these accidents cause serious injuries. One way to make the roads safer is to ensure no unsafe vehicles are on the road. This goal is supported through auto recalls and the recall of defective vehicle equipment.

According to the CDC, traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death for Americans under 44. Defective and dangerous vehicles and parts are responsible for thousands of motor vehicle accidents yearly. Since 1966, auto manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have issued more than 300 million recalls.

This article will answer any questions you may have about vehicle recalls. It will also discuss your options if you or a loved one gets hurt due to an unsafe or defective automobile.

How many car recalls are there every year?

The number of vehicle recalls issued changes from year to year. In 2022, for example, the NHTSA issued over one thousand vehicle safety recalls on more than 35 million vehicles. The agency issued more than 39 million recalls in 2021. For up-to-date statistics, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) automobile recall portal.

Why are auto recalls issued?

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards set minimum safety standards for all vehicles sold in the United States. These standards apply to both new and used cars. The manufacturer or distributor must issue a recall when an automobile or vehicle part fails to meet these requirements and poses a safety risk.

Some of the more common recalls involve the following issues:

  • Defective airbags
  • Defective braking systems
  • Tire defects
  • Airbag recall
  • Defective parts
  • Electrical problems
  • Seat belt issues
  • Electronic component issues

The primary concerns are with those parts of the vehicle that most affect its safe operation, such as brakes, tires, and lighting, or that protect drivers and passengers from death or severe injury in the event of a crash like airbags, safety belts, child restraints, energy-absorbing steering columns, and motorcycle helmets.

A recall becomes necessary when:

  • A motor vehicle or item of equipment does not comply with a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard
  • There is a safety-related defect in the car or equipment

Who decides when to issue a vehicle recall?

Either the manufacturer or the NHTSA would be the one to issue a recall. The manufacturer may issue a recall voluntarily, or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may order them to.

Major automakers selling vehicles in the United States include the following:

  • Toyota
  • Honda
  • Kia
  • Ford
  • Chevrolet
  • Nissan
  • Chrysler
  • Lexus
  • Hyundai
  • Jeep
  • Subaru
  • Mercedes-Benz

When the manufacturer issues a recall, they check vehicle registration records to ensure they include all owners. This is important because the manufacturer must send the recall information to the car's owner. This is not always the person who bought the vehicle.

Why would an auto manufacturer issue a voluntary recall?

Sometimes, a vehicle manufacturer issues a recall voluntarily rather than waiting for the government to order one. There are several reasons why they may do this, including:

  • It is cheaper to offer to fix the defect than risk a lawsuit
  • It helps promote goodwill on the part of the manufacturer
  • By issuing a recall, the company may avoid liability down the road

You must pay heed to any safety recalls you receive. If you don't take advantage of the opportunity to get the problem fixed, you may lose your right to sue for damages later.

That is one of the significant reasons manufacturers send voluntary recalls in the first place. Once a certain amount of time goes by, they are no longer on the hook for injuries caused by the safety defect.

What happens if a manufacturer identifies a safety issue but fails to issue a recall?

If an automaker is aware of a defect and doesn't issue a recall, the NHTSA will fine them. For example, the government learned that GM hid a deadly issue with their ignition switches for years. Finally, in 2014, the company issued a much-needed safety recall. Once the NHTSA learned of the duplicity, it fined the company more than $110 million for the thousands of violations committed.

What are common types of safety-related defects?

The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (1966) gives the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the authority to issue vehicle safety standards and to require manufacturers to recall vehicles with safety-related defects or that do not meet safety standards.

Generally, a safety-related defect is a problem that exists in a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment that:

  • Poses a risk to motor vehicle safety
  • May exist in a group of vehicles of the same design or manufacture or items of equipment of the same type and manufacture

Examples of safety defects include:

  • Steering components that break suddenly and cause partial or complete loss of vehicle control
  • Accelerator controls that may stick
  • Wheels that crack or break, resulting in loss of vehicle control
  • Windshield wiper assemblies that fail to operate or malfunction
  • Defective car seats
  • Seats or seat backs that fail unexpectedly during regular use
  • Wiring system problems that result in a fire or loss of lighting
  • Car ramps or jacks collapse, which can injure someone working on a vehicle
  • Defective airbags that deploy on their own

What is a silent recall?

Sometimes, an auto manufacturer realizes that there is a defect with one of their vehicles. Instead of sending recall notices to buyers, the company sends consumers a bulletin offering to repair the issue or replace the part. They shroud this silent recall in the form of customer service or courtesy information.

The government does not initiate silent recalls and is only sometimes aware the manufacturer is issuing the recall. As long as the company is voluntarily providing the information, it can get away with what most people agree is consumer manipulation.

How are consumers notified of a new safety recall?

Vehicle/equipment manufacturers initiate most auto recalls. NHTSA investigations or complaints made by vehicle owners also trigger recalls. For example, if a significant number of drivers complain that their ABS isn't working correctly, the manufacturer may issue a recall. The more dangerous the defect, the more likely the automaker will issue the recall voluntarily.

Within a reasonable time after identifying a safety defect or noncompliance, manufacturers must notify, by first-class mail, all registered owners and purchasers of the affected vehicles of the problem's existence. They must also let the purchasers know what risk the defect poses to motor vehicle safety.

How can a recalled vehicle be remedied?

Once the manufacturer identifies a vehicle defect, manufacturers have three options to correct the defect: repair, replacement, or refund.

The manufacturer or car dealership may choose to repair the vehicle, replace the vehicle with an identical or similar vehicle free of safety defects, or refund the purchase price to the consumer. The manufacturer or distributor is entitled to retain a reasonable allowance for depreciation.

In the case of defective equipment, including tires and child safety seats, the manufacturer can either repair or replace them. Contacting a product liability attorney is in your best interests if you're considering pursuing a car defect claim.

What about international automakers?

The laws and regulations for vehicle recalls also apply to foreign vehicles. Any vehicle and equipment manufactured or imported for sale in the United States including territories, and certified for use on public roads and highways must meet the stringent safety requirements outlined above.

How do I get a legal case assessment?

You may have a legal claim if you think you were injured in a car accident caused by a vehicle defect. You should contact a personal injury lawyer to schedule your free case evaluation. They can answer any questions you may have about vehicle recalls. They'll also let you know if you have a claim worth pursuing.

To find a product liability lawyer near you, visit our product liability attorney directory.

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