Vehicle Recalls: What Consumers Need to Know

pic-1According to 2015 data released earlier this year by the National Safety Council (NSC), an estimated 38,300 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, and 4.4 million people were injured and needed a medical consultation. Scarily, the statistics on road fatalities showcases the largest one-year percentage increase noted in 50 years, with the number of deaths rising eight percent from 2014.

When you look at data such as this, as well as the significant economic impact of vehicle crashes (estimated at over $230 billion annually), it’s obvious that it never gets any less important for the quality and safety of vehicles to be paramount to consumers, manufacturers, and governments.

To help reduce the number of injuries and deaths stemming from traffic accidents caused by unsafe vehicles, the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the authority to make manufacturers recall vehicles that are found to be lacking when it comes to Federal safety standards, or which have safety-related defects.

Since the NHTSA started its work, over 390 million vehicles (including cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, and mopeds) have been recalled. In addition, at least 42 million child-safety seats, 46 million tires, and 66 million pieces of vehicle equipment have also been recalled because of safety defects.

After the death of “Star Trek” actor Anton Yelchin in June this year – which occurred after he was crushed by his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee, a vehicle which had been recalled for gear-shifting problems – there is even more awareness on the issue of vehicle safety and recalls. The increasing number of vehicles being recalled due to defective air bags is also raising a lot of questions. If you need to know more about the topic, read on for the lowdown today.

When and How Recalls Happen

Vehicle recalls occur when a motor vehicle, or a corresponding piece of equipment (such as tires or child car seats), doesn’t comply with a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, or when there is a safety-related defect present.

There are minimum performance requirements set by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards which are applicable to every vehicle manufactured or imported for sale in the United States and certified for use on the roads. Vehicle-related equipment is also covered.

The Standards cover all the parts of a vehicle that most affect its safe operation (like brakes), as well as those parts that protect vehicle drivers and passengers from injury or death in the event of an accident (such as safety belts, air bags, and child restraints).

There are different ways that recalls can happen if a safety issue is found. Oftentimes, manufacturers voluntarily initiate recalls if they find a safety defect, but other times the NHTSA will order a recall or conduct an investigation to determine if a recall if required.

Manufacturers are also responsible for notifying the NHTSA if they discover a defect, as well as for telling vehicle or equipment dealers, distributors, and owners about the problem. Manufacturers are also obligated to remedy safety defects at no charge to the owner of the vehicle or the equipment. The NHTSA monitors that the corrective action is taken and that recall campaigns are successfully executed.

What Qualifies as a Safety Defect

pic-2A safety defect in a vehicle or related equipment is generally defined as a problem that poses a risk to motor vehicle safety, or that may exist in a group of vehicles or pieces of equipment with the same design or manufacture. Defects can be in the construction or performance of a vehicle or piece of equipment, as well as in its components or materials.

Some examples of safety defects include:

  • Accelerator controls that stick or break
  • Wiring system issues that result in loss of lighting or in fires
  • Air bags that deploy when they shouldn’t
  • Wheels that break or crack and result in the loss of control of a vehicle
  • Problems with the components of fuel systems, especially those that increase the chance of fuel leakage and vehicle fires
  • Car jacks or ramps that collapse or otherwise cause injury to people when they’re working on a vehicle

What Should Be Done by Consumers

If consumers suspect that there is a safety defect in their vehicle or a corresponding piece of equipment, they should report it to the NHTSA as soon as possible. There is a telephone service that collects information from consumers about their vehicle safety problems, as well as the website where people can report an issue online. Alternatively, complaints listed in letters can be sent via the U.S. postal system to the NHTSA.

Consumers should take note of a variety of details on the issue they are having with their vehicle or equipment. For example, owners should detail the make, model and manufacturer, as well as the year model, and the part, system, or assembly which is affected. These reports are used by the NHTSA and manufacturers to work out if a safety-related defect exists, and if an investigation and/or safety recall is required.

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Melissa Thompson

Melissa is a mother of 2, lives in Utah, and writes for a multitude of sites. She is currently the EIC of and writes about health, wellness, and business topics.