Car Defects and Recalls Basics

Records show that there are an approximately 42,000 lives are lost every year due to road accidents, eliminating the unsafe vehicles from the streets is one of the many priorities the government is targeting. Records also reveal that these traffic crashes have caused people to suffer paraplegia, a condition where there is paralysis below the waist, and they ranked this as number one that kills people below 34 years old. Due to these accidents or crashes, the government has estimated a loss of $150 billion, in terms of the workers’ productivity, medical expenses, insurance costs, and the like. Because of this big loss in the lives of the people and economic loss as well, the government has seen the need to improve motor vehicle safety and the way to do this through recall of all defective vehicles and vehicle equipment.

There were more than 299 million trucks, cars, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, and moped, 43 million tires and 84 million pieces of motor vehicle equipment which includes child seats were recalled to fix the safety defects since 1966.

You can go and visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s NHTSA automobile recall portal for recent news on vehicle and vehicle-related recalls.

When is a Recall Necessary?

The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards established  minimum performance conditions for the parts of the vehicles  such as the brakes, tires, and lighting that affect safety of the drivers and passengers from death or serious injury during accidents or crash, such as air bags, child restraints, safety belts, the energy absorbing steering columns, motorcycle helmets, and are all applicable to all vehicles and  produced or imported for sale in USA and its territories certified for use in public streets and highways.  Recall is necessary when:

  • A vehicle or part of motor vehicle equipment, including tires, does not conform with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard;
  • There is a safety-related defect in the vehicle or equipment.

Vehicle Defects that Affect Safety

The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1996 provides the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA the permission to issue vehicle safety standards and to demand the producers to recall vehicles with safety-related defects or vehicles that do not conform to the safety standards.  A safety-related defect is a condition and problem that are in a motor vehicle or a part of the vehicle equipment that:

  • Cause risks to motor vehicle safety, and
  • May present in a group of vehicles with the similar design or manufacture, or parts of the equipment of the same kind and manufacture.

Some samples of the safety defects are:

  • Problems with fuel system parts, especially in their tendency to crash damage due to fuel leaks and can result to vehicle fires.
  • Accelerator controls that may damage or stick.
  • Steering parts that abruptly crack resulting to partial or full loss of vehicle control.
  • Engine cooling fan blades that suddenly break that can cause injury to persons working on the vehicle.
  • Wheels that breaks, causing in loss of vehicle control.
  • Seat backs or seats that collapse unexpectedly during the normal use.
  • Windshield wiper assemblies that fail to function.
  • Some critical parts of vehicle that break, fall apart, or separate from the vehicle which can cause loss of control of the vehicle, or injury to persons inside and outside of the vehicle.
  • Child safety seats with defective safety belts and buckles, or some parts that can cause injuries, not only in vehicle crash but also in non-operational safety of a motor vehicle.
  • Wring system has problem that can cause fire or loss of lighting.
  • Car ramps or destroyed jacks which can cause injury in a vehicle.
  • Air bags are defective that can cause injury during a crash or accident

Defects in a Vehicle that is not Directly-Related to Safety

The following are problems with the vehicles or equipment that are not considered to be  safety under the federal law:

  • Ordinary wear of equipment that need to be inspected, maintained, and replaced regularly; equipment includes the shock absorbers, brake pads and shoes, batteries, and exhaust systems.
  • Air conditioners and radio that do not operate properly
  • Excessive consumption of oil
  • Non-structural  or body panel rust
  • Low quality of paint and cosmetic blemishes

How does a Recall Start?

The vehicle and equipment recalls are done voluntarily by its producers, while others are impelled by NHTSA investigations or complaints made by the vehicle owners.

Most of the efforts to do a recall and remedy a safety defect are made voluntarily by the manufacturers before any involvement of NHTSA. Through their tests, inspection procedures, and information gathering system, the manufacturers have the capability to know that a safety defect is present or that the requirements of safety standard have not been met. If a safety defect is found, the manufacturer must inform the NHTSA and the vehicle owners, dealers, and distributors. The manufacturer addresses the problem without charging the vehicle owner. NHTSA is responsible for checking the manufacturer’s corrective action for adequate and compliance with the statutory requirements.

And as vehicles age with use, some design and performance problem may arise which are often reported by owners to NHTSA. These reports form the basis for NHTSA’s defect investigations, which may result in safety recalls.

How will be notified if a recall is ordered or initiated?

Within a reasonable period after knowing a safety defect or noncompliance, producers must inform, by first class mail, all registered owners and buyers of the vehicles about the presence of the problem and provide an assessment of its risks to motor vehicle safety.  The manufacturer should give an explanation to its consumers the potential safety dangers. The names of the vehicle owners are acquired from the State motor vehicle agencies. The notice must direct the consumers on how to address the problem, remind them that corrections are to be done without charges and when the remedy will be available, for how it will be, and to whom they should contact when there is problem that comes up in getting the free recall work.

What are the ways the recalled vehicle or equipment be addressed to?

When a defect determination is done, the law provides the producer three alternatives for fixing the defect, namely repair, replacement, or refund. The manufacturer may opt for repair of the vehicle, or replace the vehicle with the same features of the vehicle, or refund the purchase price in full (minus the allowance for depreciation). In case of the equipment, it includes the tires and child safety seats, the manufacturer can choose to repair or replace.

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