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Car Safety Recalls

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) publishes safety standards for vehicles sold in the U.S. Most of the time, most manufacturers strictly adhere to these standards, but sometimes a vehicle does not meet these safety standards. In these cases, either the NHTSA or the car manufacturer may issue a car recall.

NHSTA Process

A recall issued by the NHTSA follows a specific process. First, car owners file complaints about a perceived safety defect. Each complaint is reviewed and catalogued so that the NHTSA can track which vehicles get the most complaints. Although there is no magic number of complaints which triggers an investigation, if one car model has more serious complaints than the others, the NHTSA will begin an investigation.

During its investigation, the NHTSA will closely review each complaint as well as the designs of the vehicles in question. Engineers may even conduct tests if necessary. If the NHTSA's tests reveal a problem in a car's design that impacts motor vehicle safety and may exist in many vehicles of a particular design group, the NHTSA will issue a recall. However, if the defect merely impacts the comfort of the driver, there will be no recall. For example, defects in the radio or air conditioning are rarely cause for recall; defects with the steering or acceleration may pose a safety hazard.

How Recalls Work

If a manufacturer issues a car recall, it may notify car owners; but many car owners notify dealerships only. These are known as "secret warranties." If the NHTSA issues the recall, manufacturers are legally obligated to notify car owners through the mail using state vehicle registration records.

Each recall notice must contain:

  • A description of the defect;
  • An explanation of the risks posed by the defect, as well as any important warning symptoms; and
  • A description of the remedy, along with instructions on how and when to have the remedy performed.

In the case of car recalls, the "remedy" is the repair or replacement of the defective part without cost to the vehicle owner. These are typically performed by a local dealership. Even if you do not receive a recall notice, you are still entitled to a remedy if either the manufacturer or the NHTSA has issued a recall on your vehicle. Be sure to check the NHTSA's website to find out whether there is a recall on your vehicle.

However, recalls do not mean that a manufacturer or a dealership must pay for any damages you suffered due to the mechanical defect. If you want to recover money for your injuries, it's best to speak with a personal injury attorney. He will be able to explain your options to you.

If your local dealership refuses to perform the remedy, there are steps you can take to make sure the repair is performed. First, speak with the dealership's service manager. She may be able to find a different mechanic to assist you. If no one in the dealership will help, speak with the manufacturer's customer service department. Finally, contact the NHTSA if the issue is still not resolved. They will help you make get the remedy to which you entitled.

For more information, see FindLaw's section on the Basics of Lemon Laws, and read about Your Right to Recall Remedies.

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