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Your Right to Recall Remedies

You have certain legal rights if your car is recalled. A recall can involve dozens of cars or hundreds of thousands. It can affect anything from entire vehicles to replaceable equipment such as floor mats, airbags, and engine parts. Knowing your rights and the remedies available to you can provide a head start in navigating car recalls.

Car Safety 101

Safety is a major issue for car buyers. Advertisements and sales representatives frequently highlight safety features on television and on the sales floor. Car manufacturers continually work to boost sales by making their cars better, safer, and more desirable for consumers. When defects are discovered, manufacturers will often act on their own initiative to prevent a decline in sales and avoid damage to the company's reputation.

Many other factors help ensure the safety and reliability of cars sold in the United States. Government regulators routinely evaluate cars for safety problems. Once cars reach the market, the media widely reports on major safety problems. Consumers injured by a car or equipment defect can sue manufacturers for compensation. Finally, federal and state criminal and civil investigations can lead to expensive fines and settlements. All of these considerations converge to prod manufacturers to produce safer, more reliable cars.

The Recall Process

A recall begins with the discovery of a defect. Sometimes the manufacturer will discover a car defect and issue a recall on its own initiative. More often, consumers will encounter a problem and file a complaint with government regulators, the manufacturer, or a dealership. When a defect is serious enough to raise safety concerns, a recall might prove necessary.

Most of the time, manufacturers will voluntarily recall a defective car. Voluntary recalls are thought to reflect better on companies than complying with government ordered recalls. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency responsible for car safety investigations, often begins the recall process by requesting that a manufacturer issue a voluntary recall. It can also order manufacturers to recall defective cars and equipment when necessary. The NHTSA maintains a helpful online database of recalls and defects as well.

All consumers should receive notice of a recall affecting them. Car manufacturers are required to notify registered owners and purchasers of all recalled cars by letter, and state agencies will provide manufacturers with lists of registered owners for this purpose. This notice will contain important details about getting your car or equipment fixed.

Your Recall Remedies: Repair, Replace, Refund

Federal law requires manufacturers to provide consumers with a recall remedy free of charge and within a reasonable amount of time. Realistically, this may mean a wait. Car recalls can span the globe and potentially involve thousands of owners. But you should insist on your right to a recall remedy at no cost. Most recalls are run through local dealerships.

While your recall remedy is free, the choice of remedy belongs to the manufacturer. Car manufacturers can choose from three recall remedies depending on the nature of the defect.

  • Repair: The manufacturer will repair the defect free of charge. This commonly occurs for small, easily fixed defects.
  • Replace: The manufacturer will replace your car or equipment free of charge.
  • Refund: The manufacturer will refund your purchase (minus a certain amount for depreciation). Refunds are only available for car recalls; manufacturers of car equipment are only required to repair or replace defective equipment.

The NHTSA maintains an online booklet of important recall information for consumers. This source is comprehensive and widely cited. If you have more specific questions, you may wish to read it or otherwise contact the NHTSA.

Your Legal Options

Recall remedies do not affect your remaining legal rights. Consumers who are injured due to a car or car equipment defect can still sue the manufacturer. These lawsuits can recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages from time off work, and other injury damages. Consumers who have been injured as a result of car-related defect should consider contacting an attorney.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure
your rights are protected.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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