Your Right to Recall Remedies
If your vehicle (or your vehicle's equipment) is found to be defective, you have the right to have the situation remedied, and the vehicle/equipment manufacturer and dealer must take steps to ensure that those rights are protected. Also, the law requires manufacturers to make a good faith attempt at contacting owners. Following is an overview of your rights to recall remedies, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
How Will I Be Notified if a Recall Is Ordered or Initiated?
Within a reasonable time after the determination of a safety defect or noncompliance, manufacturers must notify, by first-class mail, all registered owners and purchasers of the affected vehicles of the existence of the problem and give an evaluation of its risk to motor vehicle safety. The manufacturer must explain to consumers the potential safety hazards presented by the problem. Names of vehicle owners are obtained from state motor vehicle offices. The letter must instruct consumers on how to get the problem corrected, remind them that corrections are to be made at no charge, inform them when the remedy will be available, how long the remedy will take to perform, and whom to contact if there is a problem in obtaining the free recall work.
If you do not receive a letter of notification from the manufacturer but think that your vehicle might be involved in a recall campaign, call the Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-DASH-2-DOT (888-327-4236, 1-800-424-9393), log onto the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) web site at www.nhtsa.dot.gov or contact the manufacturer or your dealer. Manufacturers of motor vehicle equipment, particularly tire and child safety seats, maintain lists of owners who have registered their products with the manufacturer. When a recall of these items is initiated, the manufacturer uses that list to directly notify these owners of a recall. In addition, manufacturers of these products as well as other equipment are required to notify the public of recalls through various methods (i.e. advertisements, point of purchase posters, etc.) to ensure that as many owners as possible are aware of the recalls. If you are unsure whether your tire or child safety seat is the subject of a recall, you may contact the manufacturer, call the Vehicle Safety Hotline, or log onto the NHTSA web site.
What Are the Ways in Which a Recalled Vehicle or Item of Equipment May Be Remedied?
Once a defect determination is made, the law gives the manufacturer three options for correcting the defect: repair, replacement, or refund. The manufacturer may choose to repair the vehicle; replace the vehicle with an identical or similar vehicle; or refund the purchase price in full, minus a reasonable allowance for depreciation. In the case of equipment, including tires and child safety seats, the manufacturer can either repair or replace.
If I Had a Defect Repaired at My Own Expense Before a Manufacturer's Recall, Am I Legally Entitled to Reimbursement from the Manufacturer?
Yes, under certain conditions. Manufacturers are required to provide reimbursement for certain owner's costs to remedy defect conditions prior to a recall. Manufacturers are required to reimburse owners for costs incurred to remedy a defect based on a start date of either NHTSA's opening date of an Engineering Analysis or one year prior to the manufacturer's notification of a defect to NHTSA, whichever is earlier. The closing date of eligibility for reimbursement of repair of a motor vehicle is 10 days after the manufacturer mails the last of the owner notices informing owners of a cost-free safety defect recall. For replacement equipment, the closing date is either the same as for motor vehicles or 30 days after the manufacturer's closing of its efforts to provide public notice of the existence of a defect, whichever is later. Documentation of the requested costs is required.
While this is a new requirement, manufacturers have in the past often voluntarily agreed to absorb such costs, and have provided refunds to consumers who had defects corrected prior to a recall, providing that consumers have been able to present documentation to prove that the earlier repairs remedied the defect in question.
Are There Any Limitations on My Right to Have My Vehicle Remedied at No Charge?
Yes. There is a limitation based on the age of the vehicle. In order to be eligible for free remedy, the vehicle cannot be more than 10 years old on the date the defect or non-compliance is determined. Under the law, the age of the vehicle is calculated from the date of sale to the first purchaser. For example, if a defect is found in 2003 and a recall ordered, manufacturers are required to make the correction available at no charge only to cars purchased new in 1994 through 2003. However, consumers should realize that even though manufacturers are not obligated to remedy safety defects in older cars, a safety problem may still exist. If you receive notification of a defect on a vehicle older than 10 years, take the responsibility to have your car repaired at your own expense. Eliminate any unnecessary safety risks.
Also, if the manufacturer challenges the agency's final decision of a safety defect, there is no obligation to remedy the defect while the case is in court. If you decide to take your vehicle in for correction after the agency's decision is made but before the case is finally decided and the court decides that the defect is not safety-related, Federal law does not require that the manufacturer reimburse you for the repair work. However, if the court upholds NHTSA's final decision, you may be entitled to reimbursement. Be sure to save all receipts and paperwork so that you can prove the repairs were made.
What about Tires?
The law requires tire manufacturers to repair or replace at no cost to the consumer only those tires purchased within five years of the defect or non-compliance determination. Furthermore, in order to obtain free replacement or repair of a recalled tire, consumers must bring the tires to the dealer within 60 days of receiving the notification letter from the manufacturer. If replacements are not available when you present your recalled tires, get a written acknowledgment from the dealer, and keep it until the dealer notifies you that there are more tires in stock.
What Can I Do if a Manufacturer or Dealer Refuses to Repair My Vehicle or Equipment at No Charge after a Recall Is Announced?
If a dealer refuses to repair your vehicle in accordance with the recall letter you received from the manufacturer, you should immediately notify the manufacturer. In most cases, contractual agreements between a manufacturer and dealers require all dealers to honor the recall and remedy defects at no extra charge, regardless of where the vehicle or equipment was originally purchased. Under the law, if a vehicle recall has been initiated, consumers are entitled to the remedy without charge, within a reasonable time. In most cases, there will be a time lag between the date of the manufacturer's decision that a recall is warranted or the agency's final decision, and the time the remedy is available to consumers. This time is provided to allow manufacturers to identify owners of vehicle or equipment included in the recall, develop remedial procedures, instruct dealers on how to repair the defect, distribute to dealerships the parts necessary for repair or replacement, and send letters to consumers informing them how the recall campaign will be conducted. A dealer is not required by law to remedy a defect in a vehicle brought in before that date. Although consumers demanding immediate correction may feel they are not receiving satisfactory resolution of the problem, there is no legal recourse available at this stage - patience is the only alternative. In instances where a manufacturer needs extended time to develop a remedy, the agency may require the manufacturer to send an interim notice to consumers that contains any short-term actions that the consumer may take to lessen the likelihood that the defect will occur.
If the Manufacturer Has Recalled My Vehicle or Equipment for a Safety-Related Defect, Can I Still Bring Independent Legal Action against the Manufacturer for the Injuries I May Have Suffered?
Yes. The law specifically states that the recall remedies are in addition to other available legal remedies. To determine specific state law remedies, you should consult a lawyer, contact your state attorney general, or your local district attorney's office.