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Driver's Guide to Vehicle Recalls and Defects

Posted on by Ben Hartwig in SafetyJanuary 28, 2020

Shockingly more than 60 million people are driving around in vehicles with an un-repaired defect or safety recall. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), only about 75% of all recalls ever get fixed. Family cars like SUVs and minivans are among some of the most common that require repairs, and the passengers are often young children.

The reasons most people cite as to why they don’t bother to have vehicle recalls fixed is that it is an inconvenience, or they were unaware of them. By law, the automobile manufacturer must do everything they can to inform owners, but the system doesn’t always work perfectly.

Maureen Vogel, a representative for the National Safety Commission (NSC), stresses that these safety recalls don’t just affect the owners of the cars, but also other drivers on the road. Vehicle recalls are everyone’s responsibility because they directly affect roadway safety.

What is a Safety Recall?

The NHTSA is the government agency in charge of highway safety. They govern the rules that pertain to automobile manufacturing, safety, and maintenance. They have devised a set of performance standards called the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. These standards apply to all vehicles that drive on public roadways. In them, they cover safety items such as brakes, lights, steering, and also protective parts that save lives such as seat belts, child restraints, air bags, and even motorcycle helmets. An example of a safety recall might be an accelerator pedal that sticks and could cause the driver to speed up uncontrollably and potentially collide with something or someone.

When the automobile manufacturer or the NHTSA discovers a defect that prevents the vehicle from meeting these standards, a recall is issued. Sometimes if enough people file complaints with the NHTSA, they will open an investigation and research to see if there is indeed a defect. Many vehicle manufacturers voluntarily issue safety recalls, but sometimes have to be pressured by the NHTSA and even the courts.

Once a defect has been determined, by law, the automobile manufacturer has 60 days to contact all owners (by mail) of that make and model and inform them of the recall and provide instructions on how to get it fixed. The recall repair must be at no cost to the vehicle owner.

How to Stay on Top of Safety Recalls for Your Vehicle

vehicle recalls

As mentioned above, many people are unaware that there is a recall on their vehicle. Mailing out notices does not always work well as people move and addresses change. But there are other ways to do vehicle recall check to find out if your car needs any immediate repairs.

What is Your VIN

Vehicle recalls are linked to VINS. A VIN is a17-character Vehicle Identification Number. Every vehicle manufactured has one, and they are unique, like a fingerprint. The VIN is how your insurance company and the DMV registers and keeps track of your particular vehicle. Your VIN may be listed on your registration, your insurance card, or just below the lower left of your windshield.

How to Use the NHTSA Search Tool

The NHTSA has a vehicle search tool where you can enter your VIN and see all recalls going back 15 years. The tool will only show un-repaired recalls, none that have been fixed. You will also not see any international vehicles listed there. The NHTSA also offers email alerts that you can sign up for on your car so that if in the future any recalls are issued, you will hear it about it.

Other Ways to Find Out About Recalls

The internet also offers online database portals with information to help you find out about recalls. If you are buying a used car, before you plunk down your hard-earned cash, you may want to pull a VIN check report to see if it has been in any accidents and if all the open recalls have been completed on it.

What to Do if Your Dealer Won’t Fix the Recall

vehicle recalls

If you take your car in to have a recall fixed and the dealer won’t help you or wants to charge you for the repairs, you have some legal recourse. First, take your issue to the general manager. If he or she still won’t help you, contact the car manufacturer directly and file a complaint. If you received a recall notification, there should be an 800-number and an address to contact them through.

If you cannot get satisfaction that way, take your case to the NHTSA. This federal agency is the bottom line when it comes to recalls. They have a complaint form you can use to report the dealer and/or manufacturer who wouldn’t help you.

Additionally, it's important to regularly check your driving records to ensure they are free of any violations or incidents that could potentially impact your interactions with dealers and manufacturers regarding recall repairs. In this case, your final option may be to contact an attorney to help you with this situation. Some lawyers specialize in vehicle recalls and car manufacturer cases.

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