Why Did Your Car Get Recalled and What Should You Do About It?

October 26, 2016

Statistics show that cars today are getting safer. The number of traffic fatalities has fallen since 2006, though they increased in 2015. However, even with improved design, vehicle components sometimes fail and require replacement or repair. In these situations, regulators require car manufacturers to recall the vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires  recalls when vehicles have safety-related defects or when they fail to meet Federal safety standards. Safety defects can include problems such as:

  • Accelerator controls that may break or stick
  • Faulty windshield wiper assemblies
  • Air bags that deploy when they are not supposed to
  • Fuel system components that may leak after a collision
  • Wiring systems that may ignite fires or cause the lights to fail

Not every defect is subject to a recall. For example, a malfunctioning stereo system would not spur a recall.

Often, carmakers initiate recalls voluntarily; other times, recalls occur following NHTSA investigations or orders. Carmakers must notify the NHTSA and vehicle owners, distributors and dealers when they learn of safety defects. They must then correct the defect free of charge to the vehicle's owner.

Car manufacturers have three options when they recall vehicles: Repair the problem, replace the vehicle or component, or refund the owner's money. The manufacturer will inform the owner of which options are available at the time they give notice of the recall. When a car owner receives a recall notice and an offer of a free repair, he should make an appointment as to have it serviced by an authorized dealer as soon as possible. Before the appointment, he should follow any safety guidance the manufacturer may provide.

Concerned vehicle owners can also report safety issues to the NHTSA. The agency has a web site, safercar.gov, where owners can file complaints about their cars. If the agency receives enough similar complaints from a large number of car owners, it may open an investigation into the issue. An investigation may lead to the agency ordering a recall.

Another government web site, www.recalls.gov, provides information about car recalls in addition to recalls of vehicle equipment, tires, and child safety seats. The site also enables users to sign up for email alerts when recalls for any of these are announced. Safercar.gov also offers a free smartphone app to notify vehicle owners about recalls and to enable them to easily submit complaints.

A visit to safercar.gov shows dozens of vehicle recalls for things such as transmissions that shift into neutral without warning, misrouted fuel lines, and leaky transmission hoses. Car owners should act on these recalls without delay. Prompt repair of these problems will help ensure that drivers and passengers will get to their destinations safely.


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