Why Auto Recalls Matter

Posted on Friday, April 13th, 2018 at 6:23 pm    

According to data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 42.6 million Americans were affected by 899 new recalls of vehicles, auto equipment, child safety seats and tires in 2017. Even worse, these astronomical numbers are low when compared to recent years. 2015 saw more than 86.3 million safety recalls, and 2016 wasn’t far behind at around 78.8 million.1

Given how widespread the issue is, you may expect that many vehicle owners affected by recalls would promptly bring their vehicles in for repairs. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Data suggests that only 70 percent of those eligible for repairs act upon vehicle recalls. That means 30 percent of warned drivers are operating a vehicle that could fail on them, endangering not only themselves and their passengers, but also everyone else on the road.2

These numbers are even more abysmal for certain types of recalls. According to J.D. Power, the percentage of remedied recalls is much lower for:

  • Recalls impacting more than one million vehicles – 49 percent
  • Suspension issues – 48 percent
  • Airbags – 47 percent
  • Older vehicles – 44 percent
  • Large SUVs – 33 percent
  • Mid-premium sports cars – 31 percent

These percentages are startling, but they don’t have to be. Vehicle recalls are serious and easily remedied, which is why every owner should heed recall notices and check the recall status of their vehicle twice a year.

The Defects Are Dangerous

Many vehicle owners don’t realize auto recalls always pertain to mechanisms that pose a significant safety risk if they were to malfunction. Minor issues like paint misapplications, air conditioning defects and exterior rust do not warrant a recall. Neither does general wear and tear, as the vehicle owner would be expected to handle this on their own through regular vehicle inspection and maintenance. However, manufacturing problems that directly impact safe operation of a motor vehicle are subject to recalls, including:

  • Steering mechanisms
  • Brakes
  • Airbags
  • Seatbelts
  • Tires
  • Lighting
  • Accelerators
  • Child safety seats
  • Fire hazards
  • Major structural problems

Recalls are issued either through the manufacturer themselves or through NHTSA. Since manufacturers generally want to preserve their public image and NHTSA only has jurisdiction over safety issues, you can be sure that any vehicle recall poses a real danger.

Many People Have Complained

Some recalls are initiated by the manufacturer themselves if they become aware of a manufacturing problem or if they realize their vehicle does not meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), which dictate the minimum performance acceptable for vehicles and vehicle parts. Much of the time, however, vigilant consumers draw NHTSA’s attention to a problem by submitting complaints.

Any person can submit a complaint:

  • Online – Simply fill out and submit a Vehicle Safety Complaint or Non-Vehicle Complaint on safercar.gov.
  • Via the Vehicle Safety Hotline – Consumers can call toll-free at 1-888-327-4236 or at 1-800-424-9153 if they have a hearing impairment.
  • By mail – Send a letter describing the problem to NHTSA in Washington, D.C.

After reviewing the complaints, NHTSA compiles the information and identifies trends. If they feel there is a safety concern, or if they grant a petition to open an investigation, they will begin a Preliminary Evaluation (PE), which can last up to four months. If the PE indicates an issue and the manufacturer refuses to send out a recall, NHTSA conducts an in-depth Engineering Analysis (EA) that can last up to a year. With sufficient evidence of a safety issue, they will send a Recall Request Letter to the manufacturer. In some cases, the manufacturer will still resist and a Public Meeting will be ordered to decide the matter. The manufacturer is also allowed to dispute a recall decision in Federal District Court.

As you can see, the recall process is thorough and often time consuming, relying upon stringent federal regulations and vehicle testing and analysis. Input from hundreds to thousands of concerned consumers is also considered. By the time the recall notice arrives in your mailbox, your vehicle may be well overdue for repair or replacement.

There Is No Drawback to Getting the Recall Fixed

Maybe you figure you’ll hedge your bets by skipping repair, replacement or a refund and continue driving your vehicle as is. While going in for a repair may be a minor inconvenience, there is really no downside to remedying a recalled vehicle or part. The manufacturer is required to offer repair free of charge, a suitable replacement or a refund that matches the value of your vehicle, taking depreciation into account. All you have to do is take advantage of the offer by going to your local dealer!

You may even be eligible for reimbursement if you already paid for repair or replacement of the vehicle or part in question. Be sure to keep receipts for all vehicle repairs so you can supply documentation to the manufacturer.

Find Out If Your Vehicle or Its Parts Have Been Recalled

If you are unsure whether your vehicle, auto equipment, child safety seat or tires have been recalled, visit this NHTSA recall page. To use the vehicle search, you will need to know your vehicle identification number (VIN). The VIN is usually located on the:

  • Driver’s side dashboard, looking through the windshield from outside the car
  • Car door jamb or pillar near the driver’s seat, which is only visible by opening the door
  • Vehicle title, registration or insurance papers

You can also contact the manufacturer if you cannot find your VIN.

Protect Yourself Against Defective Automobiles and Equipment in Birmingham, AL

Sometimes an auto recall reaches a consumer too late to prevent catastrophe. If you have been injured in an accident due to a defective vehicle or vehicle part, the lawyers at Farris, Riley & Pitt, LLP will fight for your compensation.

We have more than 20 years of experience in the Birmingham area, including extensive experience advocating for clients in all types of product liability cases. Call us today at (205) 324-1212 for your free consultation.

1https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/2017_recall_annual_report_updated011818_0.pdf
2https://www.nhtsa.gov/press-releases/us-dot-and-maryland-mva-collaborate-improve-recall-remedy-rates

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