California Lemon Law Attorneys

How Do Car Recalls Work?

May 31, 2024

Car recalls are a significant process, especially when it comes to automobiles. These recalls are the manufacturer’s response to defects that could pose a risk of injury or property damage. Automotive recalls are a crucial tool in resolving vehicle issues and maintaining safer roadways.

Traffic crashes are the number-one killer of Americans under the age of 34, with a staggering 42,000 deaths recorded each year on U.S. highways. Many of these lives could be saved or injuries prevented by removing defective vehicles from the road or repairing vehicles with defects.

In the United States, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) plays a pivotal role. It sets national safety standards and has the authority to mandate that an auto manufacturer repair safety-related defects at no cost to the consumer. Automotive companies often resist full-scale recalls due to the significant financial losses, even if the defect is minor. The scope of a recall typically depends on the number of affected vehicles and the time required for repairs.

How the Recall Process Begins

Contact the NHTSA

Many car manufacturers initiate the recall process themselves when they discover potential threats, hazards, or faults in their vehicles. However, some companies need a push from the NHTSA or the courts to take responsibility. The NHTSA process begins when an owner reports a fault or flaw in their vehicle. Owners can approach the NHTSA to address their concerns.

There are three methods to contact the NHTSA if you suspect a safety-related defect in your vehicle:

  1. Call the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Vehicle Safety Hotline: (888) 327-4236 or (800) 424-9153, toll-free from anywhere in the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
  2. Report the issue online at the NHTSA’s vehicle safety website:
  3. Send a letter via U.S. Mail:
    • U.S. Department of Transportation
    • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
    • Office of Defects Investigation (NVS-210)
    • 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
    • Washington, DC 20590

When you file a complaint, you may be contacted by an investigator from the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI). The investigation supports NHTSA’s efforts to confirm the defect and monitor the manufacturer’s recall actions.

The NHTSA Investigation Process

If enough consumers file complaints about the same issue in the same model year, NHTSA opens an investigation. The investigation process includes four major parts:

  1. Screening: Reviewing consumer complaints to determine whether an investigation is warranted.
  2. Petition Analysis: Examining the defect for which the petition has been filed and reviewing safety-related calls.
  3. Investigations: Conducting Preliminary Evaluation (PE) and Engineering Analysis (EA) into suspected safety defects.
  4. Recall Management: Monitoring the overall effectiveness of safety recalls.

Whether a recall is needed depends on NHTSA. If a safety defect is identified, a public meeting is held with the manufacturer and public members to discuss the issue. The manufacturer can present new facts and information, but the final decision rests with NHTSA. The manufacturer can challenge the decision in federal district court, though this rarely happens as manufacturers typically initiate recalls when they identify safety defects.

Recall Process in a Nutshell

Once a recall is underway, the manufacturer, media, NHTSA, and others will spread the word. If your vehicle is listed in the recall, you need to schedule an appointment with the manufacturer for service. In some cases, the manufacturer may tow the car from your home for repair. To have your vehicle repaired or replaced after a recall, contact your manufacturer or the specific number provided for recall queries.

Recalls, though often in the news, show that manufacturers are making efforts to keep you safe. It is the automotive sector’s duty to provide safe vehicles and resolve issues through recalls. Recalls minimize safety risks, keep roadways safe, and prevent property damage.

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