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Important Facts You Need to Know About Vehicle Recalls

As vehicular safety has become an ever more pressing concern in recent decades, it seems as though vehicle recalls have only grown in their number and frequency. In fact, 1966 was the last year on record in which the number of vehicles affected by recalls amounted to fewer than a million. Since the 982,823 vehicles affected by the 58 recalls that year, the number of cars and trucks impacted by manufacturer recalls has been in excess of one million annually.

Just two years ago, the nation established a new record with 803 separate recalls issued – recall orders that impacted a total of 63.9 million cars and trucks. The lion’s share of those recalled vehicles was the result of manufacturer requests, but it is important to note that the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration played a role in 2014 too. The agency’s routine monitoring and investigations resulted in 123 separate recall requests that year, affecting 19.1 million vehicles.

Why Recalls Occur

herrman-390-million-04-e1465939848856The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act grants the NHTSA vast authority in the area of vehicle safety standards and gives the agency the power to compel manufacturers to recall all vehicles that fail to meet those minimum safety guidelines. Through a combination of manufacturer-initiated recalls and the NHTSA’s exercise of its compulsory recall authority, more than 390 million vehicles have been recalled in the last five decades. Those recalls have all been initiated in response to one of two main concerns:

  • Recalls can be necessary whenever vehicles or their parts fail to meet the required safety standards; or
  • When defects are discovered that relate directly to the safety of the vehicle. Safety defects are defined as problems that directly impact a vehicle’s safety, and that usually exist in vehicles of similar manufacturing design.

Over the last fifty years, a wide variety of such safety violations and defects have been discovered in various makes and models of the nation’s fleet of vehicles. Those problems have included everything from defective and substandard steering equipment to defective brakes and accelerators, wiring problems, defective airbags, and tire issues. These and many other problems can result in mandatory recall orders that manufacturers are obliged to obey.


Who Orders Recalls?

When safety recalls are ordered, they typically come about one of two ways:

  • The manufacturer can order a recall based on its own independent findings. This often comes about as a result of a number of reported consumer problems that the manufacturer then identifies as being systemic to the vehicle. Sometimes it is a minor design flaw; other times vehicle makers discover that faulty equipment or defective materials were used during the manufacturing process.
  • The second option is when the NHTSA orders a recall based on its own investigation of a vehicle type. This too often occurs as the result of investigations related to reports filed by consumers. At times, manufacturers balk at certain orders – leaving the agency with little choice other than to seek a court order to compel the recall.

How Recalls Are Conducted

When recalls are needed, manufacturers are responsible for notifying vehicle owners. Since both vehicles and equipment can be an issue in a recall, there are several different ways in which manufacturers can follow through on their obligations. With cars, trucks, and other recalled vehicles, the manufacturing companies typically conduct a merge of their own sales records with the state’s registration records to obtain current addresses for mailing purposes. Equipment recalls require a different approach that involves notifying distributors and buyers.

Who Pays for The Repairs

For consumers, a recall notice can sometimes be a cause for anxiety. Many often worry that they will suddenly be confronted with expensive repair costs, and they may respond by simply ignoring the notice. In cases where a person has purchased a second-hand car or truck, that buyer may wonder whether he’s entitled to free repairs during a recall. The good news is that you should never have to pay for the manufacturer’s mistakes. In fact, you are not even required to take the vehicle back to the dealership where you first purchased it, since every dealer that sells that vehicle brand must perform recall repairs at no charge to you.

And that free recall repair extends to every owner of the vehicle. So, even if you’re the sixth person to own that vehicle when the recall is announced, you are just as entitled as the original owner to receive that free repair. Moreover, if you noticed the problem within the year prior to the recall and had it repaired at a franchised dealer, the manufacturer has to reimburse you for those repairs as long as you can provide receipts.

How You Should React

First of all, if you receive a recall notice do not ignore it. According to the NHTSA, an average of 25% of all vehicles recalled each year never report for servicing. Now, not all of that is due to consumers ignoring recalls, of course. In some instances, recalls are issued to an owner who has recently sold the vehicle to another buyer, and that second owner simply never receives notice of the problem. Even so, that is merely the reason why a consumer might not respond to a recall notification; it does not excuse the consumer’s failure to do due diligence.

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The NHTSA recommends that consumers check for recalls on their vehicles a minimum of two times each year. To better facilitate those searches, the agency provides a website search tool that can tell you whether your vehicle has been subject to a recall any time within the last 15 years. All you need to do is enter your car or truck’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to learn about any potential problems.

The important thing to remember is that recalls are issued due to identified safety concerns. Because of that fact, it is imperative that you contact a franchised dealership that sells your vehicle brand as soon as you learn of a problem. The repairs are free, the process is simple, and you and your family will all sleep better at night knowing that the problem has been resolved.