Everything You Need to Know about Vehicle Recalls

April 18, 2017 by

We’ve all heard about safety recalls; these occur when products have a dangerous defect or do not conform to federal safety standards. They can happen with almost any product across any industry for a variety of reasons, but recalls are especially scary when they involve a vehicle.

Based on most vehicle recall news, it’s easy to assume they’re all about corporate profits and government agencies. But vehicle recalls affect real people just like you every day. Poorly-designed parts, manufacturing problems, and misleading information put you and your loved ones in danger. And even if you aren’t driving a recalled vehicle, others on the road might, putting themselves and you at higher risk for injury or even death.

The best way to protect yourself is to know what recalls are, know how to determine if any active recalls exist on your vehicle, and learn what to do if you’re in a crash and a vehicle recall may have been involved. We cover all of these issues and more below.

Why Do Vehicle Recalls Occur?

When a safety concern or defect is discovered—either by an automaker or by consumers after the car hits the market—the automaker can volunteer to recall the car. You may hear of this as a “voluntary recall” in the news. On the other hand, if a significant number of consumers make complaints with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) or enough safety incidents result from the defect, the NHTSA can request that an automaker recall the vehicle.

The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act authorizes the NHTSA to dictate minimum safety standards of cars, car parts, and other items associated with vehicles, like car seats for children. Since that law was enacted in 1966, the NHTSA has recalled more than 500 million vehicles, tires, and accessories to address safety concerns.

Vehicle recalls can even happen years after a car model is released. For example, the 2014 ignition switch defect caused General Motors to recall millions of cars worldwide, including vehicle models from 2003. While there are many examples of big recalls that make the news, smaller recalls happen frequently, and they can also be very dangerous if not attended to. Small recalls are almost always voluntary, and they usually result from oversight or insufficient testing prior to a car’s release to market.

Large-scale recalls almost always make it to the NHTSA to go through a longer investigative process.

The NHTSA Recall Process

In order to determine whether a vehicle recall is needed in the first place, the NHTSA takes all consumer complaints and other reports into consideration. If the NHTSA believes that a certain safety issue requires further review, the agency turns the issue over to the Office of Defects Investigation. That office then begins a four-part investigative process.

  1. Screening
    During the screening, all available information pertaining to a certain safety issue is turned over to the Defects Assessment Division (DAD) for assessment. The result of the screening phase is a recommendation of whether or not to open a formal investigation into a safety defect.
  2. Petition Analysis
    If a formal investigation is recommended, it moves on to the petition analysis phase. Each person who requested an investigation into a safety defect is notified about whether an investigation has been opened or not.Any individual may petition the NHTSA to request an investigation into a safety-related defect or to hold a hearing regarding whether an automaker or manufacturer met its obligation to the consumer to inform and correct a known safety defect. If a petition is granted, either an investigation is opened and moves to the third step in the process or a hearing is held. If a petition is denied, the reason is published in the Federal Register.
  3. Investigation
    The investigation phase consists of two parts: preliminary evaluation and engineering analysis.Most preliminary evaluations are opened as a result of the DAD review. During this phase, information about the manufacturer (complaint data, crash reports, warranty claims, etc.) is gathered. At this point, the automaker has a chance to defend itself. Preliminary evaluations usually end for three reasons: further investigation was not needed, the manufacturer decided to voluntarily recall the defect, or the case moved forward to engineering analysis.An engineering analysis further investigates the safety defect, complementing the information with inspections, surveys, and tests as well as more information from both the automaker and its suppliers. If the Office of Defects Investigation finds that a safety defect exists, it presents its findings to a panel of experts. If the panel agrees with the findings, the automaker or manufacturer has yet another opportunity to defend itself if new information is available. If the Office of Defects Investigation still believes a safety defect exists, they will send a formal recall request letter.
  4. Recall Management
    Once the recall is issued, the Recall Management Division of the NHTSA monitors the recall to ensure that everything is recorded properly and happens in an appropriate amount of time. The Recall Management Division also ensures the recall is effective, and they may recommend expanding the recall if necessary.

What Do Vehicle Recalls Mean for Consumers?

Vehicle recalls are extremely important for consumers to monitor, and they should not be ignored. For several years in a row, vehicle recalls have hit record highs. In 2015, for example, automakers recalled 51.2 million vehicles and issued over 850 recalls. Driving a vehicle with a recall in effect can put both you and others on the road in danger. And if a safety defect doesn’t cause a crash, it can certainly make one much worse.

So, if you receive a recall notification (usually in the mail), be sure to address it promptly. In most cases, the automaker will offer to fix the vehicle defect at a certified dealership free of charge. And if you hear of a recall or you simply want to know if any recalls exist on your vehicle, visit safecar.gov to look up your vehicle by the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). This site also allows you to file a complaint with the NHTSA.

What Should You Do If You’re Involved in a Car Accident?

Sometimes automakers put profits first at the expense of consumer safety. Vehicle defects can and do cause fatal car wrecks. This is unacceptable. If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a car crash, especially if a safety defect or vehicle recall may have been involved, you deserve justice and compensation.

The attorneys at Hossley Embry thoroughly investigate auto accidents to discover every detail and determine who was at fault. They deal with car manufacturers, insurance companies, and more to fight for victims.

Call Hossley Embry at (866) 522-9265 or fill out our convenient contact form. We have the resources available (including charter aircraft) to travel throughout Texas and the United States on short notice to investigate your potential claim.


Bomey, N. (2016, January 21). U.S. auto recalls hit all-time record in 2015. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2016/01/21/nhtsa-recall-completion-washington-auto-show-mark-rosekind/79111364/

Consumer alert: GM ignition switch recall information. (n.d.). Safecar.gov. Retrieved from https://www.safercar.gov/Vehicle-Owners/Consumer-Alert:-GM-Ignition-Switch-Recall-Information

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

Categories: Vehicle Defects