Vehicle Recall Process And Manufacturer Liability

On behalf of Pat Crispi at Keogh Crispi PC

Since 1966, when the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act went into effect, the U.S. Department of Transportation has had the authority to issue safety standards for all vehicles through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA can demand that a manufacturer recall vehicles that contain safety defects or that do not meet safety standards.

In the 45 years since the Act has been in effect, the NHTSA has recalled almost 300 million vehicles due to safety issues. It has also recalled more than 125 million tires and other motor vehicle equipment because of safety related issues.

The NHTSA recall process is quite complex. The process typically begins when the agency reviews consumer complaints or other information that indicates a safety defect may be endangering the public. After the initial screening process, the NHTSA:

  • Analyzes petitions requesting a safety defect investigation
  • Investigates the alleged safety defect
  • Manages the recall and determines its effectiveness

If the NHTSA concludes that a recall is necessary, the manufacturer has the right to appeal the decision.

Voluntary Manufacturer Recalls

Additionally, recalls are initiated by manufacturers voluntarily without the NHTSA's involvement. Manufacturers often discover defects through their own records and safety inspections. When this occurs, the manufacturers must notify the NHTSA, dealers, distributors and vehicle or equipment owners. The manufacturer typically has three options regarding how to handle the safety defect:

  1. Repairing the defect at no cost to the owner;
  2. Replacing the defective equipment at no cost to the owner; or
  3. Offering the owner a refund

Even if the manufacturer voluntarily initiates a safety recall, the action does not release the manufacturer from any potential liability caused by the defect. An owner may be able to seek remedies or damages from the manufacturer for any injuries caused by the defective part or generally unsafe vehicle. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident involving an unsafe automobile, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your options.