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Motor Vehicle Recalls: What Happens, Why It Happens and How It Happens.

Laptop batteries catching fire, children’s toys covered in lead paint, and contaminated spinach being sold in grocery stores. One would be hard pressed to find a product genre that hasn’t been inundated with product recalls in the last few years, and defective motor vehicle recalls are no exception. With the increase in Federal regulations regarding motor vehicle safety, car manufacturers have increasingly high standards when it comes to the safety of their vehicles. However, even with these high standards in place, the equipment and technology in today’s vehicles is still susceptible to failure. With the founding of multiple consumer safety organizations, like the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, motor vehicle equipment safety is constantly being analyzed, and manufacturers may voluntarily issue a recall or they may be required to issue a recall on a vehicle, or its safety related equipment.

What is an auto recall?

The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) are US Federal regulations that specify the design, construction, performance and durability requirements for the safety related components on a vehicle, as well as those parts that prevent injury in the event of a crash. For example, the audible sound that chimes when a passenger’s seat belt is not buckled is required to repeat for at least 4 seconds.

The equipment manufacturer, prior to any involvement from the federal government, often initiates recalls voluntarily. However, if consumers encounter issues with their vehicle that violate these standards, they can submit a report of the violation to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA then evaluates the complaints and performs an investigation into the issue. If a violation of these safety standards has occurred, the effected vehicle owners will be contacted about the recall with instructions on how to have the product repaired.

Why is an auto recall necessary?

Most of us would like to believe that a car manufacturer would do the right thing when they realize their motor vehicle is not safe and voluntarily issue a recall. As reported by MotorTrend Magazine, Toyota issued a recall, of nearly 9 million vehicles worldwide for a floormat/accelerator pedal defect in 2009 – 2010.

An automotive recall becomes necessary when a component of the motor vehicle equipment does not comply with the FMVSS, or when there is a safety related defect in the vehicle or its equipment. While this doesn’t cover the typical wear-and-tear of the vehicle, and things that require regular inspection and replacement, it does cover anything that affects the ability to operate the vehicle safely. Some examples of a safety-related defect include:

  1. Accelerator controls that break or stick.
  2. Windshield wiper assemblies that fail to operate properly.
  3. Seats and/or seat backs that fail unexpectedly during normal use.
  4. Car ramps or jacks that may collapse and cause injury.

How are drivers notified of a recall on their vehicle?

Safety defects can be tracked, as they are typically concentrated around a specific model that was produced over a certain period of time at one specific plant. If it’s discovered that a vehicle you own has a defect, an Official Safety Recall Notice is sent to owners who are at risk. The notice will include a clear description of the defect, how the manufacturer plans to remedy the defect, when the remedy will be available, information about where to get the equipment fixed, and who to contact if there are difficulties in obtaining the free recall work.

What happens after the Official Safety Recall Notice is sent out?

After a recall is initiated, either by the manufacturer or by the NHTSA, the manufacturer has 3 options for correcting the defect:

  1. Repair the vehicle,
  2. Replace the vehicle with an identical or similar vehicle,
  3. Refund the purchase price in full, less the deprecation value.

The option selected by the manufacturer will be clearly stated in the Official Safety Recall Notice, along with instructions on how to proceed. If the defect can be repaired, the notice will outline what repairs need to be done, and will also include a list of specific dealers who can do the work. In most cases the repairs are done free of charge, since the manufacturer conceded that there is, in fact, a defect in its vehicle.

Once the Official Safety Recall Notice has been sent, you may contact the listed dealers and make an appointment to have the repair completed. If you noticed the problem and had the defect repaired prior to the official notice being sent out, you may be entitled to a refund – which is yet another reason to save receipts.

The manufacturer has issued a recall, but what if you suffered an injury due to the defect prior to the recall – can legal action still be taken?

The law specifically states that recall remedies do not foreclose other legal remedies; motor vehicle recalls are simply an additional layer of consumer protection. If you have been injured due to a safety related defect, you may still be able to bring a suit against the manufacturer. Contact the experienced car accident attorneys to go over specific Colorado laws, and to determine the proper course of action.

Can I opt-in to notifications about motor vehicle defects?

There are many ways to sign up for notifications about motor vehicle defects. NHTSA has a free application, SaferCar, which can be used on Apple iPhones to register your vehicles and receive notification directly from NHTSA if a safety issue is discovered. On their Facebook and Twitter pages, NHTSA posts updates when vehicle manufacturers and child seat makers announce a recall. You can also sign up to receive email notifications of vehicle recall information for up to 5 vehicles.

Major recent vehicle recalls announced by the manufacturer:

If you’re a driver of a 2014 Chevrolet Silverado or GMC Sierra, you may be receiving an Official Safety Recall Notice in the mail. 300,000 of these vehicles have already been recalled for exhaust components that may overheat in colder temperatures, which could lead to an engine fire.

Drivers of the 2013 Tesla Model S might also be receiving notices soon – 29,222 vehicles of this make have been equipped with certain NEMA 14-20 Universal Mobile Connector adapters, which have been recalled for potential overheating of the adapter, cord, or wall outlet while charging.

One of the largest recent recalls, involves a Fastec-brand door lock that may jam, and has already effected nearly 1 million trailers and recreational vehicles of different makes and models.

If you have received an official notice describing a recall on a vehicle you own, follow the instructions to receive the remedy. If you’ve sustained an injury resulting from defective motor vehicle equipment, the Denver car accident attorneys at The Bendinelli Law Firm have the understanding, knowledge and experience necessary for these complex cases. Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation – with offices conveniently located in the Denver Metro area and Westminster, we’ll help you get the help you need.