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An Introduction to the NHTSA’s Recall Process

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) plays a critical role in ensuring vehicle safety in the United States. One of its important functions is overseeing the recall process for vehicles and equipment with safety-related defects or non-compliance with federal safety standards. 

Most recalls are initiated voluntarily by companies, with or without the NHTSA serving as a co-actor. But sometimes, the NHTSA initiates recalls on its own due to necessity.  

Identifying safety defects and non-compliance

The public is empowered to submit concerns to the NHTSA. This free exchange of information often leads the agency to start investigating possible hazards. They do this through:

  • Complaints and investigations: The NHTSA receives complaints from vehicle owners, consumers, manufacturers and other sources regarding potential safety issues. These complaints, along with crash data, investigations and research, help to identify safety defects or non-compliance with safety standards.
  • Manufacturer reporting: Vehicle manufacturers are required to report to the NHTSA any known safety-related defects or non-compliance with safety standards. They are also obligated to notify affected vehicle owners and provide free repairs or replacements for the identified issues.

Once a recall has been announced by a manufacturer and/or the NHTSA, the public can search for details on the NHTSA’s website. 

Initiating and managing recalls

Once the NHTSA knows that there is a potential public safety hazard affecting a specific product, it is empowered to spring into action through the following methods:

  • Investigation and analysis: Once a safety defect or non-compliance is identified, the NHTSA can initiate an investigation to assess the scope, severity and potential risks associated with the issue.
  • Recall notification and remedies: If a recall is deemed necessary, the NHTSA requires the manufacturer to notify affected vehicle owners and dealerships. The notification typically includes details about the defect, the risks involved and instructions for obtaining free repairs or replacements.
  • Oversight and compliance: The NHTSA monitors the progress of recall campaigns to ensure manufacturers are effectively reaching affected owners and completing the necessary repairs or replacements. The agency has the authority to impose penalties or take legal action against manufacturers that fail to fulfill their obligations.

If you own a vehicle and you don’t already check the NHTSA’s website for recalls related to your model every few months, it is time to start. If you’ve been in an accident due to a defective vehicle, you may want to explore all your legal options.