NHTSA Oversees Vehicle Safety Recalls

by Don Elliott on October 20, 2011

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) oversees all types of federal motor vehicle safety standards. NHTSA is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation and has overseen recall activity since 1966. According to the NHTSA website, over 390 types of motor vehicles have been recalled to correct safety defects.

That’s a lot of safety defects! This number doesn’t even count another 154 million recalls of tires, car seats, and equipment. The cost to repair all these safety defects is just the tip of the iceberg. The proposed 2012 budget for NHTSA is $860 million. $170.7 million, about 20%, is devoted to vehicle safety. Controversy around the recent Toyota unintended acceleration problem has caused both the government and vehicle manufacturers to take extra caution when a safety issue is suspected. The recent spate of recalls is evidence that passenger safety is a new focus by both the car manufacturers and NHTSA.

Tracking car safety related problems is the first step to establish whether a vehicle safety recall should be performed. NHTSA offers several ways to report a problem. The Vehicle Safety Hotlines, 1-888-327-4238 or 1-800-424-9393, are available to report a problem or check on a recall. NHTSA also has a website, www.safercar.gov, and takes information via mail.

The process leading up to a vehicle safety recall is well documented. The NHTSA must be positive there is a problem before announcing it. The financial implications for the vehicle manufacturer can be significant. Car manufacturers must repair the defect at no cost to the vehicle owner, replace the vehicle with a similar vehicle, or refund the purchase price with an allowance for depreciation.

Vehicle manufacturers are required to notify consumers about vehicle safety recalls. However, cars often change owners, people move, and not everyone takes their car in for the repair even if they receive the notification. NHTSA requires that the car manufacturers make a significant effort to correct vehicle safety issues, often at considerable cost just for the notification.

Note that not all defects are subject to recall. NHTSA lists the following items that are not car safety related:

  • Air conditioners and radios
  • Wear items like shock absorbers, batteries, brake pads, and shoes
  • Rust, paint and cosmetic blemishes
  • Excessive oil consumption

Outstanding vehicle safety recalls often surface when vehicles change hands. Vehicle manufacturers are alerted of a new owner when titles are processed through the various states’ bureau of motor vehicles. HighCar dealers and auto auctions are also alerted about outstanding recalls when they run a vehicle history report from services like Carfax. Consumers should check the NHTSA website for recalls before buying a new or used car to ensure they’re buying a safe vehicle.

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