November 17, 2021


Over the course of the year 2019, 964 vehicle recalls were issued. In 2020, there were 886. Overall, these recalls affected roughly 110 million Americans combined. And, as usual when it comes to vehicle recalls, only a small number of the recalled vehicles have been taken in to be repaired so far. These numbers come courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA releases annual recall statistics for vehicles and even investigates certain situations of faulty engineering or automotive parts that may result in a recall. It is important to know when your vehicle may be under a recall, as recalled vehicles face increased risk of accident and passenger injury. But what actually constitutes a recall and how does the process work? More importantly, how does a vehicle recall affect the car owner?

A vehicle recall starts when one of two things happen. Either the manufacturer makes an announcement stating that something in a vehicle is unsafe or faulty, or the NHTSA orders the manufacturer to issue a recall upon completion of an investigation that reveals an unsafe or faulty vehicle. The former is called an “uninfluenced” recall, while the latter is called an “influenced” recall. Regardless of how the recall came about, the burden of liability is initially placed on the manufacturer and they are responsible for repairing or replacing faulty vehicle parts. The manufacturer does this for free, regardless of whether the vehicle was purchased new or used. The difficult part is keeping track of who has vehicles under recall.

Typically, if your vehicle registration is up to date, the manufacturer will contact you by mail when your vehicle has an active recall on it. The NHTSA also provides other resources or drivers looking to receive updates about their vehicles, including recall tracking apps and email mailing lists. Even if you purchase a recalled vehicle from a previous owner that did not bring their vehicle in for recall related repairs, you have up to 10 years to request repairs for your recalled vehicle. Though, this 10 year statute of limitations outlined by the NHTSA may be narrower than stated, as many manufacturers only produce a limited number of replacement parts or parts manufacturers may go out of business after a recall and not be available to repair or replace parts. If you have a previously owned vehicle it is very important to make sure that it does not have any outstanding recalls.

Not all recalls are necessarily urgent, however. When one thinks of a recall, they may imagine that it is the whole vehicle or the better part of the mechanical parts that enable the vehicle to function that are faulty. That is not necessarily the case. While there are recalls for whole vehicles, typically categorized as “vehicle only,” which generally involve some sort of faulty mechanical component, there can also be “equipment only” recalls (typically things such as airbags, seat-belts, seats, etc.), “child seat only” recalls, and “tire only” recalls. If you have already replaced the tires on your car with a different type of tire, you likely won’t need to worry about a tire recall. If your vehicle has a child seat recall and you have no children, you might not worry about the recall in that situation either. Nonetheless, vehicles should still be taken in to be repaired or have recalled parts replaced whether you are particularly worried about the recall or not. If you don’t, you could be placing yourself in a dangerous position of liability.

Legally speaking, if you are aware of any kind of a recall on your vehicle and do not take it in to be repaired and you are involved in an accident which stems from or was impacted by the recalled part or parts, you could be held at greater liability for the accident. Even if the accident was not your fault, but your recalled vehicle causes additional injury or damage due to the recalled part or parts not being addressed, you could lose a potential settlement and will likely face even higher car insurance premiums afterward.

If you want to be absolutely sure that you know if your car has an active recall, you can search your VIN in the NHTSA recall database. For further information of vehicle recalls, the NHTSA has a downloadable pdf covering commonly asked questions regarding vehicle recalls. If you own a previously owned vehicle, you could have an active recall on your vehicle and not even know it, even if your registration is up to date. Don’t be left in the dark, make sure your vehicle is safe to drive before you get out onto the road.

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