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In recognition of the fact that many people are lacking an understanding of where the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration derives its power to identify auto defects and institute recalls, our blog recently began providing some background information on the agency's regulatory authority in this important area.

In keeping with these efforts, today's post will focus on how the recall process actually works. Specifically, we'll explore the circumstances in which recalls are undertaken.   

In general, there are two scenarios in which a recall will be initiated:

  • A motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment fails to comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
  • A motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment has a safety-related defect.

Regarding the first scenario, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, which cover all vehicles manufactured/imported for sale in the U.S. and certified for use on public roadways, establish minimum performance requirements for vehicle parts designed to protect passengers in crashes or are otherwise integral to safe operation. Some examples of the former include seat belts, air bags and child restraints, while some examples of the latter include tires, brakes and lights.

As to the second scenario, safety-related defects are typically defined as problems related to either motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment that 1) pose a safety risk, and 2) are found in a group of vehicles or equipment of the same design/type and manufacture.

Some examples of safety-related defects include things like accelerator pedals that stick, wiring problems that create a fire hazard and air bags that deploy incorrectly. Some examples of things that do not fall under this definition include body panel rust, malfunctioning radios, or equipment that needs to be inspected and replaced on a periodic basis, such as brake pads and shock absorbers.

Now that the circumstances in which the NHTSA can launch an investigation are clear, our next post on this subject will address how exactly the agency conducts an investigation into an alleged motor vehicle defect. 

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