What Is a Car Recall?
A car recall is when either a vehicle manufacturer or the federal government, via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), determines that a vehicle doesn’t meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. This federal legislation mandates minimum performance requirements for parts of vehicles that affect safety, such as lighting, brakes, and tires.1
If a recall is issued, car manufacturers need to either fix the defect or, in the most extreme cases, repurchase the vehicles so they aren’t on the roads.
Why Do Car Recalls Happen?
Car recalls happen due to clearly identified safety problems. (Emissions issues, in contrast, are handled by the Environmental Protection Agency, not by the NHTSA.) Safety recalls could include issues with the following vehicle parts:
- Steering systems
- Backup cameras2
- Fuel systems
Delayed backup cameras, fire-causing leaking fuel systems, or broken accelerators could cause a driver to lose control of a vehicle, leading to injuries, property damage, or, in the worst cases, traffic fatalities.
Who Issues Recall Notices?
Vehicle manufacturers are responsible for issuing recall notices to consumers.
Timeliness of Recalls
The manufacturer must issue the recall notice within 60 days of the date it notified the NHTSA of the issue.
Who Pays for Repairs?
The manufacturer should pay for the repairs. If you already paid, however, you can request a reimbursement. Just show a receipt or any documentation of the repair to your manufacturer within 10 days of the original receipt of the recall notice.
So long as the vehicle is less than 16 model years old, the manufacturer will pay for the repairs, including parts and labor, and there is no deadline you have to meet.3 Note, though, that the manufacturer will not pay for a rental car while yours is in the shop — that will depend on your car dealer and your insurance coverage, namely whether it includes rental car reimbursement.4
How to Check if Your Car Has Been Recalled
Unsure if your car is under a recall? You can check on the NHTSA website (https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls) by entering your vehicle identification number (VIN).
To be even more proactive, sign up for recall notification emails at https://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/nhtsa/subscriptions.
The Role of the Government, Manufacturers, and Consumers
The government has federal standards on safety for vehicles. However, it’s not the sole entity that can report safety problems to the NHTSA. Car manufacturers should report them, of course, and consumers can as well. If the NHTSA receives enough complaints about the same issue, the agency will investigate the problem and determine whether the issue violates federal safety standards.
From there, the NHTSA will order the manufacturer to fix the issue, which the company can challenge in federal district court. But if the court rules on the side of the NHTSA, the manufacturer must issue recall notices. Of course, if it’s a problem the manufacturer found itself, it still must report it to the NHTSA and correct the issue, notifying consumers in a timely manner.
Once recall notices are sent, a manufacturer has three possible solutions it can execute:
- Repair: The company will cover the cost of the needed repairs.
- Replace: The company will replace the car with an identical or similar vehicle.
- Refund: The company will give the consumer a full refund for the car’s actual cash value, which takes into account depreciation. Learn more about how insurance companies value cars.