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Auto Recall

It is not uncommon these days to open your mail and discover that your car is now the subject of an auto recall. Auto recalls are governed under federal law, which requires a manufacturer to notify all vehicle owners of the problem and provide them with a remedy.

Recalls can also be initiated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) if it discovers a safety defect. Safety recalls are issued if the defect :

  • Presents a safety risk
  • Exists in a the same group of cars or vehicles with equipment of the same type and manufacture

If the defect does not pose a safety hazard, it is not subject to recall by the NHTSA or by the manufacturer.

Notification Requirements

For safety defects, the manufacturer must follow federal law in notifying the vehicle owners including:

  • File a public report of the recall
  • Describe the events that resulted in the recall
  • Advise owners of the nature of the defect
  • Issue a schedule for the recall and when free repairs or a free remedy is available
  • Advise owners what they can do if the manufacturer fails to remedy the defect for free within a reasonable time

What Remedies are Available?

The manufacturer may choose the remedy so long as it effectively repairs the car or corrects the defect. It is usually by a free repair but the manufacturer may replace the vehicle or defective equipment or simply buy it back. The NHTSA can require the manufacturer to choose a different remedy if its choice is not effective.

A free remedy is not available on vehicles that are more than 10 years old.

Finding Out if Your Car Has a Recall

The NHTSA maintains a database of recalled vehicles and equipment on its web site. The NHTSA may also issue a recall if enough consumers complain about the same defect or vehicle condition. Most manufacturers will offer a free remedy through a dealer manager. If the dealer fails to comply, the consumer can contact the NHTSA.

Non-Safety Defects or Recalls

There are situations where a vehicle has a safety flaw or has some other defect rendering it unsafe to drive, or not capable of being driven, or presenting difficulties in its operation, and the model is not recalled. An owner can bring a private lawsuit alleging that a manufacturing defect presents a safety risk or that the vehicle was negligently designed, making it unreasonably dangerous. These lawsuits are brought under product liability principles and laws.

Lemon law litigation usually involves vehicles not under recall and concern defects that can damage your car, cause you to lose control or result in serious injuries if involved in an accident. Contact a California consumer law or lemon law attorney to discuss your legal options.