What is a Vehicle Recall & What Happens When Your Vehicle is Recalled?

As a lemon law lawyer in California, I get a lot of questions about vehicle recalls.

Chances are, you’ve heard something on the news about a product recall from an automaker.

You might be wondering what a vehicle recall is and how vehicle recalls work.

A few years ago, Toyota recalled more than 10 million vehicles with gas pedals that would get stuck in a depressed position. The lawsuit ended up being settled for over $1 billion. You may remember seeing this on the news.

No company is perfect – and giant car manufacturers are certainly no exception. Millions of vehicles get recalled every single year for a wide range of issues. Generally, these may or may not involve problems that compromise the safety and functionality of the vehicle.

Whether you’re the original owner of the vehicle or not, you can still qualify for recalls.

In this post, we want to explain what a vehicle recall is, what happens when your vehicle is recalled, and what to do.

Let’s get started.

What is a Vehicle Recall?

A vehicle recall happens when the manufacturer or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concludes that a vehicle or piece of equipment creates an unreasonable safety risk or does not meet the minimum safety standards.

If a product is recalled, the manufacturer must remedy the problem or provide compensation for the vehicle recall. This may involve repairing the vehicle, replacing it, or providing a refund to the consumer.

According to the United States Code for Motor Vehicle Safety Title 49 Chapter 301, motor vehicle safety is defined as:

The performance of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in a way that protects the public against unreasonable risk of accidents occurring because of the design, construction, or performance of a motor vehicle, against unreasonable risk of death or injury in an accident, and includes non-operation safety of a motor vehicle.”

Safety defects are commonly referred to as issues with the motor vehicle equipment which:

  • Pose a risk to the safety of the motor vehicle.
  • Exist in a group of vehicles of the same design or manufacture.

How Does Vehicle Recall Work?

Product recalls do not happen overnight. Issuing a recall is typically a last resort – and a culmination of ongoing problems. Here’s how the process usually plays out.

Step 1: Complaints

Product recalls all start with a series of complaints. Every time there is a complaint about a vehicle, it is entered into the NHTSA database (after personal information is removed). If there are an extraordinary number of complaints from people regarding the same problem, there is an indication of a safety-related defect across the board.

Consumers can report complaints directly with the NHTSA.

Step 2: NHTSA Investigation

Assuming there are enough similar complaints from vehicle owners – there may be a warrant for the NHTSA to open an investigation.

The first step in the investigation is the screening process. This involves the NHTSA reviewing all filed complaints from vehicle owners and any other information related to the defective component.

The next step is the analysis. In the analysis, the agency examines any petitions called for investigations.

Next is the actual investigation. This is where the NHTSA dives into the alleged safety defect(s) and the process is not closed until the manufacturer is notified of recall recommendations – or no safety-related defect is discovered.

The last part is recall management. This involves monitoring the effectiveness of the recall, including how the manufacturer files recall notices, communicates with vehicle owners, and tracks the completion rate of each recall.

Step 3: The Recall

A recall can be issued by the manufacturer or the NHTSA.

Once a safety recall has been initiated, the manufacturer is required to announce both the defect and the remedy. Here is a press release from Toyota announcing a recall.

The manufacturer is then required to take the necessary action to fix the problem – repair, replace, or refund.

The Recall Notice

So, what happens when your vehicle gets recalled?

Whenever there is a product recall, manufacturers are required to send a notice to affected owners. These notices are typically sent out by mail and encourage owners to get their defect repaired as soon as possible. All recall notices must contain the following information:

  • A description of the defect or noncompliance.
  • The risks associated with the defect, as well as any warning signs to look for.
  • A description of the manufacturer’s remedy for the defect.
  • A timeline for when the remedy will be available.
  • How long the repair process will take.
  • A description of the owner’s options if the problem cannot be remedied in a reasonable amount of time.

If you’re not sure if you’ve received a recall notice, you can always check with the NHTSA VIN lookup. This will show you any and all recalls made on your vehicle.

What to do if Your Car Has a Recall?

If you’re wondering what happens when your vehicle gets recalled, the first thing we can say is don’t freak out. Recalls are very widespread and there are likely hundreds – or thousands – of people in the same situation.

The first thing you need to do in a product recall is read the notice.

Most importantly: Do not ignore it and keep driving. Driving around with a defective vehicle is extremely dangerous – both for you and other drivers on the road. You can read up on how vehicle recalls work and the steps to take.

After reading through all the information (listed above), the manufacturer should provide you with a certified local repair facility. Set up an appointment ASAP.

If the manufacturer is not cooperating with the recall process, you can file another complaint with the NHTSA.

How long are auto recalls good for?

You can qualify for product recalls, even if you bought the vehicle used and the recall occurred prior. The manufacturer will pay for all the repairs. However, there is an eight-year statute of limitations for “no-charge” recalls from the original sale date of the vehicle.

What if There are No Recalls Issued?

Car defects do not always result in a recall.

Most vehicle defects are anomalies. Auto manufacturers have extremely rigorous processes for quality assurance. These are in place to make sure defective products do not make it out of the factory and onto the dealership’s lot.

Most of the time, quality assurance catches defects before the vehicle is sold to consumers – but no manufacturer is perfect. Defective vehicles slide through from time to time.

To answer the question of what is a vehicle recall in simple terms: it’s a widespread breakdown of the quality assurance process. In the grand scheme of things, recalls are rare.

If your vehicle is exhibiting signs of defects – and no recall has been issued – it’s possible that you have a lemon on your hands.

Now, a defective vehicle is not automatically a lemon.

Under California lemon law, a vehicle can be deemed a lemon if:

  • The manufacturer has made at least two unsuccessful attempts to repair the defect – of which is covered under warranty.
  • The vehicle has been out of service for repairs for more than 30 total days.
  • The defect was not caused by driver abuse or neglect.

If you notice your new, used, or leased vehicle is exhibiting a problem (and it’s covered under warranty), your first move is to get in contact with the manufacturer or dealer. They will explain how vehicle recalls work and direct you on the next steps for repairs from a certified facility.

If the vehicle has not been repaired after two or more attempts, contact a local lemon law attorney to file a lemon claim. The lemon law process is there to help consumers seek justice for faulty vehicles – in the scenario that no recall is issued.

Turn to the Experts

Dealing with defective products is fun for no one. Whether there’s been a recall issued or not, there are laws in place to prevent you from getting burned by the manufacturer.

If you’ve got a faulty vehicle on your hands, don’t hesitate to reach out to Cline APC – a specialized lemon law lawyer in California. We’re happy to answer any questions concerning what is a vehicle recall, car warranties, or anything else regarding California lemon law.

Give us a call at 888-982-6915, send an email to info@clineapc.com, or fill out a FREE case evaluation.

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