Learn about vehicle recalls and what to do if you have one.

Car Safety Recall Defined

A safety recall is a manufacturer's way of admitting its product has a flaw. If not corrected this flaw could possibly jeopardize the safety of you and/or the passengers in your vehicle.

When a recall is issued, the manufacturer rectifies the problem at no charge to you.

What Sparks a Recall

A recall can stem from:

  • A safety-related kink in the vehicle or equipment. In most instances this defect is exposed by a systematic number of incidences with a certain vehicle model and/or type. In 2009, for instance, Ford recalled nearly 14 million vehicles after it was determined a highly combustible cruise-control switch had led to more than 180 deaths.
  • The vehicle or vehicle-related product failing to meet the safety specifications dictated by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. These standards pertain to all vehicles―domestic and imported― and vehicle-related equipment used on public roads and highways across the US.

The list of vehicle-related products reviewed and assessed by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards is all encompassing, ranging from windshield defrosting systems to air bags to the flammability of car seats. If curiosity strikes, peruse the full list online, complete with detailed explanations.

Who Initiates Car Safety Recalls

Recalls are initiated by:

  • Manufacturers based on their own studies or the recommendations of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).


  • The NHTSA via a court order.

In most instances, manufacturers, for public relation purposes, generally comply when court ordered by the NHTSA.

Vehicle Safety-Defect Examples That Can Initiate a Recall

  • Faulty windshield wiper systems.
  • Accelerator pedals that fail to release.
  • Defective steering systems, hampering a drivers ability to maintain control.
  • Cracking tires.
  • Faulty fuel system components that leak upon impact, making them susceptible to fire.
  • Seats or seat backs that fail to hold their position.
  • Defective seat belts.
  • Faulty air bag systems that deploy upon the slightest impact.
  • Defective wiring systems that make the vehicle susceptible to fire.
  • Car jacks that fail to hold.
  • Child safety seats with defective buckling systems or components that break or crack.
  • Car components that crack, break or fall off the vehicle, rendering its ability to remain in control.

Keep in mind that recalls are only issued if the defect poses as a safety risk. Recalls do not cover:

  • Common wear and tear. This includes brake pads, car batteries, exhaust systems and shock absorbers.
  • Chipping and/or fading paint.
  • Body rust.
  • Faulty air conditioning systems.
  • Defective car stereo systems.

Reporting a Safety Problem

If you suspect your car has a defect that may jeopardize your safety, contact the NHTSA via one of three ways:


Call either (888) 327-4236 or (800) 424-9393. If you're hearing impaired, dial (800) 424-9153.

When calling, be as specific as possible in describing the problem.

The NHTSA will then mail you a letter verifying it received your information. The agency will also request permission to use your name and contact information when notifying the manufacturer. You have the right to refuse this request.


Send a detailed letter describing the problem to:

  • U.S. Department of Transportation
  • National Highways Traffic Safety Administration
  • Office of Defects Investigation 
  • 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE
  • Washington, DC 20590


Jump on to the information arm of the NHTSA and follow the instructions.

Recall Notification: What to do if your vehicle is recalled

If the NHTSA determines a certain vehicle model or vehicle safety feature is defective, it will order a recall. If the manufacturer complies, you will be notified via mail by the manufacturer.

In this letter you will be instructed on how the problem will be resolved via one of three ways:

  • Replacement―The manufacturer will replace your vehicle with an identical or similar model.
  • Refund―The manufacturer will refund the purchase price, minus depreciation costs.
  • Repair― The manufacturer, in the recall letter, will instruct you on where to take your vehicle for repair, along with an estimated repair time and contact information should you harbor questions.

If you did not receive notification from the manufacturer, but believe your vehicle or vehicle-safety product should be covered under the recall drive, call (888) 327-4236 or (800) 424-9393. Or contact the manufacturer directly.

In some situations the manufacturer, may not have your information on file. If, for instance, you did not register with your manufacturer after purchasing tires, it will be up to you to initiate contact with manufacturer in the event of recall.

If you're unsure if a recall applies to your vehicle or vehicle-safety product, the Safe Car website provides extensive updated recall information. You may even subscribe to the site's e-mail alert service that notifies you of recalls based on your specifications for tires, child safety seats and vehicles.

Reimbursement for Repairs Before Recall was Issued

You may, depending on the situation, be fully reimbursed by the manufacturer for repairs related to the recall. If eligible, the reimbursement window will be based on one of two scenarios (whichever is earlier):

  • The date the NHTSA begins its Engineering Analysis of the defect in question.


  • 1 year prior to the manufacturer's notification of the flaw to the NHTSA.

Under either scenario, the last day for vehicle repair reimbursement occurs after the manufacturer mails the last of the recall notices to owners.

Vehicle Recall Limitations

Your vehicle is not eligible for free recall remedies (refund, replacement, repair) if it is more than 15 years old on the date the defect or non compliance is determined. The age is based on the vehicle's purchase date. If your recalled vehicle is older than 15 years old, it's up to you to have the flaw repaired at your expense.

Tire Recalls

When purchasing tires, take the time to register with the manufacturer. This way, should a recall be issued, the manufacturer will have your contact information. Or, play it safe, by subscribing with the NHTSA's e-mail alert service, which will immediately alert you of any tire recall.

Child Safety Seat Recalls

If you're notified by the manufacturer of a child safety seat recall, stop using the seat and have it repaired or replaced immediately.

When notified by the manufacturer, you will be instructed on how to have the problem resolved. Along this thought, be sure, when purchasing, to register with the manufacturer. This way your contact information will be on file in the event of a recall situation.

If you're unsure if your child safety seat has been recalled, call the manufacturer directly or consult Safe Car's child safety seat page, which provides detailed recall and complaint information on all makes and models.

Reporting Child Safety Defect

To report a child safety seat defect, contact the NHTSA via any one of the three ways described above for reporting a vehicle safety defect.

You do have the legal right to seek compensation for medical costs resulting from defective recalled vehicles or safety equipment. The exact recourse will be contingent on the laws of your state.

It's best to seek legal counsel when pursuing this matter.

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