Why Many Defective Vehicles Remain on the Road and What to Do if Your Vehicle is Recalled

As consumers, we expect that the products we purchase will meet basic safety standards and not contain defects that jeopardize our safety. While most products that hit the market are free of defects and function as advertised, mistakes or oversights during the manufacturing process can make some items unsafe or hazardous for consumers. Unfortunately, defects in new cars or trucks can negatively affect the overall safety of the vehicle, putting passengers, other vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists at an increased risk of injury. When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) discovers a safety defect in a particular vehicle, it will issue an auto safety recall campaign informing affected customers about the issue and urging them to take their vehicle to the local dealership to obtain the recommended repair or replacement part. Both federal and state lemon laws, including California’s Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, require that recall-related repairs be free of charge to the affected customers. In other words, it’s against the law for the dealership or the manufacturer to make car owners pay for the necessary repairs as outlined in the recall notice. However, just because you receive a recall notice in the mail informing you that your vehicle is defective does not automatically mean that the recommended recall repair or replacement part will be available to you in a timely manner. Let’s take a look at why so many defective (and unsafe) vehicles remain on the road, as well as the steps you can take when you learn that your vehicle has been recalled.

What Happens When a Vehicle is Recalled?

First, it’s important to understand how the recall process works in California. According to the NHTSA, this entity has the authority to “issue vehicle safety standards and to require manufacturers to recall vehicles that have safety-related defects or do not meet Federal safety standards.” Enacted in 1966, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act has enabled the NHTSA to recall more than 390 million cars, trucks, buses, recreational vehicles, motorcycles, and mopeds. There are usually two primary reasons to issue a recall: (1) When a motor vehicle or component of a motor vehicle’s equipment (i.e., airbags, tires, etc.) or (2) When there is a safety-related defect in the vehicle or equipment. For the most part, recalls will not be issued for defects that are not considered to be safety-related, such as nonstructural rust, excessive oil consumption, ordinary wear of equipment, air conditioning, or cosmetic blemishes.

In many cases, the NHTSA decides to investigate a suspected defect after receiving multiple complaints and concerns from customers who own or lease a specific make and model. According to the NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation, a safety recall inspection typically includes four phases: (1) Screening, in which the agency reviews the customer complaints and decides whether to launch an investigation; (2) Petition analysis, where the agency analyzes any petitions requesting defect investigations or reviews of safety-related recalls; (3) Investigation into the suspected defect; and (4) Recall management, where the agency investigates the effectiveness of issuing a safety recall. If the NHTSA finds that a safety defect is present, it will notify the manufacturer and compel it to issue a recall, notify the affected consumers, and provide a remedy at no cost to the customer.

Why Defective Vehicles Are Still on the Road

While many auto safety recalls concern a minor defect that does not significantly increase the risk of an engine fire or other catastrophic issue, some defects are so hazardous that the recall notice warns drivers to keep their defective car or truck parked outdoors and away from buildings because it could catch fire—even if the engine were turned off. However, affected drivers may struggle to obtain the recommended repairs for any number of reasons, but mainly due to delays in the manufacturer making the replacement parts available to dealerships across the country. For example, Hyundai and Kia issued a serious warning to approximately 3.4 million customers in September of 2023, urging them to park their vehicles outdoors because of an engine fire risk. However, these manufacturers acknowledged that the recall replacement parts would not be available until June of 2024 or later—at least nine months after the recall was issued. For now, the affected customers have little choice but to continue to drive these defective vehicles until the manufacturer makes the parts available. This incident is just one of many in a growing trend of an ever-increasing delay in the time between issuing a recall notice and providing the necessary repairs to the customers. Within the last eight months, more than 500 customers have filed complaints with the NHTSA, accusing auto manufacturers of taking too long to make the repairs available.

What to Do if You Are Notified of an Auto Safety Recall

As a driver who relies on your vehicle to transport you reliably from place to place, the last thing you want is to receive a recall notice informing you that your car or truck is defective and even dangerous. First, take some time to read the details in the recall letter and contact your local dealership to determine how soon you can obtain the recommended recall repair or replacement part. If you are struggling to reach the dealer or you have trouble accessing the recall repair, reach out to an experienced Berkeley lemon law attorney to discuss your options. Your lemon law lawyer can answer your questions, address your concerns, and advocate for your best interests at every opportunity. Depending on the specifics of your case, you may be entitled to receive a replacement vehicle or refund from the manufacturer, especially if a number of repair attempts have been unsuccessful in resolving the defect. Lemon law attorneys understand how frustrating it can be to find yourself stuck with a defective and unsafe car or truck, and they will work with you to secure the most favorable outcome possible that allows you to feel safer on the road once more.

If you are struggling with a defective car or truck that has not been repaired after several attempts, you may have a lemon on your hands. Reach out to Lemon Law Partners, LLP, today at (510) 944-0336 to schedule a free case evaluation with a highly qualified and friendly Berkeley attorney.

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