You may have heard on the news that the recall tally in the United States is breaking records this year, with 37.5 million cars called back in the first six months of 2014 over various non-compliance or safety defects. Naturally, this sort of situation shouldn’t be taken lightly.

General Motors‘ ignition switch fiasco has been officially linked to 13 deaths and dozens of injured in vehicle crashes, while German manufacturer BMW has issued a recall involving almost the entire E46 3 Series production run due to a trigger malfunction with Takata-sourced airbags. Given the situation, we deem necessary to explain to our readers and fellow drivers how a glitch transmutes into a safety recall. 

In the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the agency responsible for enforcing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, regulating fuel economy and licensing vehicle manufacturers and imports. As a branch of the Department of Transportation, the NHTSA’s main objective is to “save lives, prevent injuries, reduce vehicle-related crashes.”

Carmakers with operations in the United States of America are obliged to file quarterly reports to the NHTSA. Also known as Early Warning Reporting, these documents inform the agency about owner complaints, warranty claims and claims of injured of fatally injured in accidents involving current or older models from the vehicle manufacturer. If the automaker discovers a potentially hazardous fault with one of its models during internal investigations, the company needs to inform the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about it within 5 business days.

If NHTSA investigators consider that the problem is indeed a time bomb that could put lives at risk, then a recall is issued and the manufacturer is required to contact affected owners by mail in 2 months maximum. After the affected find out from the news or mailbox that their cars are involved in the campaign, they need to contact their nearest dealership and schedule a visit to the service department. However, scheduling depends on the number of faulty cars that make up a recall operation and the availability of replacement components.

According to Title 49, Chapter 301 of the U.S. Code for Motor Vehicle Safety, 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, and against unreasonable risk of death or injury in an accident, and includes nonoperational safety of a motor vehicle." An automobile is considered defective if “any defect in performance, construction, a component, or material” is uncovered by investigators. But how does the NHTSA investigate such things?

The whole procedure starts with research and preliminary evaluation. Even you can complain on www.safecar.gov about a defect that shouldn’t have happened to your car considering the nature of the problem and the vehicle’s age. It all starts with a single complaint for the NHTSA to ask the automaker in question about data concerning the alleged fault. If things are indeed serious, the agency kicks into engineering analysis mode, probing the carmaker for engineering studies and quality inspections. This information is then analyzed by a team of automotive safety experts and engineers.

Last but not least, the final procedure is the recall itself. If the manufacturer provided erroneous data while affected drivers filed complaints that were validated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, then the vehicle manufacturer will be further investigated for trying to hide the fault at the center of the call back operation. However, fines cannot be imposed by the agency, but the NHTSA will inform U.S. attorneys about the automaker’s questionable conduct and everyone goes to court.

If you wish to know more about recalls and other motor vehicle issues, you can contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration personally at 1-888-327-4236 or visit www.safecar.gov.

If you have been in an accident that you believe may have been caused by a defective vehicle that is on the recall list, please call our attorneys 24/7 at 1-800-797-LAW1