How Do Motor Vehicle Recalls Happen?

NHTSA Recall

It is likely that you have seen a story involving a vehicle recall in recent months. Auto recalls come about when an automaker reveals that one of their models has a fundamental flaw and they set out to solve the issue. Although auto recalls aren’t anything new, many news networks have put them in the national spotlight by broadcasting information about them on television. Seeing as how motor vehicle recalls are now so publicized, here is a snapshot of how they work.

Issuing the Vehicle Recall

The process is simple: an automaker discovers an issue with one of their vehicles and they report it. Next, they mail customer letters, and the cars are recalled. Finally, the recalled vehicles are fixed. According to Car and Driver, in the last ten years, automakers have recalled close to 83 million vehicles on their own, and the NHTSA has recalled 86 million.

Vehicle manufacturers are required by law to file Early Warning Reports that state all known claims of property damages, death, injury, warranty claims, owner complaints, and internal studies for all old and new models. If an automaker issues a recall, they must inform the NHTSA within five business days of their decision. Automakers are also required to construct a detailed timeline of how the defect was discovered, and how they plan to fix it. They then have 60 days to notify owners of the model in question notice of the recall.

The NHTSA’s Vehicle Recall Process

The NHTSA will usually take four steps for vehicle recall. These include:


The NHTSA takes in over 10,000 complaints from car owners all over the United States each year on These complaints are live on the website for public consumption. Consumers can read and compare detailed complaints from other car owners for any model of car from any year.

The Office of Defects Investigation examines online bulletins, tracks foreign recalls, examines insurance data, and reviews federal crash data to gather more information about what cars may be experiencing issues. The NHTSA reads petitions from consumers who believe that an investigation should be opened about a defect in a vehicle.


While defect patterns and trends are what start an investigation, a singular complaint can have a tremendous effect on starting a recall. This is called a “preliminary evaluation.” This is when the NHTSA will request that the automaker turn in all available information about the alleged motor vehicle defect. This could take anywhere from several months to years to reach completion.

Engineering Analysis

When the NHTSA reveals that there may be a defect within a particular vehicle, they will then probe for more information from the automaker. This process involves engineering studies and quality checks, both of which supply much-needed detail to the recall’s file.

The Recall Itself

If an automaker does not admit there is a problem in the midst of mounting evidence against them, the evidence is then presented to a review board which rules on a final decision. If it is determined that there is a problem after review, a recall will be issued.

If an automaker failed to report a defect, the NHTSA would issue a fine of 17.35 million dollars. This is often worked around by manufacturers who declare that they were unaware of an issue until a specified date.

The NHTSA has no real legal authority whatsoever. When a recall is staged, the NHTSA will rely on the help of US attorneys to make it a legal issue in court. There have been cases of car manufacturers denying allegations of defects until public outrage forces them to recall all affected vehicles.

Recall Resources

  • You can visit this webpage for information on vehicle recalls by using the vehicle VIN.
  • If you are experiencing an issue with your vehicle and your dealer won’t address it, you may want to think about sending a complaint to the NHTSA. Make sure your complaint is robust and detailed. By describing the hardships you have encountered in your vehicle, other people will be able to compare their experiences to yours.

Bakersfield Car Accident Lawyer

If you have been in a car accident or injured due to a vehicle defect in Bakersfield, contact The Law Offices of Mickey Fine right away. Mickey Fine is an experienced car accident lawyer who will treat you like a person, not a case number. He cares about all his clients and is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that they are compensated for their injuries. See if Mickey Fine can help you today; the call is free.