Automobiles are the backbone of American life. However, they cause tens of thousands of deaths annually. In fact, more people under the age of 34 die in traffic and car related accidents in the US than from any other single cause. Accidents on the US highways cost over $200 billion in damages every year, when combining the effects of medical and other insurance, as well as lost productivity.
While human error, lack of attentiveness and/or adverse weather or road conditions can be contributing factors, accidents can easily be caused by vehicular defects, such as defective or worn-out car parts and design flaws. When a defect is discovered – whether it be a new car model or ones that are many years old – car recalls are issued.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the safety departments of automobile manufacturers are always on the lookout for car models that need to be recalled.
On an average, tens of million of cars are recalled, spread across many hundreds of recalls every year. For example, more than 31 million cars were recalled over 786 alerts in 2020, per the NHTSA.
In this article, we will discuss car recalls: all the stats, facts and data you will ever need to know.
Why Do Car Recalls Happen?
Recalls are a fact of life. The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 set the ground rules under which recalls can be issued for both cars and/or their defective parts. A recall is a statement issued by an automobile manufacturer that some flaw in certain of the vehicles it has manufactured and sold have a demonstrable safety risk.
Under the rules set and administered by the NHTSA, a recall can be triggered if a car or its parts fail to meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Recalls also happen when the car or parts under scrutiny demonstrate a tangible safety risk due to a defect.
Some of the usual reasons are listed below. All numbers related to specific recalls refer to the incidents post 1966.
- Defective cars – close to 400 million cars have been recalled for this reason.
- Faulty tires – more than 45 million tires, which could have caused serious accidents due to blowouts, have been recalled.
- Child safety seats – Not only have the position where children can sit been regulated closely for safety, over 40 million child safety seats have been recalled, thus sparing untimely death or severe injuries to children.
The above causes for recalls are not exhaustive. There are a number of other situations, including those in which some car parts may degrade over a long period of time. But anything that is safety related is usually tracked diligently by both the NHTSA and safety departments of automobile manufacturing companies.
Who Issues Recall Notices?
According to the NHTSA, most of the recall decisions – and the notices to that effect – are issued by the safety office of the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) that are involved. That is to say, automobile manufacturers such as Toyota, GM, BMW, Hyundai etc. are constantly tracking feedback from customers and dealers to see if there is an emerging trend that could indicate a safety issue.
If the car companies spot something in the first instance, the auto manufacturer safety office will investigate those trends to evaluate the frequency of adverse occurrences to try and assess a risk around a specific issue that a vehicle released in a particular year, within a particular make and model, may have.
On new cars, recalls often result due to manufacturing defects or a faulty part from a supplier. However, there are regular recalls on cars that are a decade plus old – where the failures or safety risks may be caused by parts fatigue and/or metals corrosion.
The latter is the reason that manufacturers must track performance and investigate contents over a long period of time – no one knows if something will show a propensity to fail 10-15 years after the first model has been rolled out.
When the safety office of an OEM detects a trend that can verifiably cause a safety risk, they must notify the NHTSA immediately. While there are cases where the government body notices a trend themselves and have to follow up with the auto manufacturer, that is less often the case since the OEM usually has a better track on how their car is performing.
How Wide do Recall Notices Span?
Recall notices are coming up all the time. The reasons for the recalls span a variety of reasons, including but not limited to some of the following:
- Faulty air bags
- Rear toe-link fracture
- High voltage batteries catching fire
As the variety of car models and the plethora of possible issues being investigated highlight, car recalls are very common – which makes perfect sense given how each of these issues can create problems that lead to serious accidents or other issues for car owners.
Who Pays for the Repairs?
The statute of limitations for all no-charge recalls is 8 years from the original sale date. After that time, you may be required to pay if wish to have your car fixed or replaced with an updated part. Leaving that consideration aside, there are in general three remedies available to a car owner if there is a recall notice on his or her car:
- Get the car repaired free of cost by the automaker
- Get the entire car replaced free of cost, or
- Get the full purchase price (with a reasonable adjustment for depreciation) refunded.
Having said that, there are situations where these remedies may not be available, for example, the manufacturer is not liable for the cost of fixing a defect if the car is more than 15 years old. The owner has to pay for it.
One of the key considerations in this regard, with cars that have changed hands multiple times, is whether or not you have bought from a dealer that has complied with every requirement along the way in terms of safety notices.
Dealers often use their judgement to market and sell vehicles that they deem roadworthy within “reasonable” limits.
Can You Check Whether Your Car Has Been Recalled?
Given the above discussion, it makes perfect sense to check whether or not your car may be on a recall list. Fortunately, it’s an easy check. The NHTSA database allows you to enter your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to search for active recalls. Or search the MyCarVoice car recall lookup page by entering your year, make, and model. You will find out quickly whether you need to do anything.
The Final Word on Car Recalls
We hope you have learned everything there is to learn about car recalls: all the stats, facts and data you will ever need to know. When you have a car sitting in your driveway, and you care about your loved ones, it makes perfect sense to pay attention to car recalls and check in from time to time – if you don’t get contacted by your manufacturer – to see if there is a recall notice out on your call.
Drive safely and make sure that you are not in any danger.
Last Updated on December 30, 2021
Loves anything with a motor and wheels.
Christopher is an automotive technical writer. When he’s not at the local autocross event, he can often be found working on one of his cars. Specializes in automotive class action law, industry trends, and automotive maintenance. Email me direct, or learn more about us