Car Driving on Highway

Vehicle Recalls

In 2010, a record 14.9 million vehicles were recalled by manufacturers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. When it comes to dealing with potential issues, what should you know to maintain a safe, reliable vehicle?

The Process

In most cases, recalls are initiated by an automobile manufacturer, rather than the federal government. Carmakers often learn about problems through their own testing or from dealerships and service centers that receive complaints from vehicle owners.

Other recalls arise through NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation. The agency screens more than 40,000 consumer complaints annually, and over the last three years, investigations resulted in 450 recalls involving 20 million vehicles. Once the ODI has identified a defect, the manufacturer has three options for correcting the situation: repair, replace or refund.

Potential Issues

Recalls can involve serious safety issues. Safety-related defects include items such as steering components, windshield wiper assembly systems, air bags that deploy unexpectedly and child safety seats that contain defective components.

However, not all defects are related to overall safety. Other vehicle flaws can include air conditioning, entertainment systems and ordinary wear of equipment like brake pads, batteries and exhaust systems. Vehicle owners may not be notified of these types of defects, so you should ask about them when you have your vehicle serviced.

Your Role

Consumers play an important role when it comes to vehicle recalls. As mentioned, many recalls occur as a direct result of a government investigation into consumer complaints. And if you are notified of a recall related to your vehicle, it’s up to you to respond.

The NHTSA website provides detailed information about vehicle safety ratings, current recalls and additional facts about vehicle-related items, such as tires and child passenger safety seats. The site also has an interactive form for reporting defects or filing complaints.

If you think your vehicle has a defect, report it immediately via or through NHTSA’s Vehicle Safety Hotline, 888-327-4236 or 800-424-9393.


You can also mail complaints to:

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Office of Defects Investigation (NVS-210)
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20590