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What does it mean when my car has a recall?

Learn about vehicle recalls and what to do if you have one.

Car Safety Recall Defined

A safety recall is a manufacturer's way of admitting its product has a flaw. If not corrected this flaw could possibly jeopardize the safety of you and/or the passengers in your vehicle.

When a recall is issued, the manufacturer rectifies the problem at no charge to you.

What Sparks a Recall

A recall can stem from:
  • A safety-related kink in the vehicle or equipment. In most instances this defect is exposed by a systematic number of incidences with a certain vehicle model and/or type. In 2009, for instance, Ford recalled nearly 14 million vehicles after it was determined a highly combustible cruise-control switch had led to more than 180 deaths.
  • The vehicle or vehicle-related product failing to meet the safety specifications dictated by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. These standards pertain to all vehicles―domestic and imported― and vehicle-related equipment used on public roads and highways across the US.

The list of vehicle-related products reviewed and assessed by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards is all encompassing, ranging from windshield defrosting systems to air bags to the flammability of car seats. If curiosity strikes, peruse the full list online, complete with detailed explanations.

Who Initiates Car Safety Recalls

Recalls are initiated by:

  • Manufacturers based on their own studies or the recommendations of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).


  • The NHTSA via a court order.

In most instances, manufacturers, for public relation purposes, generally comply when court ordered by the NHTSA.

Vehicle Safety-Defect Examples That Can Initiate a Recall
  • Faulty windshield wiper systems.
  • Accelerator pedals that fail to release.
  • Defective steering systems, hampering a drivers ability to maintain control.
  • Cracking tires.
  • Faulty fuel system components that leak upon impact, making them susceptible to fire.
  • Seats or seat backs that fail to hold their position.
  • Defective seat belts.
  • Faulty air bag systems that deploy upon the slightest impact.
  • Defective wiring systems that make the vehicle susceptible to fire.
  • Car jacks that fail to hold.
  • Child safety seats with defective buckling systems or components that break or crack.
  • Car components that crack, break or fall off the vehicle, rendering its ability to remain in control.

Keep in mind that recalls are only issued if the defect poses as a safety risk. Recalls do not cover: 

  • Common wear and tear. This includes brake pads, car batteries, exhaust systems and shock absorbers.
  • Chipping and/or fading paint.
  • Body rust.
  • Faulty air conditioning systems.
  • Defective car stereo systems.

This article was provided by 

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