The Car Recall Process

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You’ve probably heard of cars being recalled for various issues. You are told to take to the recalled to the local dealership, and the local dealership will fix your car. But what does this all mean? Why is your car being recalled?  Here’s a guide to the car recall process.

There are two ways that cars can be recalled. First, vehicle manufacturers can voluntarily issue recalls. Second, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, can force the car manufacturer to recall the vehicle. Most recalls are voluntary manufacturer recalls, but these “voluntary” recalls are made because of NHTSA’s investigation into consumer complaints.

So why are recalls made? Recalls are made after NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) receives multiple complaints and reports of defects. The ODI will investigate the complaints and accidents. If it is deemed necessary the car is recalled.

There are three ways to submit a complaint. You can send in a paper report to the ODI. You can fill out a complaint online. Lastly, you can call recall hotline. The recall hotline is 1-888-327-4236 or 1-800-424-9393.

Any report you submit is entered into the NHTSA consumer complaint automated database. It is catalogued based on vehicle make, model, model year, manufacturer, defect, assembly, and system. These complaints are listed online, without your personal information. Consumer complaints help drive recalls. Most recalls are made because of consumer complaints.

After filing a complaint, you may be contacted by an investigator from the ODI.  The investigator will want to clarify or very information in your report. It is not guaranteed that you’ll receive a call due to the large volume of reports. If you have any questions, you can always check out the ODI site or call the hotline. Based on the reports, the ODI may launch an investigation into the vehicle. There is no established numbers of reports required for NHTSA to investigate the issue.

The Defects Assessment Division, DAD, of the ODI goes through Vehicle Owner’s Questionnaires, e-mails, letters, anonymous reports, and manufacturer submitted information. DAD will also review service bulletins, relevant information about foreign recalls, customer satisfaction campaigns, and consumer advisories. This whole process is known as screening.

After screening, the ODI will deal with petitions. Anyone can submit a petition requesting that the NHTSA open an investigation into a possible safety defect.  The ODI will conduct a technical analysis of the petition. If the petition is granted, a defect investigation is opened. When the petition is denied, it is published in the Federal Register.

The next time is the investigation. There are two phases: Preliminary Evaluation and the Engineering Analysis.

The Preliminary Evaluation is usually opened because of information submitted by DAD. During this phase, the ODI will obtain information from the manufacturer. This information is usually data on complaints, crashes, injuries, warranty claims, modifications, and sales.  The Preliminary Evaluation stage is an opportunity for the manufacturing to present its side on the possible defect. This phase of investigation usually lasts for around four months. If the ODI believes more investigation is necessary, it will enter into the next phase: Engineering Analysis.

During the Engineering Analysis phase, ODI will conduct a more detailed analysis of the alleged defect. It also determines the scope of the alleged defect. Investigators will conduct inspections, tests, and surveys. If ODI determines that there is a safety related defect, the investigator will present the information to a panel of experts.  The experts will also analyze the information. If the panel also believes that a recall is necessary, ODI will notify the car manufacturer. This is an opportunity for the car manufacturer to present any new analysis or data. If no new information is given, ODI will then send a Recall Request Letter to the manufacturer. ODI tries to conclude the investigation within one year, but complex investigation may require more time.

The last step of the recall is Recall Management. The Recall Management Division (RMD) is responsible for maintaining administrative records of recalls and monitoring recalls to ensure that the scope is appropriate. It is also responsible for keeping track of the recall completion rate and determining if the solution to the recall is working. If the recall is not effective, there may be another investigation into the recall.

Hopefully, this recall breakdown clears any confusion about recalls!

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