Motor-vehicle recalls: When a defect endangers lives

With so many people driving, the last thing you want to have to worry about is if a vehicle is defective. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, has the ability to enforce safety standards that take dangerous vehicles off the roads. To do that, the department has to know something's wrong.

Recalls most often occur after a manufacturer finds a problem with a product or after multiple consumers complain about a similar issue. If the manufacturer receives notice of a defect, then it has to fix the issue at no cost to the consumer.

When do recalls happen?

Recalls takes place when a vehicle doesn't meet the safety standards set by the government. For instance, tires that don't hold the PSI listed on the side could potentially explode or get damaged from not having enough air inside. This is a risk to drivers and a defect that the manufacturer should remedy.

Certain defects, called safety-related defects, have a potential to lead to consumer injuries. These pose a risk to the entire group who uses a product. For instance, an airbag defect that results in it deploying at a random time puts the driver and other road users in danger. If the issue spans across multiple vehicles of the same make or with the same product inside, then that's a safety-related issue.

How many people have to report a problem before the NHTSA takes steps to take the product off the market?

The NHTSA doesn't have a standard it follows when it comes to reports of problems. A single report could, in theory, result in an investigation. If the investigation turns up a defect, then the NHTSA may seek a recall.

Recalls are there to protect you and others. If you find out one has been issued, make sure you take your vehicle in for an inspection.

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