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What is the Automobile Recall Process?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's process for issuing automotive recalls is intended to promote the safety of the public. Protecting the public from the risk of accidents due to defects in the design, construction, or performance of an automobile is the goal of the NHTSA's motor vehicle safety efforts. Since it began, the NHTSA's mission has led to the recall of 390 million cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, and other types of vehicles; in addition, 46 million tires, 66 million pieces of automobile equipment, and 42 million child safety seats have also been recalled because of safety defects.

Automobile defects are defined by the NHTSA as "any defect in performance, construction, a component, or material of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment." In general, safety defects may include problems with an automobile or automobile equipment. The NHTSA defines safety defects as those that pose a risk to motor vehicle safety and may exist in the design or manufacturing process of a group of vehicles or with automobile equipment manufactured under the same process.

Automotive safety recalls may be initiated in two different ways. Automobile safety recalls can be initiated by the automobile manufacturer independently or ordered by the NHTSA. Regardless of how the recall is initiated, the manufacturer must file a public report describing the safety-related defect or what is not in compliance with federal motor vehicle safety standards; what automobiles or automobile equipment is involved in the recall; any major events that resulted in a recall being initiated; the remedy for the recall; and a recall schedule.

Car accidents can result in serious injury and death. In 2009, 30,000 victims died in car accidents in the United States. When victims have been harmed because of an automobile defect, it is important for them to know that they may have a claim for damages based on product liability laws that hold manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and others liable in some circumstances for the harm suffered.

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