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| July 14, 2021
Motor Vehicle Safety Recalls an Issue Not to Ignore
By Leslie Tomaino, Naval Safety Center Safety Promotions
NORFOLK, Va. –
You may or may not have seen the warning in your mailbox, with bright red letters “URGENT” or “RECALL” on the outside of the envelope. Every day, vehicle safety notices go out, and still, these warnings go largely ignored by consumers. Add military service members and their family’s busy schedules, deployments, PCS moves, unforwarded mail, etc., and it is even easier not to receive or see these notices. Every year car manufacturers will recall millions of vehicles in the United States due to significant safety issues. Many may not know what a vehicle safety recall is, where to find more information or why it is very important.
I witnessed a friend’s close call experience with her vehicle, which potentially could have been avoided. As her family’s vehicle was in flames in a shopping center parking lot being put out by firefighters, I can only imagine how she and her children may have been feeling. She later discovered a safety recall for an issue with this vehicle and never received the mailed notices. This car fire prompted me to research safety recalls for vehicles further. I realized this is a common issue we should all be aware of not only as informed consumers but as vehicle operators to mitigate unnecessary risk to keep our roads and other people safe.
So what exactly is a vehicle recall? A vehicle recall is an automotive-specific product recall, a statement from the manufacturer that a safety risk is present in specific vehicle models. Motor vehicle safety recalls occur when a vehicle or vehicle part fails to comply with one or more Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards set by the National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA), or when cars or parts exhibit a safety-related defect. According to the NHTSA, tens of millions of vehicles are recalled every year in the U.S., with more than 31 million from 786 recalls in 2020 alone.
If you’re unsure if you have a recall for your vehicle, it only takes a few minutes to gain some peace of mind. To check for outstanding recalls on your vehicle, enter your 17 character vehicle identification number (VIN) at the NHTSA’s recall lookup site - www.nhtsa.gov/recalls. The VIN is located on the lower left windshield on the driver’s side of your vehicle, inside the driver’s side door, on your insurance card or vehicle registration. You can also call NHTSA’s Safety Hotline at 1(888) 327-4236. Vehicle owners can also sign up for NHTSA recall alerts to learn about new recalls before manufacturers mail recall notices to affected owners.
Once a safety-defect determination occurs, the law gives the manufacturer three options for correcting the defect: repair, replacement, or refund. Depending mainly on cost, the automaker can choose to repair the defect at no charge, replace the vehicle with an identical or similar model, or refund the purchase price in full, considering a reasonable allowance for depreciation. The manufacturer is not required to fix the defect if the vehicle was built 15 or more years before the date the defect was determined. Owners are still advised to have the recall work performed, but they would have to pay out of pocket in this case.
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) urges you to get in the habit of checking for recalls. Consider it part of your vehicle’s routine maintenance. If your car has a recall, the manufacturer will send a letter to the addresses that you have listed on your DMV vehicle registration. However, people often overlook recall notices or move without updating their address. It is best to be proactive to ensure your vehicle is safe to drive and keep in mind that safe cars save lives.
There is a free app called SaferCar available for IOS and Android users. When SaferCar discovers a safety recall for the vehicle or equipment you entered, it will send an alert on your mobile device. The app can be found in the Apple store for Apple device users at
and in the Google Play store for Android users at
For additional resources on safety awareness, visit the Naval Safety Center’s website,
"This release is not a U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) endorsement of SaferCar or any other private entities."