Auto owners’ manual for navigating through vehicle recalls | Causes, Not Just Cases®

Automakers must improve safety amid deadly vehicle defects and stop putting consumers at risk of injuries and recall fatigue.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 881 vehicle recalls in 2019, affecting a staggering 38,583,951 vehicles. The total number of recalled vehicles last year was up almost 25% from roughly 29.46 million in 2018.

With hundreds of vehicle recalls issued each year, we face the very real problem of “recall fatigue,” a phrase that’s often used to describe consumer apathy due to the oversaturation of recall notices in the market. When consumers are no longer alarmed by recalls, they may be overwhelmed by them or recalls may become buried or ignored. This makes it easier for life-threatening defects to slip through the cracks. Auto manufacturers must step up and work to ensure safety is a top priority before someone even gets behind the wheel so that consumers are not subjected to recall after recall.

Monitoring vehicle recalls

As a vehicle defect attorney tasked with staying abreast of all the latest safety issues affecting motorists, I would argue that is too hard of a burden to place on the consumer, especially when you factor in just how many vehicle recalls are issued each and every year.

However, if you’re up to the task, here are some steps you can try to keep an eye on recalls that may impact you. Unfortunately, not all dealerships and manufacturers will ensure you see or find a recall.

Unlike dealerships selling new vehicles, used car dealers and private sellers do not have to check for, repair or even inform buyers about open recalls that could put your life and your passengers’ lives in danger. While federal legislation was introduced in 2019 that would require dealers to fix outstanding safety recalls before selling used vehicles, that bill is not yet law and, for now at least, some say it is your responsibility as the consumer to make sure your vehicle is safe. If you’re shopping for a vehicle, make sure to enter the VIN on to ensure there aren’t any open recalls and ask the dealer to verify in writing there aren’t any open recalls. This is especially important if purchasing a used vehicle.

Other ways to monitor vehicle recalls:

  • Vehicle recalls may often be found by visiting and entering the vehicle’s vehicle identification number (VIN), typically located on the driver’s side windshield or on the driver’s side door jamb.
  • When buying a used vehicle, it is important to never drive off a lot without checking for any open recalls. Again, don’t rely on the dealer or manufacturer – check for yourself.
  • To protect yourself in the event of a future recall, make sure the vehicle’s registration is up to date with your correct address and the vehicle’s location. Recall notices will only be mailed to the registered owner.
  • You can also subscribe to email alerts from NHTSA. While you’ll receive alerts about all recalls, including those not specific to your vehicle, this service can help alert you to the possibility that you missed a mailed recall notice.
  • Carfax has an alert service that is specific to your vehicle.

If you do sign up to receive recall alerts, the number of mechanical recalls, software recalls and regulatory standard non-compliance recalls sent to your mailbox and/or your inbox will likely be overwhelming. It is difficult for the average consumer to keep up with the volume of notices. Automakers should answer for placing consumers in such a precarious position, and for the serious safety consequences that may follow when recall fatigue causes recalls to go unrepaired.

Too much recall information and too many places to look

The concept of recall fatigue isn’t limited to just vehicles. Consumers encounter countless recalls on a daily basis, affecting everything from their pharmaceutical drugs, medical devices, household appliances, electronics, even the very food they eat. One major problem with all of these recalls is that, even if you are willing to keep up with them, there really is no central location to find them all. Recalls are either made or regulated by federal agencies and although our government tries to consolidate these services at, navigating the site’s many categories to track down recalls that best apply to you can be challenging.

Another issue is posed when recalls slip under the radar. This can happen when companies use certain verbiage to disguise recalls. Auto manufacturers, for example, may issue a vehicle repair as part of their “customer satisfaction program” or address vehicle concerns through a “technical service bulletin” instead of issuing a recall. For more on this, you may read my colleague Kevin Dean’s blog post: “Secret recalls” and other reasons to visit your car dealership once a year.

Too many recalls? Get it right the first time.

Ultimately, in my opinion, placing the burden on consumers to stay on top of vehicle recalls distracts and shifts responsibility from the source of the actual problem – negligent automakers and manufacturers that produce dangerous vehicles and faulty auto equipment. It’s not too much to ask that corporations produce high-quality, safe consumer products, and no manufacturer should be able to release a product that could potentially cause serious harm, lifelong injury or death. Far too often, however, that isn’t the case.

In recent years we’ve seen record-breaking recalls such as Takata airbags, the largest auto recall in U.S. history affecting roughly 100 million vehicles worldwide. The Takata recall has been linked to dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries. Sadly, the defect continues to claim lives to this day, in part because the sheer number of impacted vehicles was far too vast to resolve quickly and millions of affected vehicles are still on the road. Faulty General Motors ignition switches, linked to more than 100 deaths, were the source of another major recall in recent years that affected 2.6 million vehicles.

NHTSA is also reviewing a number of potential new defects that could be just as deadly. The agency launched an investigation of more than 12.3 million vehicles due to potential electrical issues that could prevent airbags from deploying properly in a wreck. Automakers with vehicles that may contain the defect include:

  • Fiat Chrysler
  • Honda
  • Hyundai
  • Kia
  • Mitsubishi
  • Toyota

NHTSA is also reviewing more than 550,000 Nissan Rogue vehicles that may have caused crashes and injuries due to unprompted automatic emergency braking.

We must demand that automakers do all that they can to ensure that vehicles are safe, the first time, instead of prioritizing profits above human lives. Doing so would go a long way toward preventing major headaches by cutting back on the growing number of product recalls issued each and every day. Supporting groups like Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety and writing letters to your U.S. Senators and Representatives are just a couple ways to start demanding accountability before we learn of the next major recall for deadly defects like the GM ignition switch or Takata airbag.

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