Automatic Safety Faults and Safety Reminder

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6.3 million vehicles currently registered in California
have at least one unrepaired life-threatening
safety recall fault. Is your car one of them?

You do everything possible to secure your class. But what about your own safety? For most teachers, the riskiest part of your day is getting to and from work. Adding to the risk: you and your family can drive a car with unrepaired dangerous safety recall faults.

Air Force officer Stephanie Erdman nearly lost an eye when her 2003 Honda Civic’s Takata airbag exploded in a crash in 2013. Corona resident Delia Robles, a 50-year-old grandmother , was not so lucky: In 2017, while on her way to get a flu shot, the 2001 Civic she was driving collided with a pickup truck. According to her son, she only drove 25 mph and always wore a seatbelt. Normally, she would have survived. But the Takata airbag exploded on impact and caused his death. Honda had recalled the car years before the crash, but the faulty airbag was never repaired.

Most airbags protect drivers and passengers from serious injury and death. But Takata used a cheaper, more volatile chemical to inflate its airbags, sending metallic shrapnel to the faces, necks and torsos of drivers and passengers. Over 100 million airbags in vehicles produced by GM, Ford, Fiat Chrysler/Jeep, Honda/Acura, Toyota/Lexus, Nissan/Infiniti, Subaru, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Kia, Hyundai and other major manufacturers automobiles were built with Takata recalled airbags. They caused hundreds of devastating injuries, including blindness, and dozens of deaths.


what you can do

How do I know if my car, or a car I might buy, has an unrepaired safety recall?

It’s easy and the information is free. All it takes is the vehicle identification number, or VIN, and access to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website, nhtsa.gov/recalls.

Where can I find the VIN of my car?

The VIN is a unique 17-character identifier that looks like a fingerprint for a specific car. It is located on the left side of the dashboard near the windshield, along with vehicle registration, auto repair orders, and auto insurance documents.

Where do I check the safety recall status of my car or a car I’m thinking of buying?

Simply enter the VIN on the NHTSA website at nhtsa.gov/recalls. The information is free. All automakers (except very small specialty companies) that sell vehicles in the United States are required to frequently update the safety recall data they provide to NHTSA. You can also check the manufacturer’s website or call the manufacturer’s toll-free number.

What about private databases like Carfax or Autocheck?

Carfax has some safety recall data, but it may not be current or complete. Autocheck often fails to include security reminder information. Conclusion: do not count on them.

Does the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) include safety recall information?

No. The United States Department of Justice created the NMVTIS to provide information on severely damaged or flooded vehicles that are declared a total loss. But the NMVTIS does not include information on safety recalls. If a car dealership tells you that an NMVTIS report says a car has no unrepaired safety recall, they are trying to trick you.

Who pays for safety recall repairs?

Federal law requires automakers to pay for safety recall repairs for at least 15 years. Many manufacturers pay for recall repairs longer than this.

Where can I get free safety recall repairs?

Automakers allow their franchise dealers to perform safety recalls, help train technicians, and reimburse them for work. For example, if you have a recalled Ford, any Ford dealership should perform the recall repairs at no cost to you.

I bought a car from CarMax. They advertise that all of their vehicles must pass a 125-point inspection. Does that mean it’s unrecallable?

No! Unfortunately, CarMax, Vroom, Carvana, AutoNation, and other car dealerships routinely fail to have free safety recall repairs performed before selling cars to the public. Never trust a car dealership to tell you if a car has an unrepaired safety recall fault. Always check yourself.


Stephanie Erdman, injured in the face

When Stephanie Erdman’s Takata airbag deployed after a car accident, shards of metal passed through the airbag and entered Erdman’s right eye and neck. As she later explained to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, she took her Honda Civic to the dealership for servicing three times after the dealership received her car’s recall notice; they never replaced the airbags. Eventually, Honda notified her of the defect by phone – three days after her accident. In an NHTSA safety spot, she urges viewers to check if their car is under recall.


Many types of defects

The Takata airbag fault is the most common reason for recalls, but other recall faults in various cars and trucks also pose a serious threat.

According to the nation’s top auto safety agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “All safety recalls are serious.” Other typical safety recall faults:

  • Defective brakes.
  • Loss of steering, including steering wheels coming loose in the driver’s hands.
  • Catch fire.
  • Accelerator pedals sticking.
  • Faulty seat belts.
  • Hoods that open, obscuring your vision while driving.
  • Axles that break while driving, causing loss of control.

An alarming 6.3 million vehicles currently registered in California have at least one potentially fatal unrepaired safety recall fault. Is your car one of them?


Rosemary Shahan is president of the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation, which works with CTA as part of the Consumer Federation of California. For more information, visit carsfoundation.org, where you will also find advice for buying a used car.

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