Recalls for car defects are more important than you think

Over the last few years, you may have heard that a series of recalls were issued for a huge number of vehicles equipped with potentially dangerous airbags designed by the same manufacturer. Maybe you heard that, in 2013, General Motors announced a substantial safety recall for 193,652 vehicles because of a problem in the construction of the driver’s side door module that could ultimately lead to electronic short circuits, overheating, and fires. Or maybe you heard that Chrysler was bucking up to the government safety agency that recommended that a recall be issued for a bunch of Jeep models that were said to be susceptible to gasoline fires resulting from rear-end collisions. However, many people across the United States don’t hear about these kinds of recalls, even though it’s important to everyone’s safety that they do.

Why car recalls are important

The truth is that recalls are issued almost every other day. It’s hard to keep up, even if it’s your car that’s been recalled. When the same company issuing the recall also puts out strong messages implying that the recall is pointless, it’s kind of hard to know if there’s really a problem or not. If you’re wondering if you should care about recalls, you should. In fact, you need to look beyond just the recalls and take interest in any pending investigations or other incidents that you’ve heard about. If you’re not confident you’re getting updates for a car you drive, you can check the NHTSA website.

Even though the manufacturers are typically seen as technically initiating a recall, don’t credit them for admitting that there’s a problem. Most vehicles that get recalled were already—or will be—the subjects of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation. Investigations can be prompted by a pattern of consumer reports to the NHTSA that a vehicle was defective. When there are enough reports from consumers, you should expect that the auto manufacturers—in the face of overwhelming evidence—will eventually have to admit it.

The auto industry is profit-driven

The automotive business is a half-trillion-dollar business in the U.S. Think about it: there are only so many businesses that are so important to the U.S. economy that the government will take exception to its core principles to bail out, and the automotive business is one of them. In the end, the goal of that business is about selling the cars, trucks, and other vehicles that are in our driveways and on our roads. Ford, Chrysler, GM, and other foreign and domestic makers design, make, and manufacture the cars. They all operate under the understanding that, in the end, there’s no business if there’s no sale. 

Just because companies survive by profiting off the sale of cars does not mean that safety does not matter for the big companies. All these big automotive companies are not lying when they say they are concerned about our safety. But don’t misunderstand their intentions.  

The time and money that car makers put into implementing safety features is a business decision made after an analysis of the costs and benefits. They ask questions, including:

  • What is the safety concern with the car (or car part)?
  • What is the cost of fixing the problem?
  • What is the likelihood that the problem results in damage to life or property?  

When they have all the data in front of them, there’s an important number they look at in making the final decision: How much can we save if we don’t fix it? If it’s a positive number, then they will not fix it.  

Making cars safe is secondary to making cars that sell 

The automotive industry’s products (cars, trucks, etc.) are heavy, hard, made of unforgiving materials, and fast. Even small cars carry high levels of force. To survive the forces involved, the vehicle must be built to:

  • Counteract the dangerous forces initiated by accelerating
  • Predict our input
  • Protect our bodies
  • Be forgiving of some level of human mistakes

In a word: safe. Safety in automobile design, construction, post-manufacture handling, and post-sale warning is an absolute necessity for the harmonious coexistence of humans and automobiles.  

Do automakers benefit from making safe cars rather than unsafe ones? Certainly. But understand that the goal of making cars safe is secondary to making cars that sell.

The problem causing the recall could be bigger than you know

Consumer awareness of recalls is an obvious concern to car makers because recalls affect their bottom lines. They do not want to make a recall if they don’t have to. Expect that, if there is a recall, there’s a chance that the problem is much bigger than the car maker is letting you know about. Read the recall carefully. The carmaker can hide or diminish a problem at will.

For example, in October of 2009, in the face of a growing number of sudden-acceleration complaints, Toyota issued a recall for a floor mat replacement. A subtle addition to the recall included the writing of brake override software into the vehicle, without which (floor mat or not) the vehicle would not operate properly when given a dual input on the gas and the brake. While the floor mat replacement was necessary to fix the problem, this was not the only fix necessary at the time.

Have you been injured by a car defect?  

You can file a lawsuit for injuries caused by a car defect regardless of whether or not that vehicle was under recall. If the car was defective, and that defect caused your injury, the lack of recall does not bar your case. Recalls simply help to show that the car maker knew of a defect at some point in time. There are other ways to show this in your case, such as other incidents reported to the NHTSA. Remember, the car makers are not going to budge until there is a high enough incidence of a problem to become a significant financial liability.  

Someone always has to be the first to report the defect. Don’t hesitate to contact a lawyer, even if you think you are the first to report a defect. There’s a good chance the company knew of the problem to begin with and opted to save money. This is one area of the law where your case may work not only to help you as the plaintiff, but also save many other drivers on the road.