Total Recall

Car manufacturers' methods of reporting defects don't add up

The family car can be a life threatening and dangerous possession. Perhaps that is why, in 1993, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed an amendment to its regulations requiring car manufacturers to notify dealers of safety defects and noncompliance of vehicles within five days of informing the agency.

The manufacturers balked at such a suggestion and in October 2004, more than a decade later, the NHTSA determined that rather than specify a particular time frame, manufacturers would be allowed to submit a schedule of when they will inform dealers and distributors of safety defects to the agency. This directive is given a wide-ranging “reasonable time” limit, and then it applies only after the manufacturers personally decide that the defect or noncompliance even exists.

“The important issue is that defects in vehicles that could impact lives should be addressed immediately,” says Shirley Rooker, president of Call for Action, a consumer organization in Bethesda, Maryland. “Who’s going to make judgment on whether or not the defect is so significant that it will affect human lives?”

According to the NHTSA, if it deems the dealers must know about the recall sooner, it will intervene and manufacturers are required to comply with its directives. And as for its initial five-day proposal, the agency thought it would be more helpful to propose a time limit, but later discovered it was not practical.

“Recalls are complex undertakings. Some cases have complex problems with no immediate solutions,” says Rae Tyson, spokesman for the NHTSA. “We would never allow manufacturers to drag their feet on this new law. It would be in our best interest to begin the recall process as quickly as possible.”

Manufacturers are required to alert car owners of recalls. To find out if there have been recalls on your vehicle, go to www.clarkhoward.com, www.autobyel.com, www.autosite.com, www.recalls.gov, and www.autosafety.org.

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