Is My Car Safe? The dreadful Recalls – Part I

“Recalls are only successful and can only save lives if they end up getting the cars fixed… This is a safety risk to the drivers of those vehicles and all the people they share the road with, too”.

Anthony Foxx – Transportation Secretary (04/28/2015)

The US Department of Transportation through his National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is in a state of emergency.

2014 was a record year in a negative way and it will be remembered as one of the worst inAirbag Recalls_05.05.15 automotive history for years to come. There were 803 vehicle recalls involving 63.9 million vehicles, including two of the ten largest vehicle recalls in history.

In addition to the large number of vehicles recalled, there were thousands of people injured and a significant number of fatalities associated to them. Some people were even involved in accidents or died AFTER complaints were already submitted to NHTSA and the recall was documented.

Before providing some additional context and figures of the magnitude of the problem, I would like to explain why recalls are originated.

The NHTSA has been authorized to issue vehicle safety standards, which set minimum performance requirements for those parts of the vehicle that most affect its safe operation (brakes, tires, lighting) or that protect drivers and passengers from death or serious injury in the event of a crash (air bags, safety belts, child restraints, energy absorbing steering columns). When it is considered that those parts DO NOT MEET the minimum requirements, manufacturers are required to recall vehicles with these safety-related defects.

How the NHTSA becomes aware of these safety-related defects? The agency relies on the public to submit complaints. The number of complaints about one specific defective part of the vehicle have to be large enough to warrant the opening of an investigation. The results of the investigation are shared with the manufacturer so they have the option to refute the Government’s evidence. At the end, if the manufacturer does not want to pursue a voluntary recall process, the NHTSA has the final say and has the power to issue a Final Decision. Such Final Decision can still be challenged by the manufacturer in Federal Court. However, at this point, the manufacturer is obligated to notify vehicle owners by snail mail about the agency’s Final Decision.

As you can imagine, from initial complaints to recall letters, the process can take years.

Now that you are up to speed on the overall recall process, I would like to share three sad stories to put into context the magnitude of the problem.

Pediatric nurse Brooke Melton, 29, died in a 2005 Chevy Cobalt on March 10, 2010, when the ignition allegedly shut off as she drove down a highway on a rainy night in Georgia. She lost control of the vehicle and was hit on the passenger side by an oncoming vehicle. When the switch goes off everything electric gets disabled, including airbags. To date, 90 fatalities have been accounted for, more than 160 injuries, and 28+ million vehicles have been recalled by General Motors due to malfunctioning ignition switches.

Carlos Solis was waiting to turn left into a Houston-area apartment complex on early 2015 when oncoming traffic struck the front-left corner of his 2002 Honda Accord. The other car traveled at under 30 miles per hour. He should have walked away from the fender-bender. Instead, the 35-year-old married man, father of two teenagers was killed when a defective airbag exploded and sent a large piece of metal shrapnel into his neck. He bled to death while his younger brother and an 11-year-old cousin tried to save him. 6 fatalities, 139 injured, 14+ million vehicles recalled.

Remington Walden, 4, was on his way to tennis practice in 2012 while strapped into the back seat of a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee. They stopped to turn. Then the Jeep was struck from behind by a pickup truck, and the Jeep caught on fire and burst into flames immediately. Remi remained trapped in the back seat and his aunt, the driver, could not save him. 70 fatalities and 1.5+ million vehicles recalled. This last tragic event is having a lot of coverage lately, as a jury awarded the family $150 million in damages recently.

These are sad stories but a reminder that we may think we or our families are safe when in reality all may be at risk.

In Part II, I will cover how to know if there is a recall notice out there that affects your vehicle, what you should do if you find there is one, and why recalls are another important factor to consider when buying used cars. Stay tuned.

Post by Eduardo Sanchez (Darden ’03). Eduardo is RELEVANT’s CEO and Co-Founder, a developer of mobile solutions for the auto service industry. RELEVANT is powering ATTENDANT, the first mobile application of its kind that gives you access to your vehicle’s safety, service, and knowledge information. Try it at You can contact him directly at

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