In recent years, motor vehicle manufacturer safety recalls have become ever more common. However, even with the notifications vehicle owners receive, Internet information, and media attention, completion rates for safety recalls are still surprisingly low. While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has promulgated regulations and developed tools for vehicle owners that are intended to help improve recall completion rates, there still remains a large percentage of vehicles that are never remedied. This could mean that there is still a significant number of vehicles being operated on our highways that present a risk to the public.
Recall Frequency Increasing
Safety-related recalls can occur for many reasons. These reasons may include problems associated with the introduction of new technologies, supplier mistakes, quality control problems, or any number of other unexpected causes.
While reasons may vary, the number of safety-related recalls for motor vehicles appears to be on the rise. In 2014, there were just more than 800 separate vehicle recalls involving more than 69 million vehicles. The 2015 number may approach 900 motor vehicle recalls—not including equipment-related safety recalls.
When a manufacturer decides a safety defect exists in the vehicles it produces, it must notify NHTSA and its dealers as well as owners. As of February 2014, envelopes containing a notification of a safety related recall must have the label shown in Photo 1.
The notification must contain certain information that includes a description of the safety-related defect, the safety risk, and what the remedy is. The notification must also identify that the remedy is available at no cost to the vehicle owner. In certain cases, you may receive a notice that indicates a remedy is not yet available but will be at a later date.
Vehicle manufacturers are responsible for their vehicles and all original equipment installed on them. This means that even if the safety defect or noncompliance is in an item of equipment on the vehicle that the vehicle manufacturer did not manufacture, it is responsible for notifying owners and providing a remedy.
It is not uncommon in vehicle recalls involving defective or noncomplying original equipment, particularly those involving specialty or commercial vehicle applications, for the vehicle manufacturer and the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to coordinate such that the OEM performs the repairs. This commonly occurs with engines, axles, and commercial chassis.
If You Receive a Recall Notice
When a safety-related recall notification is received, open it immediately and read completely. Focus on the identified risk or what could happen if the safety defect is not remedied. The identified risk does not mean the condition will happen but that it could happen. The intent of the notification is to prevent the risk from happening. Depending on the nature of the safety-related defect, the notification may state the risk is fire, personal injury, equipment damage, or a crash. If a failure could result because of the safety-related defect, the notification may state that the failure could occur without warning.
Importance of Apparatus Recalls
While getting a safety-related defect remedied in your personal vehicle is very important, getting it remedied on a fire apparatus is critically important. A fire apparatus has multiple purposes that typically involve some type of emergency situation. A safety-related defect may prohibit the apparatus from responding to the emergency situation or prohibit the apparatus from performing its function while on the scene of an emergency situation. Given the mission of a fire apparatus, a safety related defect may not only put the occupants of the apparatus at risk but may increase the risk to those people who are involved in, or in close proximity to, an emergency situation.
Avoiding Communication Delays
In large departments, there may be a wide range of people involved in procuring a fire apparatus or fire apparatus fleet. The range of people may include the chief, assistant chief, city finance person, or others. Each of these serves an important role in the fire department or fire protection service, and they may receive safety recall notifications. If the recipient is not directly involved in maintaining or servicing the apparatus, he may have to forward it on, possibly delaying the process.
Volunteer fire departments may protect areas where call volume is low, and members are not at the department on a regular basis. In this case the dealer and manufacturer should have the contact information for someone who can facilitate having the remedy applied. This may mean having a personal address rather than the department address on file.
When a manufacturer declares a recall, it is required by federal law to issue a notification to the owner. Having the correct address and point of contact is a critical element in getting the notification to the appropriate person in a reasonably short amount of time.
To ensure that all fire apparatus have recall remedies applied quickly and efficiently, the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) urges fire department leaders to take the following steps:
- Train appropriate department staff to recognize the NHTSA “Important Safety Recall Information” symbol and to deliver it immediately to those responsible when a correspondence with the symbol is received.
- Supply your apparatus sales representative(s) and apparatus manufacturer(s) with up-to-date contact information.
- Search the NHTSA recall Website (safercar.gov) by the make, model, and year of each department apparatus to identify any past recalls that may not have been remedied.
Once a notification is received, it is critical that arrangements be made to have the remedy applied as quickly as possible. Working together we can keep our apparatus up to date, and ready to serve the needs of our communities.
FAMA is committed to the manufacture and sale of safe, efficient emergency response vehicles and equipment. FAMA urges fire departments to evaluate the full range of safety features offered by its member companies.
WESLEY D. CHESTNUT is the product safety and compliance manager for Spartan Motors, Inc. He provides regulatory oversight for all of Spartan. He works closely with federal agencies and other associations to promote the safety of various types of motor vehicles.