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SAFETY RECALLS

THE NATIONAL TRAFFIC AND MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY
Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966, established the safety recall program. Since then, auto manufacturers have recalled approximately 150 million motor vehicles to repair safety-related manufacturing
defects and design flaws. With recalls, repairs are done at no cost to vehicle owners.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which oversees the recall program, approximately 35 percent of the vehicle owners who receive or should receive notices calling for free repairs do not have them made. Therefore, there are millions of vehicles presently on the road that have defects—each defect could cost an owner hundreds or thousands of dollars to fix—that could conceivably be repaired for free under
the safety recall program of the federal government.


Unfortunately, some problems are not perceived by car owners as safety hazards. For example, an engine that consumes oil, a transmission that makes a whining sound, and a body panel that is rusting are not considered safety-related problems by most car owners. Usually, only when a problem becomes serious enough do car owners bring their vehicles to mechanics and pay to have repairs made, when, in fact, repairs could have been made earlier
by vehicle manufacturers at no cost to car owners.

DEFICIENCIES IN NOTIFICATION SYSTEM
The law requires that manufacturers send notices of safety recalls to registered owners of affected cars by first-class mail. Most of the people who unwittingly pay for repairs that could have been made for free are owners of used cars whose previous owners may have received notices but did not follow through on the repairs. There are also those people who buy new cars and don't receive notification of recalls—the notification system is not foolproof. In
both situations, owners end up paying for repairs that should have been made free of charge.
For example, in 1989 the Ford Motor Company issued a recall on 481,000 1984 and 1985 Ford Escort and Mercury Lynx models because the cylinder head had the potential for cracking and al lowing oil to leak from the engine to a hot exhaust manifold, where
it might start a fire. Under the terms of the recall. Ford will install a new cylinder head at no cost to the owner.

Suppose you buy one of these cars from a used car dealer, and the previous owner didn't bother to have the repair made. Or say you bought the car new but the recall notice you should have received never arrived. Maybe it was lost in the mail, or maybe you moved and didn't leave a forwarding address. In any case, low oil dipstick readings indicate that the engine is consuming or losing oil. This is not a situation that would cause most of us to think that a safety-related defect exists. Carrying the scenario one step further, let's say you bring the car to a mechanic who tells you that the reason for the loss of oil is a cracked cylinder head. As a result, you could end up paying $400 to have a new cylinder head installed, never realizing that Ford Motor Company would have installed the part for you for
nothing because of the recall.


Another example of a problem that could needlessly cost owners money involves 1985 to 1991 Audis. In 1993, recall notices were mailed to 152,000 owners of these cars because the oil (installed at the factory) to lubricate the differential had a lower-than-normal
tolerance to heat and was evaporating. (The differential is the assembly that transmits power from the engine and transmission to the drive wheels.) If forced to operate on a reduced supply of oil, the bearings and gears inside the differential could eventually fail,
causing the drive wheels to lock and toss a moving car into a spin. Audi and NHTSA auto engineers considered this a safety-related condition that required a recall. The solution to the problem provided by the recall is to drain the old oil from the differential and install a superior grade of lubricant. Since it comes under the provisions of the government-
mandated safety recall program, the service is to be done at Audi dealerships and paid for by Volkswagen of America, which manufactures the Audi.


According to NHTSA's 35 percent noncompliance estimate, there are approximately 53,000 Audis that have not had this service performed and are candidates for a differential breakdown. Suppose you buy one of these cars. Would it ever occur to you to check
on the possibility that a safety recall exists covering the oil in the differential?
Suppose you don't check. Then a few months after purchasing the car, you begin hearing a loud whirring noise. A trip to the service department of an Audi dealership reveals that the differential gears and bearings are shot and an overhaul is needed. By then it's too late for you to do anything about it, even if you are told that a safety-related recall is in effect. The recall covers the cost of replacing the oil that could have prevented the failure. It
doesn't cover the cost of rebuilding the differential, which is approximately $800.

USING THE ACT
Two points to keep in mind about government-mandated safety recalls and free repairs are these:

1. If you buy a used car, check to see if a safety recall is in effect.
If one is, get the repair done by the service department of a new car dealer that sells the particular make of vehicle.

2. If you buy a new car and a problem develops after the warranty expires, find out whether a safety recall has been an nounced, even if the problem you're having doesn't seem to
have any relation to safety. Don't take it for granted that you would have gotten a notice from the manufacturer. It could have gone astray.

Whether your car is new or used, it is wise to check periodically—at least once a year—to find out if a safety recall has been announced for your car. Don't rely on the notification system. And don't rely on the media. Most recalls involve a few thousand cars;
only the recalls that involve hundreds of thousands or millions of cars usually make news.

FINDING A RECALL
To find out if you've missed a safety recall that applies to your car, have the dealership check its computer records or call NHTSA's toll-free hotline number, which is 800-424-9393 (or
366-0123 if you reside in the District of Columbia). Car recalls are also published in Consumer Reports magazine.

If there's been a recall for your car's make and model, NHTSA will send you a request-for-information card, preaddressed with the name and address of the vehicle manufacturer. When it arrives, fill in the data. You'll need the vehicle identification number (VIN), which you can get from the car registration, insurance identification card, or from the plate mounted to the forward part of the dashboard where it meets the windshield on the driver's side.
The manufacturer will let you know if the recall applies to your particular vehicle, and, if so, whether the repair has been made to your car already (if you bought the car used).

STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
The offer of a free repair for a recalled vehicle extends eight years from the date the recall is announced. If you find out that your car has been recalled but the time allowed by law to have the free repair made has elapsed, don't give up. Car manufacturers have goodwill policy programs. Repairs called for by expired recalls may still be paid for, at least in part, by the manufacturer. Therefore, contact a dealer to get in touch with the manufacturer. Don't
accept the dealer's word if you are told there is no goodwill policy.

Demand to speak with a field representative or with someone in authority working in the manufacturer's customer service department. If the dealer won't follow through on your request, go to another dealer. If no one is responsive, contact the customer service department yourself. Addresses and telephone numbers of manufacturers are listed in the following links:

Acura Honda Mini
AM General Hummer Hyundai Mitsubishi
Aston Martin Infiniti Nissan
Audi Isuzu Oldsmobile
Bentley Jaguar Pontiac
BMW Jeep Porsche
Buick Kia Rolls Royce
Cadillac Lamborghini Saab
Chevrolet Land Rover Saturn
Chrysler Lexus Subaru
Dodge Lincoln Suzuki
Ferrari Lotus Toyota
Ford Mazda Volkswagen
GMC Mercedes-Benz Volvo
  Mercury  

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