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NHTSA Takes Active Role in Millions of Recalls

In 2012, More than 17.8 Million Products Subject To Recall

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Honda Odyssey airbag recall

The 2011-2013 Honda Odyssey models have been recalled for potential problems with their airbags on the driver's side.

(c) Honda

Officially called the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, but more commonly known an NHTSA (or Nit-SUH as some say), this federal agency that oversees recalls of used cars had a busy 2012 with more than 17.8 million products subject to recall.

Why is that number from NHTSAso important? Because, left to themselves, most businesses would not recall products without government oversight. It would be more cost effective not to recall vehicles for most OEMs, in spite of claims they make to the contrary, especially with older vehicles. Some might scoff at that claim in this day of instant communication among millions of people. But without some kind of watchdog, with real bite, most corporations would do the cost-effective thing and not the right thing.

That's not an anti-business rant. It's just put out there to demonstrate that big government can occasionally be a good thing for the consumer and even businesses. The recall of used cars is an important thing that NHTSA does. Without them, millions upon millions of used cars would be on the road with potentially disastrous safety defects. Two that come to mind are the Ford Windstar and the 7.8 million Toyotas that were recalled in 2010.

As Jim Colon, vice president of Toyota Product Communications for Toyota Motor Sales USA, told the New England Motor Press Association back in October 2010, in nine months time the company fixed about 6.2 million of the vehicles. Normally it would have taken 18 months to fix only 5.5 million vehicles. (The usual standard on recalls is 70 percent are fixed in 18 months.)

NHTSA has this description of what it does posted on its website: "As a data-driven agency, NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation and its counterpart, the Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance, constantly review information from numerous sources to identify potential safety defect trends, including direct consumer complaints, early warning reporting data, technical service bulletins, as well as independent auto web sites, fan sites, bulletin boards, trade publications, and popular magazines for information that might warrant an investigation. Over the last three years, NHTSA's defect and compliance investigations and compliance testing have resulted in over 430 recalls involving 22 million vehicles and products."

There are some interesting things to pull from that statement. The agency reviews, "independent auto web sites, fan sites, bulletin boards, trade publications, and popular magazines for information that might warrant an investigation." It sounds a bit like Big Brother to me but it also demonstrates that what is said by the general public (and the media) is being heard by the federal government.

Of course, there is always the direct route. Consumers can file complaints directly with NHTSA. In 2012, NHTSA said it received 41,912 complaints concerning potential safety defects, 49,417 in 2011, and 65,765 in 2010. (There's no explanation for why the number of complaints is dropping significantly.) More info is available at the NHTSA contact page on how to file used car complaints.

"The role of the consumer in influencing auto recalls cannot be under-estimated," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "Consumers are the lifeblood of the recall process and recalls are often the direct result of a government investigation into consumer complaints."

"Since its inception in 1966, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has held automakers accountable for recalling vehicles and equipment that have a safety defect or that do not meet the requirements of applicable safety standards set by the agency - resulting in more than 17,000 recalls involving over 500 million vehicles and more than 84 million items of equipment," according to its website. Recalled vehicles hit their peak in from 1992 to 2012 in 2004 when more than 30 million were recalled. The lowest amount of annual recalls came in 1994 when just more than 5 million were recalled.

It's also important to note that NHTSA doesn't just announce recalls for vehicles. About 60,000 items of vehicle equipment, including tires and child safety seats, in 2012. About.com's guide to tires and wheels, Sean Phillips, can keep you posted on the latest developments on tires and important safety information. Heather Corley, About.com's guide to baby products can get you the latest info on safe baby seats for your vehicle.

One last important thing to point out is it's still possible to buy a recalled used car. Just make sure you follow my recommendations and it should be a perfectly normal buying experience for you.

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