It All Starts with Owner Complaints ∞
NHTSA monitors online complaints to search for potential safety prolems.
They allow owners to file complaints directly. Other sites, like CarComplaints.com, are dedicated to unconvering problem trends and raising their awareness. You can file your complaint to help boost the signal on a specific problem.
Complaints can also lead to petitions filed directly to NHTSA, asking for an investigation or recall.
File a Complaint
Complaints Can Spark Investigations ∞
If a safety issue is detected, NHTSA begins a multi-step investigation process:
- Screening is where they review complaint and decide whether to open an investigation
- Analysis is where they conduct research around the complaints or petitions received.
- Investigation is when an investigation is officially opened. NHTSA reviews the alleged safety defects and often works directly with the manufacturer before offering a recall recommendation.
Investigations May Lead to Recalls ∞
A recall is issued when, during the course of an investigation, a safety risk is uncovered or it's determined the vehicle doesn't meet federal safety standards.
Many times an automaker will voluntarily issue a recall based on recommendations from NHTSA, but certain times NHTSA itself issues the recall.
A recall means automakers are required to fix a problem by repairing it, replacing it, or issuing a refund.
And Then There's Technical Service Bulletins ∞
Technical service bulletins (TSB) are official recommended steps and procedures for repairing vehicles, issued by automakers to their network of dealerships and certified technicians.
A TSB is not limited to safety-only problems, like an investigation or recall.
For years TSBs were difficult to come by for owners, outside of a short and sometimes cryptic summary. In recent years NHTSA has started storing TSBs and allowing owners to search for full documents by using their vehicle's VIN or make / model / year.
TSBs are useful tools to use when discussing repair options with an authorized technician. You'll often see TSBs used as evidence in lawsuits for problems that go unrepaired.
Search for TSBs