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How to Report A Car Defect Or Auto Malfunction

How to report an auto defect

An auto defect can significantly impact the safety of vehicle occupants. A design defect or manufacturing defect in a vehicle can result in a malfunction at any time, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle.

Some defects can cause an accident, such as tire separation, brake failure, or sudden unintended acceleration.

In other cases, a safety feature such as a seatbelt or airbag malfunctioning during a car accident can result in catastrophic injuries for vehicle occupants. This is why it is critical that you report a safety defect promptly.

Auto Safety Recalls - Your Voice Matters

Consumer complaints result in the recall of millions of vehicles and parts every year. According to statistics reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), automakers and watchdogs initiated more than 1,000 recalls in the United States in 2021, affecting about 35 million vehicles.

The numbers are staggering, and they are on the rise. In 2012, there were 581 recalls covering 16 million vehicles. As you can see, the numbers have spiked to a consistently higher level over the past decade. These figures include all vehicles, such as cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles.

Among the recalls are vehicles made by the largest automakers in the world. No one is immune from making mistakes or encountering unforeseen issues.

Not every issue is the subject of a recall. But these numbers show how big a problem auto defects are. It also shows the importance of reporting any problems you face. In many cases, it is only by consumers speaking up that manufacturers and authorities such as NHTSA become aware of dangerous defects and do something about them.

A graph showing the number of vehicle recalls in the U.S. from 2001 to 2021

Reporting an Auto Defect

The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) is an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It has the authority to conduct auto defect investigations, determine if a particular defect exists in a batch of vehicles, and administer safety recalls, if necessary.

There are three different ways in which consumers can report safety defects to NHTSA.

The first method is through NHTSA’s Vehicle Safety Hotline by calling 1-888-327-4236 or 1-800-424-9393. The hotline also has Spanish-speaking representatives and offers a dedicated number, 1-800-424-9153, for use by persons with hearing impairments.

You can also visit the NHTSA website to report a problem. Once on the site, click the ‘Report a Safety Problem’ button at the top of the page. You can select the type of defect you are dealing with and submit a form with all the information needed to investigate.

The third method is to send a written complaint to the Office of Defects Investigation (NVS-210), 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20590.

What Goes into Your Auto Defect Complaint?

The online form will vary slightly depending on the defect you have discovered. The website will give you options. There are forms for complaints regarding vehicles, child car seats, tires, and vehicle-related equipment or products


Each form is simple and easy to fill out. For example, the vehicle defect form requires:

  • Your vehicle identification number (VIN). The VIN is a unique 17-digit number and letter combination that you can find on your vehicle and registration. The website provides a guide on how to find it.
  • Any documentation you have backing up your complaint. This could include pictures from an accident, a police report, or details and invoices from repairs.
  • Your basic information/contact details.

In addition to this information, the form will ask you to describe the circumstances under which the vehicle or part failed. You will also be asked to state how often the failure occurs, its consequences, and if you performed any repairs or replacements to fix the problem.

If any vehicle occupants were injured or killed as a result of the defective vehicle, you should definitely state that in your complaint as well.

When you file an online vehicle complaint form, you will have to provide some contact information as well as some identifying information. NHTSA does not share personal information with the general public. All of your personal information will be removed before your complaint is made public.

Depending on the circumstances of your complaint, an NHTSA-ODI investigator may contact you, but it is not likely that you will be contacted unless they need additional information.

How Will Your Auto Defect Report Be Used?

Any information you provide is entered into NHTSA’s consumer complaint automated database, which is categorized according to vehicle make, model, model year, manufacturer, and the affected part, assembly, or system.

These reports are posted on NHTSA’s website after the consumer’s personal information is removed. Your report will not only help NHTSA and automakers determine if a recall is warranted, but it will also provide motorists with valuable information about potential safety problems currently under review.

The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) may or may not call you to verify information in your report.

The recall process can take months or even years to be completed. NHTSA’s process usually involves four steps:

  • Screening: This step involves a preliminary review of consumer complaints and other information related to alleged defects to decide whether or not an investigation is needed.
  • Petition analysis: This involves analyzing any petitions calling for defect investigations and/or reviews of safety-related recalls.
  • Investigation: The actual investigation of the alleged safety defects, which includes an engineering analysis.
  • Recall management: Discussions of any confirmed problems with manufacturers, recall requests if necessary, and monitoring of the effectiveness of safety recalls.

What If an Auto Defect is Confirmed?

Once you have filed a complaint over a vehicle safety issue, your role in making our roads safer is complete. But what happens if NHTSA investigates and finds that there is a problem consistent with your report?

  • If a potential defect is uncovered, investigators will ask the automaker for more information and data.
  • When NHTSA makes a final decision that a defect exists, it informs the manufacturer.
  • Many automakers issue unprompted recalls based on this information. It is in their best interests to have safe cars on the roads and to escape costly liability claims.
  • If an auto company does not take appropriate action over a safety-related defect, NHTSA can force a recall through the Motor Vehicle Safety Act.
  • Some manufacturers challenge the NHTSA findings. These cases may be decided in federal court.

More information on the process is available here.

Protecting Your Rights

If you have been injured as a result of a defective vehicle or vehicle part, it is important that you file a complaint with NHTSA. But do not wait until the complaint is resolved to take legal action.

Car makers owe their consumers a duty of care. They are in a position of great power, and must take responsibility when they fail by putting unsafe machines on the road.

Contact an experienced auto products liability law firm that can independently investigate vehicle defects with the help of nationally renowned experts. Not all law firms have the resources to conduct these investigations. They can be extremely costly. But our firm has an outstanding reputation and track record in handling auto defect claims.

At Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys, we not only perform crash tests and thorough investigations into vehicle defects, but we also advance all costs so it will not cost you a dime unless you recover compensation.

If you win nothing, we charge you nothing. We work on a contingent fee basis, which means you do not pay us any fees if you do not win an award or settlement.

Our law firm has a long and successful track record of fighting and winning against large automakers on behalf of injured consumers and their families.

Please contact us at 800-561-4887 to discuss your vehicle defect case in complete confidentiality at absolutely no cost, with no obligations.

Auto Defect Information

  • Automakers often negligently sell cars that have defects that can lead to injuries or death:
  • Sudden Acceleration: A car can accelerate to full speed without pressing the gas pedal and may not be able to be stopped by the brakes
  • Rollovers: Taller cars like 15-passenger vans are much more likely to roll over under dangerous driving conditions and cause injuries.
  • Roof Crush: Rollover accidents are especially dangerous when the vehicle roof is not enforced, leading to major injuries or death.
  • Ford Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Some Ford Explorer drivers have been injured after passing out while driving because of car exhaust leaking into the passenger cabin and poisoning the drivers.
  • Airbag Failure: Consumers expect their airbags to protect them in a crash, and passengers can be injured terribly if the airbag does not go off in the event of a crash.
  • Seatbelt Failure: Defective seatbelts can click into position but then release when jolted suddenly, offering no protection in a car crash.
  • Seat Back Failure: Many car seats are made cheaply and can break in the event of a rear-end accident, leading to serious injuries to the driver or a passenger behind them.
  • Tire Separation: Tire tread separation is an extremely dangerous type of defect, that occurs when the grooved tread breaks away from the rest of the tire while the vehicle is moving.
  • Door Latch: A defective car door latch can either trap occupants inside a vehicle or cause the door to pop open during an accident. Both scenarios are extremely dangerous.
  • If you or a loved one have suffered as a result of an auto defect, know your rights and contact an attorney today. We may be able to get you the compensation you deserve.

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