There are many factors that can lead to a car accident. In many situations, a driver may do something negligent, such as failing to observe a stop sign or speeding, which can cause a collision. However, despite the fact that many accidents are attributed to those involved, it is important to remember that vehicles themselves can have issues, either in design or in manufacture, which can also cause accidents.
To combat these types of issues, Congress granted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration -- a division of the Department of Transportation -- the authority to require recalls for vehicles. There are two main things that can lead to recalls. First, there may be a defect in a vehicle or related equipment that can cause a safety hazard. Second, a vehicle or related equipment may not meet the minimum standards set forth by the federal government.
Although not all recalls receive national attention, there are usually numerous active recalls, such as a recent one involving problematic seat belts. Examples of safety-related defects include faulty windshield wipers, air bag systems that may activate when they are not supposed to, and problematic wiring systems that can lead to loss of lighting or even a fire. However, there are some issues that while inconvenient, do not qualify as safety related. These might include nonstructural rust and faulty or broken radios or A/C units.
Often, the first step towards a recall is filing a complaint. The NHTSA will then investigate, and if it determines there is an important enough problem, it may order the manufacturer to recall the affected vehicles. Owners of record are then contacted, and fixes are provided at no cost to the owner.