2019 saw millions of motor vehicle recalls for defective car components and car parts. Some of them were relatively minor, posing only a remote risk for a car accident. Others, on the other hand, were severe enough that they carried the potential for causing a fatal car accident.
What are Motor Vehicle Recalls and How Do They Work?
A motor vehicle recall is a request from an automaker to bring particular vehicles in for a repair. The request can be done by the carmaker on their own initiative, or under pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
When the car manufacturer initiates the recall on their own, they do it because they have decided that the costs of defending against potential lawsuits and paying verdicts and settlements will be higher than just admitting that there is a problem with a line of vehicles and fixing them. When the NHTSA pressures a carmaker into issuing a recall, it is often the result of an investigation that was spurred by consumer complaints about a vehicle.
In either case, when a recall is issued, the manufacturer takes steps to notify the owners of defective and potentially dangerous vehicles by:
- Sending notifications in the mail to the last-known addresses of the people who bought one of the targeted vehicles in the recall
- Publically posting information about the vehicles that are subject to the recall, including information like the make, model, and years that the car was produced, often with the vehicle identification numbers, so that owners can see if their vehicle needs to be fixed
At that point, it is up to the owner to bring their vehicle to a dealership or authorized mechanic to get fixed. That fix is often limited to repairing or replacing the defecting part, free of charge. However, in especially serious circumstances it can lead to the owner receiving a refund or a completely new car.
2019 Was Full of Car Recalls
Every year, hundreds of recalls are made that affect thousands of motor vehicles, trailers, and other car parts and accessories. In 2019, according to the NHTSA, there were no fewer than 1,031 recalls, each of which had the potential to affect thousands of vehicles. That high number was in spite of the government shutdown in January, when the shuttered doors of government agencies prevented companies from filing recalls.
Some of the most important recalls are listed, below.
Fuel Pump Problems in 437,000 Acuras and Hondas
One of the larger recalls of the year targeted an estimated 437,000 vehicles made by Acura and Honda, including the following models:
- Acura MDX SUVs made from 2016-2018
- Acura TLX sedans from 2015-2019
- Honda Accords from 2015-2017
In these vehicles, solid particles in gasoline had a tendency to stick to the parts of the fuel pump. If they were allowed to build up too much, it could lead to an engine stall, which could cause a crash if the driver was not able to safely get off the road.
As a part of the recall, Honda dealers would update the software in the engine control unit or replace the entire fuel pump for free.
Catalytic Converter Issues in 379,000 Kia Soul Hatchback Vehicles
Another large-scale recall affected around 379,000 Kia Soul hatchbacks made between 2012 and 2016 that had a 1.6-liter gas engine.
The recall stemmed from problems caused by high exhaust temperatures in the vehicles. Over time, these temperatures wore down the car's catalytic converter, which could damage the pistons in the engine. If that damage was not fixed, it could lead to an engine fire.
Owners impacted by the recall were asked to bring their car in to the dealer, where the engine control unit would be upgraded and any engine damage would be fixed for free.
Faulty Seats in 483,300 Ford Trucks
Around 483,300 Ford trucks and SUVs, as well as Lincoln SUVs, were recalled in August 2019, for not having a third pawl inside the backs of the seats. These pawls are metal posts that keep the seat from bending or snapping in a crash. Without the third pawl, drivers and occupants were likely to suffer additional injuries in a car crash.
The recall affected the following models with manual seatback recliners:
- Ford F-150s from 2018-2020
- Ford Super Duty F-250 and F-350 from 2019-2020
- Ford Expedition SUVs from 2019-2020
- Ford Explorer SUVs from 2018-2020
- Lincoln Aviator SUVs from 2020
Owners are supposed to bring their vehicles into the dealership for an inspection. If their seat is defective, it will get replaced for free.
Oil Pan Leaks Leading to Engine Damage in 500,000 Hyundai and Kia SUVs
In a series of recalls, Hyundai and Kia warned owners of oil pan leaks that could cause engine damage and, if not corrected quickly enough, serious engine fires.
The recalls originally impacted around 120,000 Hyundai Tucson SUVs made between 2011 and 2013, as well as another 32,000 Kia Sportage SUVs made in 2011 and 2012. They have since been expanded to include more than 500,000 vehicles.
In both cases, the leaking oil pan would lead to oil escaping into parts of the engine that are supposed to stay dry, leading to engine damage. If the problem was not fixed, the odds of the engine catching fire or stalling increase dramatically.
Owners were notified of the problems on March 29, 2019, but no remedy was proposed. A follow-up notification was scheduled to be sent once a solution had been found.
Passenger Airbags May Not Deploy in 144,100 Audis
Audi also issued a recall, this time for more than 144,000 of its vehicles from the following models:
- 2018 S4 sedans
- 2018 S5 cabriolets, Sportbacks, and coupes
- 2018 A5 cabriolets, Sportbacks, and coupes
- 2017-18 A4 sedans and Allroad wagons
The issue in these cars is that the passenger detection system can oxidize, or deteriorate, over time. This can prevent the system from recognizing that there is a passenger in the front seat, which can lead to the airbag not deploying in a crash.
Owners are being told to bring their car to the dealership for an update to the airbag control unit.
1.4 Million More Recalls in the Takata Airbag Fiasco
The faulty airbags made by Takata were first recalled as early as 2013, but investigations have consistently turned up other defects that have warranted their own recall. Most recently, an additional 1.4 million airbag inflators were found to be defective because they could explode and send shrapnel into the car's interior. While the result is the same as many of the other Takata airbag recalls, the cause is different – rather than an explosion caused by ammonium nitrate in the airbag chamber, this recall is for airbag propellant that deteriorates over time as it gets exposed to moisture. This can make it deploy too fast and break the inflator body.
The recall is for lots of older model vehicles, including BMW 3-series cars from 1999-2001. Other manufacturers are still determining whether their vehicles have these particular Takata model airbag inflators.
Owners have been asked to stop driving vehicles affected by the recall, though a solution has not yet been determined.
Brakelight Issues in 1.3 Million Subarus
One of the biggest recalls of 2019 was issued by Subaru and affected the following makes and model years:
- 2013-17 Crosstrek SUVs
- 2014-16 Forester SUVs
- 2008-14 WRX and STI sedans
- 2012-16 Impreza station wagons
- 2008-16 Impreza sedans
The recall centered on the brake lights, which could fail to properly illuminate if the switch got contaminated by chemicals that are common in car polishes. If this happens, the brake lights do not signal to trailing vehicles that the driver is slowing down, potentially causing a rear-end collision.
In all, around 1.3 million vehicles were affected by the recall. Owners are asked to bring their car into the dealership for a free fix.
Rollaway Risks for 679.000 Volkswagens
An estimated 679,000 Volkswagen vehicles were recalled in 2019 to fix a problem where the key could be pulled from the ignition when the car was not in park. This increased the odds of the car rolling away after the owner had parked it and left.
The problem affected the following models and years:
- Jettas from 2011-2019
- GTI and Golf GTI hatchbacks from 2015-2019
- Golf hatchbacks from 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019
- VW Beetles from 2012-2019
- Golf SSportWagens from 2017-2019
However, the problem was limited in these models and years to vehicles that have keyless entries, automatic transmissions, and manual handbrakes. Dealerships are supposed to install a new switch and circuit board to fix the problem for free.
638,000 Chevy Trucks and SUVs Recalled for Dangerous Braking Issues
Chevrolet also recalled an estimated 638,000 of its pickup trucks and SUVs in the following years and models:
- 2015-2020 Chevy Suburban
- 2015-2020 Chevy Tahoe
- 2015-2020 GMC Yukon
- 2014-2018 Chevy Silverado 1500
- 2014-2018 GMC Sierra 1500
The recall only affects vehicles in these lines that have a 5.3-liter engine, four-wheel drive, and a 3.08-ratio rear axle.
The recall was issued because the sensor that measures wheel speed can fail. Alone, this is not much of a problem, but the repercussions that it can cause are potentially fatal: It can activate the driveline protection system, which can trigger electronic braking on the wheel opposite from the failed sensor. This can suddenly and unexpectedly pull the vehicle to the side, potentially veering into traffic and causing a crash.
Owners of affected vehicles are being asked to bring their car to the dealership for a free reprogramming of the electronic brake control system.
How Do Recalls Affect a Products Liability Lawsuit?
While recalls are supposed to be driven by consumer safety, the impetus is more likely to be the manufacturer's interest in avoiding future lawsuits. However, just because a recall has been issued does not mean that the designers and manufacturers of defective cars and car parts cannot be held liable for making a dangerous product. In fact, the presence of a recall can be used as evidence that the manufacturer should be held liable for a crash.
Victims in car accidents that were caused by an auto defect still have to show that it really was the defect that caused the particular accident that hurt them. When that defect was the subject of a recall, the recall becomes strong evidence that there was, in fact, something wrong with it.
However, not heeding the instructions in a recall can give product manufacturers a strong defense in a products liability claim. They can argue that, when they heard of the recall and did not comply with its instructions, the victim assumed the risk of the defective product. If successful, this defense can make the victim, rather than the manufacturer, ultimately responsible for their injuries. Of course, raising this assumption of the risk defense requires the manufacturer to show that this particular victim had indeed been notified of the recall.
Philadelphia Products Liability Lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian
The personal injury and products liability lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian strive to legally represent accident victims in and near Philadelphia and help them fight for the compensation that they need and deserve.
Every day, large corporations make hugely important decisions about the products that they are about to release. Those decisions are driven by the potential for profit and the potential for being held liable for the injuries that their products cause. Whenever they think that they can “get away with” a certain amount of risk in order to pad their bottom line, people are likely to get hurt because of the corners that the company cut to maximize their profit.
Whenever this happens, the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian in Philadelphia are there for the victims, fighting for the compensation that the victims deserve after being hurt by the company's decision to put them in harm's way. Contact them online to get started on your case today.