The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) maintains a public database for recalls associated with vehicles or vehicle equipment.
This database allows the public to research the recall history for a particular vehicular make and model or for a specific, individual car. It also allows the public to find recall information for vehicle equipment, including tires, airbags, electronics, car seats and more.
Most drivers rarely reference the NHTSA. However, it’s a good idea to keep the NHTSA database on hand. This can be a valuable tool to use for potential car buyers researching a vehicle’s history, or for car owners who have moved around a lot in recent years.
Recall notices are required from manufacturers, but drivers that relocate regularly may not receive notification at the proper address. The sections below describe the purpose of the NHTSA recalls database, how to use it and what to do if your car gets a recall notice.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was created in 1970 to regulate the safety of vehicles on the roads and protect drivers. It creates and enforces federal motor vehicle safety standards for manufacturers that sell cars in the United States. The NHTSA is responsible for developing vehicle safety protocols and tests, maintaining information on traffic safety research and providing critical databases related to public safety. Additionally, the administration issues vehicle safety ratings for every car that hits the US market.
One of its responsibilities is the administration of its recall and complaints database. This database allows drivers to report complaints about particular issues in a vehicle. The NHTSA investigates complaints to identify if there is a pattern. If the investigation turns up a defect, the NHTSA can issue a mandatory recall and replacement. The NHTSA has a process in place to investigate reported issues:
The NHTSA maintains a database detailing all recalls by product type or what vehicle it is typically found in. It also maintains a database of complaints so drivers can search for trends before a recall is issued. Drivers can search through the NHTSA database to find information on recalls for their products or vehicles.
Drivers can perform a NHTSA recall lookup through the administration’s website. When using the NHTSA database, drivers can search for multiple types of equipment – not just vehicle recalls. The website has tabs for looking up recalls through the following categories:
You can check vehicle recalls by VIN, or by make and model. A vehicle recall check by VIN will tell you if your specific vehicle needs to be recalled. A vehicle recall check by make and model will tell you what recalls have been issued for all cars of that make and model. The recall may not necessarily apply to your specific vehicle. Always try to check for vehicle recalls by VIN instead – it provides more accurate information about your specific vehicle’s needs.
You can also check recall information for car seats, tires and equipment located in your car. For example, if your vehicle’s airbags are found to be defective, you can find recall information through the electronics tab search of the NHTSA database. To check if a particular piece of equipment has been recalled, you need the following information:
Additionally, drivers can check if NHTSA recalls have been issued for their vehicle’s tires. Problems with tires are one of the leading causes of car accidents. Drivers should take steps to ensure their vehicle’s tires are safe and not defective. To check tire recall information on the NHTSA database, drivers need the following information:
Parents who use car seats for their children should also pay attention to any potential NHTSA recalls. Car seat recalls may be issued if a seat’s belt, anchor or other basic functions do not work as they should. For example, if a child can easily remove their harness or if a buckle does not unlatch properly, a manufacturer may issue a recall. To search the database for seat recalls, gather the following information:
If the NHTSA or manufacturer issues a recall for your vehicle or your vehicle equipment, you should receive notice in the mail. The manufacturer is legally obligated to make an effort to notify all customers of a particular product if a notification has been issued. That notification will have instructions on what you should do to address any vehicle recalls. Therefore, you should take steps to make sure your contact information is up to date through your dealership. However, if you purchase a used vehicle or if you relocate regularly, you may miss important recall notifications. If you discover that your vehicle or equipment has a recall notice through the NHTSA database, you may not receive instructions. In that case, take the following steps to address the product recall: