Vehicle safety complaints are reported to a federal agency that gathers the complaints, conducts investigations, and requires vehicle manufacturers to recall vehicles that have safety-related defects. Drivers can search vehicle safety complaints to help determine if they may have a lemon or there is a dangerous defect. Individuals can also report safety issues they have had with their vehicles to help other drivers learn about vehicle dangers.

Safety Complaints for Dangerous Vehicle Defects

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) oversees national vehicle safety complaints. This includes defects, malfunctions, and safety issues with:

  • Motor Vehicles
  • Airbags
  • Car Seats
  • Tires
  • Vehicle Equipment  

The process for a vehicle safety complaint begins with the consumer submitting a complaint to the NHTSA, generally through a Vehicle Owner's Questionnaire (VOQ).

Vehicle complaints are posted to the NHTSA website so they can be searched by other vehicle owners.

According to the NHTSA, every complaint is reviewed by agency technical experts. The complaints are reviewed and screened for safety issues and may be selected for a follow-up with the individual who filed the complaint or selected for further analysis.

The vehicle complaint is analyzed for safety issues to determine the safety risk, including the severity of the danger, likelihood of occurrence, and number of individuals who could be affected by the safety hazard.

After an analysis, the NHTSA will decide whether to open a formal investigation or monitor the vehicle manufacturer's recall process. Alternatively, the NHTSA may continue to monitor and reassess the issue.  

Recalls for Vehicles and Parts

According to the NHTSA, recalls are necessary when:

  • The vehicle or part does not comply with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, (including child restraints, tires, and motorcycle helmets); or
  • There is a safety-related defect.

A safety-related defect is a problem with the performance of the vehicle or equipment that poses an unreasonable risk of accidents, death, or injury.

Manufacturers can voluntarily initiate a recall or be ordered by the NHTSA to recall a vehicle or part.

The manufacturer is to notify registered owners by mail within 60 days of notifying the NHTSA of a recall decision. The NHTSA will continue to monitor safety recalls to ensure the owners receive the proper remedies from the manufacturer.

Examples of Safety-Related Defects

Safety-related defects are a cause for recalls in cars, motorcycles, and other consumer vehicles, vehicle equipment, seat restraints, tires, and other car-related parts subject to federal vehicle safety laws. Examples of defects include:

  • Fuel system defects which could leak fuel in an accident, increasing the risk of fires;
  • Airbag deploying suddenly unrelated to impact;
  • Seats that recline without warning;
  • Car seats with defective buckles;
  • Seat Belts that wear against sharp parts and could break in an accident;
  • Vehicles that accelerate unexpectedly; or
  • Emergency brake failure.

Find Out if Your Vehicle Has Safety Complaints  

The NHTSA website provides for online searching of vehicle safety complaints and recalls. Consumers can search for recalls by entering their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) or searching by the year, make, and model of the vehicle. The website also provides for searches for car seats, tires, and other vehicle equipment.

The VIN is generally located on the lower left of the vehicle windshield, on the vehicle registration, or inside the driver's side door or door jamb.

A VIN search will show any vehicle safety recalls from automakers and unrepaired vehicles subject to a vehicle safety recall within the past 15 years.

NHTSA Search Results

A year/make/model search will generally show the matching vehicles, and the number of results under each category:

  • Recalls
  • Investigation
  • Complaints
  • Manufacturer Communications

By searching the listed complaints, consumers can see the individual complaints by date, including the component related to the safety issue, such as electrical system, engine, or structure. The complaint also gives the following information:

  • Date of the incident;
  • Location;
  • NHTSA ID Number of the incident; and
  • Summary of the complaint.

Filing a Vehicle Safety Complaint With the NHTSA

There are a few ways to file a safety complaint with the NHTSA, including:

When filing a VOQ through the telephone hotline (Toll-Free at 1-888-327-4236 and Hearing Impaired (TTY): 1-800-424-9153), the VOQ is mailed back to the individual for verification of the data. The NHTSA will also provide an explanation of how the report is to be sued and allow the individual to elect whether to provide identifying information to the vehicle manufacturer.

An online vehicle safety complaint is a step-by-step form to notify the NHTSA of the safety issue, and may include:

  • Email Address
  • VIN
  • Make
  • Model
  • Year of the Vehicle
  • Date of the Incident
  • Any documentation related to the complaint, including a police report or photos.

The form also requires the driver to select the related vehicle parts or component, such as airbag, brakes, steering, etc., or “unknown or other.” The form then asks for a description as to what happened, including if the vehicle was:

  • Stationary or in motion;
  • On a city street or highway;
  • Turning; and/or
  • Braking.

The form also allows the user to upload a photo or other document, up to five files.

Will my safety complaint be public or shared with the vehicle manufacturer?

When filing a vehicle safety complaint online, there is a checkbox to authorize or not authorize the release of your personal identifying information (name, address, and telephone number) with the vehicle manufacturer. According to the NHTSA, while you do not have to provide this information to the manufacturer, sharing the information “can help facilitate the recall process.”

Help with Unsafe Vehicles in California

Reporting a complaint to the NHTSA will help keep other drivers safe. The NHTSA is also a good way for consumers to search for possible safety issues with a vehicle. However, if the vehicle defect is not subject to a recall or the manufacturer will not fix the issue, you may still be protected under California's Lemon Law.

With a vehicle defect or safety issue, you may be able to return your lemon, get the issue fixed for free, or get compensation for the problem. To understand your rights under the Lemon Law, contact  The Lemon Lawyer today to have your questions answered.

Don't Hesitate

The longer you let your car sit in the shop, the greater the cost is to you. If you think you may have a case, get in touch with one of our attorneys today.