So, what does a manufacturer do if the law says that they are supposed to tell every owner about a recall but they don't want to do it? Easy, you get the federal government to go along with (after all, they are supposed to enforce the law and once they agree not to, what can anyone else do about it?). Once again, consumer rights take the back seat, but this time it could be in a deadly defective vehicle.
That seems to be what has happened. Consumer protection groups challenged the federal government's policy of allowing "regional" recalls. That's where a recall is issued because of a defect but the recall is limited to the vehicles in just a smaller area of the country. That kind of recall can work to fix most of the vehicles, but it doesn't take into account the fact that cars frequently get sold across states lines and across the country at auto auctions. The result? Some are fixed and some are not, but they all have the defect.
One attorney, fighting the regional recall issue, said the policy was arbitrary, noting a regional recall involving corrosion damage could involve vehicles registered in Maryland and Washington, D.C., but not in Virginia. About 250,000 Virginia residents commute to Maryland and D.C. every day and would not know about the recall or receive the benefit of having the defect repaired for free, she said.
Some state governments have also objected to the regional recall practice. In 2005 Wisconsin objected because GM issued a recall that covered Illinois and Michigan vehicles but not Wisconsin ones. "Unfortunately, these regional recalls exclude many defective vehicles that should otherwise be eligible for recall repairs," Lautenschlager complained. Other states were eventually added to the recall only after they complained loud and long that they should have been included in the first place and the federal government and GM finally agreed.
A regional recall example might be where a part is prone to rust and something might fall off your vehicle, like a tailgate on a pickup truck. Rust might be worse in some areas of the country than in other areas, so the manufacturer might not tell the owners who live outside of the recalled region. Of course, if you move into the recall region and don't know about the recall, then you won't know about the defect either.
Apparently some "activist" judges have sided with the administration and okayed the practice. Although federal law requires that all owners be notified of a recall, regardless of where they live or where the vehicle is registered, the federal government's department in charge of safety recalls notified manufacturers that they could ignore the law and just notify those owners who live in an area where they think the recall would matter.
That's a bit like the corporations saying, to put it bluntly, "we don't need no stinkin' regulations." Maybe they don't, but consumers who drive cars with dangerous defects ought to be warned when the manufacturer knows that some defects are more dangerous in some parts of the country but not others. At least then you can think twice before you move to a state where nothing more serious than just the usual weather can make your car dangerous because the manufacturer didn't build it to handle those freezing, blustery cold winter nights in Houston...
If you call your dealer and they say that your vehicle wasn't covered by a recall, the dealer could be technically telling the truth while, all the time, lieing to you.
If you aren't sure if your vehicle was the subject of one of these regional recalls, go to our Research Links web site page and check out our Defect Resources links to find out.