When you get behind the wheel of your car, whether it's brand new or been in the family for years, you expect the vehicle to be safe to drive. After all, vehicles do pose a substantial public safety risk, and thousands of people die every year in crashes.
Given the critical importance of their products, you probably assume that every piece in your vehicle has been adequately tested both in design and during production. You believe that your vehicle is reliable and safe to use. However, that isn't always the case. Sometimes, vehicles make it to the market with defective parts. Other times, a defect only becomes obvious once there is significant wear on a component.
Despite large numbers of recalls, inspections are trending downward
In recent years, many of the biggest automakers in the country have faced staggering recalls. The Big Three domestic makers, as well as many import brands, have all had defective components in one vehicle or another. There have been recalls over brake components, as well as airbags. Many times, recalls don't start until there are several known failures of a component.
Unfortunately, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been conducting fewer defect investigations. In 2017, the NHTSA only started 13 new investigations. Compare that with the all-time high of 1989, which was 204 new investigations.
With more vehicles on the road these days, it is unlikely that lower investigation rates are related to fewer defects overall. What it does mean, however, is that you may not have warning about a defective product in your vehicle before something goes wrong. Consumers could end up paying the price for manufacturers who don't adequately test vehicle design and components.
Defective components put consumers at unnecessary risk
It is easy to see how a failure of a system like an airbag or even the unnecessary deployment of an airbag could cause increased risk of a crash, injury or death. Even systems that may not seem critical, like the latches that support in your seat, could contribute to an accident in an unexpected failure situation. Anything that distracts you from your task at hand or compromises your ability to manage the vehicle could be a fatal flaw.
Consumers have the right to a safe and reliable product, especially for items as expensive and safety-critical as motor vehicles. Vehicle manufacturers and the companies that supply them have a duty to the public to ensure that the products they create are reliable and safe.
Product defects that create accidents also generate liability for manufacturers. If you or someone you love got hurt in an accident related to a defective vehicle component, you may have the right to hold the manufacturer accountable for your losses.