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What Is a safety-related defect?

The United States Code for Motor Vehicle Safety (Title 49, Chapter 301) defines motor vehicle safety as “the performance of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in a way that protects the public against unreasonable risk of accidents occurring because of the design, construction, or performance of a motor vehicle, and against unreasonable risk of death or injury in an accident, and includes nonoperational safety of a motor vehicle.” A defect includes “any defect in performance, construction, a component, or material of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment.” Generally, a safety defect is defined as a problem that exists in a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment that:

  • poses an risk to motor vehicle safety, and
  • may exist in a group of vehicles of the same design or manufacture, or items of equipment of the same type and manufacture.

Examples of defects considered safety-related

  • Steering components that break suddenly causing partial or complete loss of vehicle control.
  • Problems with fuel system components, particularly in their susceptibility to crash damage, that result in leakage of fuel and possibly cause vehicle fires.
  • Accelerator controls that may break or stick.
  • Wheels that crack or break, resulting in loss of vehicle control.
  • Engine cooling fan blades that break unexpectedly causing injury to persons working on a vehicle.
  • Windshield wiper assemblies that fail to operate properly.
  • Seats and/or seat backs that fail unexpectedly during normal use.
  • Critical vehicle components that break, fall apart, or separate from the vehicle, causing potential loss of vehicle control or injury to persons inside or outside the vehicle.
  • Wiring system problems that result in a fire or loss of lighting.
  • Car ramps or jacks that may collapse and cause injury to someone working on a vehicle.
  • Air bags that deploy under conditions for which they are not intended to deploy.
  • Child safety seats that contain defective safety belts, buckles, or components that create a risk of injury, not only in a vehicle crash but also in non-operational safety of a motor vehicle.
Examples of defects NOT considered safety-related:
  • Air conditioners and radios that do not operate properly.
  • Ordinary wear of equipment that has to be inspected, maintained and replaced periodically. Such equipment includes shock absorbers, batteries, brake pads and shoes, and exhaust systems.
  • Nonstructural or body panel rust.
  • Quality of paint or cosmetic blemishes.
  • Excessive oil consumption.

How can I report a safety problem to NHTSA?

If you think your vehicle or equipment may have a safety defect, reporting it to NHTSA is an important first step to take to get the situation remedied and make our roads safer. If the agency receives similar reports from a number of people about the same product, this could indicate that a safety-related defect may exist that would warrant the opening of an investigation. In order to make it convenient for consumers to report any suspected safety defects to NHTSA, the agency offers three ways to file such complaints.

Vehicle Safety Hotline
NHTSA operates the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Vehicle Safety Hotline telephone service to collect accurate and timely information from consumers on vehicle safety problems. You can call 1-888-327-4236 or 1-800-424-9393 toll free from anywhere in the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands to register complaints or receive recall information about a vehicle. The Hotline also has Spanish-speaking representatives and offers a dedicated number, 1-800-424-9153, for use by persons with hearing impairments.
When you call the Hotline to report a vehicle-related safety issue, you will be asked to provide certain critical information that agency technical staff needs to evaluate the problem. The information you provide is filed on a Vehicle Owner’s Questionnaire (VOQ), entered into the agency’s consumer-complaint database, and forwarded to NHTSA technical staff for evaluation.
VOQs filed through the Hotline will be mailed to you for verification of data. In addition, you will receive an explanation of how your report will be used, as well as a request for written authorization allowing NHTSA to provide your personal identifiers (e.g., name, address and telephone number) to the manufacturer of the alleged defective product you own. Note that you are not required to provide such authorization. However, sometimes sharing this information with the manufacturer can help facilitate the recall process.