What is a safety-related motor vehicle 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.” As reported by the Office of Defects Investigation ( www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov) 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
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  • may exist in a group of vehicles of the same design or manufacture, or items of equipment of the same type and manufacture.
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    Examples of defects considered safety-related:

     

  • Steering components that break suddenly causing partial or complete loss of vehicle control.
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  • Problems with fuel system components, particularly in their susceptibility to crash damage, that result in leakage of fuel and possibly cause vehicle fires.
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  • Accelerator controls that may break or stick.
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  • Wheels that crack or break, resulting in loss of vehicle control.
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  • Engine cooling fan blades that break unexpectedly causing injury to persons working on a vehicle.
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  • Windshield wiper assemblies that fail to operate properly.
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  • Seats and/or seat backs that fail unexpectedly during normal use.
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  • 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.
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  • Wiring system problems that result in a fire or loss of lighting.
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  • Car ramps or jacks that may collapse and cause injury to someone working on a vehicle.
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  • Air bags that deploy under conditions for which they are not intended to deploy.
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  • 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.
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    Examples of defects NOT considered safety-related:

     

  • Air conditioners and radios that do not operate properly.
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  • 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.
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  • Nonstructural or body panel rust.
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  • Quality of paint or cosmetic blemishes.
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  • Excessive oil consumption.
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