In November of 2000, following the highly publicized Ford/Firestone debacle, Congress passed a law that required the establishment of a manufacturer reimbursement program. This law called on NHTSA to issue a regulation that would assure that consumers would be reimbursed if they fixed a defective vehicle or piece of equipment if that vehicle or part was later included in a recall. In October of 2002, NHTSA passed a final rule that Public Citizen believes is only a partial and begrudging response to this command from Congress.
The rule went into effect on January 5, 2003. You, and other consumers, can now claim reimbursement for repairs that are made to your vehicle if you follow the specific guidelines set out in the rule. Basically, once NHTSA or the manufacturer announces a defect recall, you can submit documentation of your repair and be reimbursed. Keep your eyes open for communications from the manufacturer of your vehicle – the communication will tell you where to send this reimbursement information.
The information you will need to provide the manufacturer to gain your reimbursement is:
If the remedy was obtained within the period you were covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, you must explicitly document why the repair was not/could not have been done under the warranty. For example, you could provide a copy of a denial of warranty service from a dealership or some paperwork explaining why the warranty work did not fix the problem addressed in the defect (that was fixed by work you had done beyond the warranty.)
There is only a small window of time during which repair work can be eligible for this reimbursement program. There are two ‘openings’ to this window:
The most common defect to effect you is one in which the vehicle or equipment has a safety-related problem. In case of a safety-related defect, the reimbursement window is opened when NHTSA opens an engineering analysis – or – one year prior to the date the manufacturer tells NHTSA about the defect (whichever is earlier). Unfortunately, NHTSA recently stopped publishing the list of Engineering Analysis. To determine whether or not an engineering analysis has been done on the defect you hope to fix, call NHTSA’s auto safety hotline at 1-888-327-4236.
The less likely defect scenario involves a vehicle or piece of equipment that fails a NHTSA standard. In this situation, the reimbursement window is opened after the observation of this failure by either NTHSA or the manufacturer.
Similarly, there are two ‘closures’ of this reimbursement window:
If the defect was in your vehicle, the reimbursement window is open until ten days following the date the manufacturer mailed the last of its notices to owners about the defect.
If the defect was in a piece of equipment, the reimbursement window is open until ten days following the date the manufacturer mailed the last of its notices to owners about the defect – or – 30 days after the conclusion of the manufacturer’s initial efforts to provide public notice of the existence of the defect or noncompliance (whichever is later.)
If at any time you are interested in finding out if the defect reimbursement is open under the above guidelines, feel free to call NHTSA’s toll free auto safety hotline at 1-888-327-4236.
If this seems complex and convoluted to you, we agree. We have filed a petition for reconsideration with NHTSA arguing that this is an insufficient response to the original vision of Congress. But, the rule is a step in the right direction – many consumers will now be able to be reimbursed for safety hazards they fixed on their vehicles before NHTSA or the manufacturer issued a recall.
If you agree that this process fails to provide a simple mechanism for consumer reimbursement, we urge you to complain about the implementation of this important consumer safeguard to:
Dr. Jeffrey Runge, Administrator
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
U.S. Department of Transportation
400 Seventh Street, SW
Washington, DC, 20590
The following documents might be helpful to you if you care to learn more about this rule and how you can be reimbursed for fixing defects in your vehicle:
NHTSA’s Final Rule on Defect Reimbursement may be viewed at:
Public Citizen’s petition for reconsideration (filed with the Center for Auto Safety) may be viewed at: