How to Tell if Your Car is Defective

Dealing with frequent or recurring car problems can be frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive. When you can’t rely on your car to get you where you need to be in a timely manner, your personal and work life may be detrimentally impacted. Car problems can take on a number of forms, from battery issues to a slipping transmission. In some cases, your woes may be due to the vehicle’s age or a defective part that can be quickly replaced by a trained mechanic. 

However, when you notice that you are constantly having problems with a car that ought to be in excellent condition, there may be underlying vehicle defects at play. In this article, we discuss what makes a car defective, some of the more common issues that drivers may experience, and how to check whether your vehicle needs to undergo repairs to fix an issue noted during a recall.

What Properties Make a Car Defective?

Simply put, a defective vehicle has one or more manufacturing defects or faults that make the car, SUV, or truck dangerous to drive. A defective vehicle puts both the driver and other motorists on the road at risk, as the car’s issues may make it more likely to get into a collision or increase the risk of injury in a crash. The National Traffic And Motor Vehicle Safety Act Of 1966 offers protections against vehicle defects, as it requires regulators to establish and uphold federal motor vehicle safety standards. The act protects against an “unreasonable risk of accidents occurring as a result of the design, construction or performance of motor vehicles.”

Signs of a Defective Vehicle

Errors at any point during the manufacturing process can leave a consumer with a dangerously defective vehicle. Faulty car parts and systems can be challenging to identify and fix, even for experts. If you are looking to purchase a vehicle, particularly one that has been pre-owned, it is always a good idea to have the car inspected by a mechanic before paying for it. 

A mechanic may be able to spot problems that the average driver would not, which can save you considerable time and money in the future. In the event that a line of defective vehicles causes injuries to passengers or other motorists, the attorneys at the Shapiro Legal Group, PLLC note that it may be possible to initiate or join a mass tort.

Faulty Software

Most modern vehicles rely heavily on integrated software packages to function correctly. Software problems in your car can lead to driving speed fluctuations, airbag deployment issues, brake failures, charging problems (for electric vehicles), and even crashes. In most cases, software defects become evident early in a vehicle’s life. If you begin to observe inconsistent or dangerous behavior from your car’s systems, check to see whether a software update is available. Take your vehicle to your local dealership or a mechanic if issues persist. 

Unusual Noise Upon Startup

One of the most obvious signs that your car has a problem is excessive noise upon startup. The noise may be coming from the drive train itself, or from one of the adjacent components. Loud noises upon startup could potentially signify a problem with one of the components responsible for heating the battery. An issue of this nature could damage the battery’s ability to maintain a charge, leading to frequent breakdowns. 

Difficulty Steering the Vehicle

If you notice that you are experiencing difficulty in steering or controlling your car while on the road, there might be a problem with the vehicle’s steering column or wheel. Being able to exert complete control of your vehicle while on the road is essential for safety, so take your car to a mechanic as soon as possible if you experience:

  • Difficulty turning the wheel or maneuvering the car
  • Rumbling sounds coming from the steering wheel while driving
  • Screeching sounds when you turn the wheel
  • Drifting from side to side while on a straight road
  • The steering wheel not centering itself after completing a turn

Transmission Problems

A faulty transmission may cause several issues. You may notice that your car refuses to shift gears, has a clunky transition between gears, begins shaking when changing gears, or lets off strange sounds while driving. In some cases, there may be leaking transmission fluid or a burning smell coming from your vehicle. Taking your car to a mechanic as soon as problems become apparent can potentially save you hundreds of dollars in repairs. 

Excessive Oil Consumption

If you notice that you are regularly having to add oil to your car but cannot find any leaks, your vehicle may be burning oil. This problem can be particularly challenging to diagnose, as its symptoms are more subtle. You may note that your gas mileage has gotten worse or that the engine is louder while you’re driving. Oil consumption can be caused by a defective engine, which can lead to complete engine failure if left unrepaired. 

Malfunctioning Headlights or Taillights

At night or during periods of low visibility, drivers rely heavily on their headlights to be able to make out any potential hazards on the road. Without functioning headlights and taillights, the lives of a vehicle’s occupants and other motorists are in serious danger. If your lights are not performing properly and you have verified that a blown bulb is not the cause of the issue, an underlying vehicle defect may be the cause of the problem. 

Battery Charging Problems (Electric Vehicles)

Electric vehicles are becoming more prevalent across the U.S. and the world in general. However, even electric vehicles are not immune to design defects. If you observe that your car will not charge, does not hold a charge correctly, or the charging symbol appears on the dash but the process does not initiate, there may be an underlying vehicle problem. Sudden fluctuations in driving miles per charge may also be due to a problem with the battery or charging system.

To Be Safe, Check for Vehicle Recalls Regularly 

When it becomes known that a particular car make and model has one or more defects that make it dangerous to drive, the carmaker is responsible for notifying owners of the subsequent recall and required fixes. To be on the safe side, it is good practice to check for vehicle recalls impacting your vehicle at least two or three times a year. 

To review your car’s recall history, you can use the National highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “Safety Issues & Recalls” tool. Simply insert your vehicle’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) into the provided field to determine whether any car parts need to be repaired or replaced as part of a recall.



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