You know those taxes you pay? The government wastes the bulk of it on useless things or through stupid inefficiency. But once in a while there is a bright spot. One of those rare good things the government has come up with is this website. And it’s a goldmine for car owners and car shoppers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is charged with overseeing all sorts of things involving cars. And somewhere along the line they decided to create a website that tracked recalls and consumer complaints. This means that if you are about to buy a used car - or wonder about the car you are driving - you can quickly look up whether there are any recalls applicable to that car. And, you can even run the VIN of the car to see if THAT CAR has had the recall performed.

A quick search of my truck shows that there was a recall which addressed an intriguing topic: AN UNDERHOOD FIRE.


Whee! See why it might be fun to know if the prior owner had the recall work done?

One other thing I hear a lot in my line of work is that people bring their cars to the dealer and the dealer pretends that a condition is “normal.” Your transmission slips? “No, that’s normal.” Your brand new truck vibrates to the point your arms go numb? “That’s normal.” Often times this is accompanied with a little nod and a suggestion - spoken or quietly implied - that you simply are imagining things.


When seemingly-rational people tell you you’re imagining something, it can lead you to question your reality. Want a second opinion? Go to the NHTSA website and run a search on your vehicle in the database where they track consumer complaints. They have a handy pull down menu so you can choose make, model and year.

Drill down and see what other owners of your make and model of vehicle are saying about theirs. Oh what, now? People have gone out of their way to complain about that exact same problem to the government? Perhaps it isn’t just your imagination, running away with you. Maybe it is a widespread problem that the manufacturer just hasn’t figured out how to fix yet.


And the dealers are powerless to help because the manufacturer isn’t helping them. Of course, you can add your voice to the chorus by filing your own complaint with NHTSA. After all, the information is crowd-sourced and you may as well let the government - and others - know about your car problems.

This website and its information will not prove that you have a lemon law case. After all, your car might be a unique example of a vehicle that cannot be fixed and you might be the first to complain. However, the information on recalls is extremely valuable. And the complaint information goes a long way when you prove that you are not alone in considering a defect to be “abnormal.” Sometimes, that’s priceless. It almost makes up for a government so inefficient that it loses money on the process of manufacturing money.


Follow me on Twitter: @stevelehto

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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 23 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation.


This website may supply general information about the law but it is for informational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not meant to constitute legal advice, so the good news is we’re not billing you by the hour for reading this. The bad news is that you shouldn’t act upon any of the information without consulting a qualified professional attorney who will, probably, bill you by the hour.