Since the 1980’s, the NHTSA has been allowing a type of recall which lets automobile manufacturers restrict notices and repairs to a few states rather than making them nation wide. These “Regional Recalls” are usually due to the defect becoming a problem because of environmental conditions such as hot and cold climates or because of corrosion caused by road salt used in certain areas. Regional recalls can save automakers money, but consumer advocates have complained for years that because people are moving more frequently and driving in many different conditions, affected vehicles can be missed.
In 1998, the NHTSA established the practice of regional recalls with a letter to automakers stating the criteria for permitting them. This included problems due to a single or short term exposure, which was later dropped, and problems due to certain weather conditions as the result of prolonged exposure. Before this recall was allowed, the manufacturer was expected to show that the problem is more likely to exist in environmental factors in certain areas.
The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen challenged the practice of regional recalls in federal court in 2004, saying that owners of defective automobiles in excluded states do not get the notice and remedy they need. They say that the practice violates the Safety Act as well as the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The federal court declined to bar regional recalls saying that vehicles with climate induced defects are not inherently defective. Since that decision, regional recalls have slowly increased.