The National Highway Traffic Safety Admin-istration (NHTSA) has begun an investigation of several reported defects in Volvo trucks. These investigations come in response to a petition submitted by OOIDA and supported by complaints on more than 500 Volvo trucks with mechanical problems. The new investigations focus on steering problems, front u-bolt problems and sleeper berth fires. These investigations join an ongoing NHTSA inquiry of rear u-bolt problems in Volvo trucks.
The problems Volvo owners reported with u-bolts include the unusual loosening, stretching, twisting and complete sheering off of u-bolts. The causes of steering problems reported include front-end shaking and shuddering and steering column lock-up. Reports of sleeper berth fires were attributed most often by Volvo owners to problems with the electrical system.
These problems are now the subject of the first step of a NHTSA investigation called a Preliminary Evaluation. During this step NHTSA asks the vehicle manufacturer to turn over any information in its possession related to the reported problem, including engineering data and consumer complaints. If NHTSA believes from all the information it collects that a defect exists, the agency can ask the manufacturer to issue a recall.
If the vehicle manufacturer does not cooperate with a recall, NHTSA can then commence the next step of an investigation, the Engineering Analysis (EA). Should the EA confirm the existence of a defect, the agency may order a recall by the manufacturer, and if necessary, take them to court to enforce the order. The rear u-bolt problem on Volvo trucks is in the EA stage of investigation.
Although NHTSA is traditionally known for investigating automobile defects, the safety of heavy-duty trucks is also within NHTSA’s jurisdiction. Only during the last three years has NHTSA begun to publicize their responsibility for the safety of heavy-duty trucks.
The agency relies heavily upon complaints from the public for leads on possible vehicle defects. Once it has received a significant number of similar consumer complaints regarding a particular vehicle, NHTSA begins to take greater interest in the reported vehicle defect.
A petition, such as the one OOIDA submitted, has the power of requiring NHTSA to examine the available evidence of a defect and make a decision on whether or not to open an investigation. If, through an investigation, NHTSA believes a vehicle defect exists, it has the power to pursue a vehicle recall and/or the manufacturer’s remedy of that defect. There are no specific rules that require NHTSA to open a vehicle defect investigation. It is merely required to review the available evidence and then determine if the potential harm to public safety merits the expenditure of its limited resources.
OOIDA became aware of the problem with Volvo trucks and was able to gather from its members and Land Line readers the sufficient number of Volvo owner complaints to get NHTSA’s attention. OOIDA continues to help Volvo truck owners provide NHTSA with useful information for its investigations. The length of these investigations will depend on the complexity of the problems and the cooperation of the manufacturer. There are no statutory deadlines for the completion of an investigation. Volvo owners are anxious for an immediate resolution to their problems and OOIDA is encouraged NHTSA has elected to open the investigations. The association is hopeful NHTSA will devote the time and resources necessary to identify the defect and provide an adequate resolution for Volvo owners.
In order to help NHTSA identify a vehicle defect, the agency needs a detailed description of the problem from vehicle owners. Useful information includes the make, model name, vehicle identification number (VIN), and year of the vehicle. If there is a marking indicating the month and year the vehicle was made that information is useful as well. If a part was replaced on the vehicle, NHTSA needs to know exactly what part was replaced, when it was replaced, and what the vehicle’s mileage was at the time the part was replaced.
Most important to a vehicle investigation, however, are specific details describing how the problem revealed itself. How was the vehicle being operated? How did the truck act, feel, smell and what did it sound like when the problem arose? Exactly where in the truck did any relevant noise, vibration, smell and sound come from? The more details given to NHTSA, the faster its investigators can identify the problem.
If you suspect your truck has a defect that makes it unsafe to operate, contact OOIDA at 1-800-444-5791.
—Land Line staff