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Consumer groups sue, alleging quiet auto recalls
By DEE-ANN DURBIN, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - Two consumer groups sued the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday, saying the agency has quietly let manufacturers limit vehicle recalls to certain regions and not alert all consumers.

According to the lawsuit, NHTSA allowed manufacturers to conduct 40 regional recalls over the last decade in cases where the defect was related to regional conditions such as snow or heat.

Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety said the policy prevents all consumers from getting warnings and denies them free repairs. The groups also allege that NHTSA established the policy without public comment.

"Regional recalls make no sense, particularly in a mobile society where people often drive from one region to the next," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook, who was NHTSA's administrator under President Carter.

NHTSA wouldn't comment on the lawsuit, but spokesman Rae Tyson confirmed that the agency allows regional recalls.

"The feeling has been that it provides a remedy for the consumers that are affected by the problem," he said.

In 2003, there were two regional recalls that affected vehicles registered in 22 northern states and the District of Columbia, according to Public Citizen.

Nissan recalled 377,000 of its Altima sedans from the 2002-2003 model years because ice crystals could form in the fuel tank. Subaru recalled 2000-2003 Outback sport utility vehicles and Legacy sedans because their frames could rust when exposed to salt.

Nissan spokesman Eric Booth said the company launched the Altima recall in cold weather states first but eventually notified all consumers. Subaru spokeswoman Lisa Fleming said the recall only affected vehicles driven extensively on salted roads. Subaru did announce the recall nationally and offered free repairs to any consumer who requested them, Fleming added.

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