There are two instances that result in a vehicle being recalled, according to the United States Department of Transportation. The first is if a safety-related defect exists in the vehicle or its equipment. The second is if a vehicle or equipment does not comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
The United States Department of Transportation provides examples of safety-related defects that include steering components breaking suddenly, problems with the fuel system components, and critical vehicle components that either break or separate from the vehicle. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards focus on any performance requirements for a vehicle that directly affect the safe operation of the car. This includes tires, lighting, airbags, seat belts and brakes.