What Does a Do-Not-Drive Order Really Mean?

It's important for drivers to heed this type of urgent automotive safety recall notice.

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Cars have never been more complex than they are in the modern era. More complexities can mean more opportunities for something to go wrong. When something does go wrong, automakers or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) can issue vehicle-recall notices intended to alert owners of a safety risk. In 2022 alone, automakers issued 932 safety-related recalls that affected nearly 31 million vehicles.

Some vehicle owners might be tempted to put off taking their car or truck in for repair following a recall. It's never a good idea to delay once your vehicle has been recalled, though. If your vehicle is the subject of a Do-Not-Drive Order (DNDO), that means the driver or others could be in danger if the recall issue is not resolved quickly.

A Do-Not-Drive Order Is a Major Safety Concern

A DNDO usually involves vehicle defects that could directly and imminently lead to a crash or prevent passenger protection in an impact. In other words, a potentially unpredictable danger makes the car too risky to drive. A Park Outside recall involving a fire risk is even more severe, as owners are urged to park the affected vehicles outside of garages and away from buildings.

Patrick Olsen, editor in chief of Carfax, said NHTSA works with automakers to determine the severity of safety problems and the remedies. Recalls are issued, Olsen said, when "both an automaker and the federal government agree that one needs to happen."

Safety recall notices generally come from the auto manufacturers, under the supervision of NHTSA, and explain to vehicle owners the steps they need to take. In the case of a DNDO, Olsen said, the notice should explain how to arrange for the dealer to retrieve your vehicle. In all cases of safety recalls, affected vehicles are repaired at no cost to owners, even for older models.

A Defect That Makes Driving Unsafe Could Prompt a Do-Not-Drive Order

Receiving a DNDO means your vehicle has a defect that makes driving unsafe. Some of the more common safety-related recalls include issues with a vehicle's brakes, steering and suspension parts, electronics, ignition switches, fuel pumps, and door latches.

As of summer 2023, the largest ongoing DNDO applies to more than 67 million vehicles from 19 manufacturers and 34 brands, all of which have defective airbag inflators manufactured by Takata Automotive.

The inflators can explode without a collision and spray metal shards into the cabin. Thus far, Takata airbag inflator explosions have been connected to 26 fatalities and more than 400 injured vehicle drivers or passengers in the U.S.

Take a Do-Not-Drive Order Seriously

Receiving a DNDO from your dealer or NHTSA is something to pay attention to. Only vehicles with serious issues receive these warnings, and continuing to drive them could put your life (and other lives) in danger.

Unfortunately, many owners fail to heed recall notices. According to Carfax, more than 2.5 million vehicles with DNDO or Park Outside notices remain on the road and unrepaired in the U.S.

You can find out if any vehicle, new or used, is subject to a current recall by entering its vehicle identification number on the NHTSA or Carfax websites.

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Jim Koscs
Jim Koscs has been writing about cars for more than 30 years, his byline appearing in national enthusiast and trade publications, newspapers, and websites. He covers a broad spectrum of topics in automotive business, culture, collecting, design, history, racing, and technology. The "car thing" goes way back for Jim. At the 1968 New York Auto Show, he snuck away from his father to get a better look at a Rolls-Royce... from underneath it, to see if it had dual exhausts. (It didn't.)