MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota senator is pushing for stricter enforcement of the recall process for automakers.

Penalties are getting tougher. Last year alone, the National Transportation Highway Safety Administration issued more than $126 million in civil penalties against automakers. That’s more than the total collected in its 43 year history. Some recalls are minor — others are more egregious.

And now a Hinckley couple is cautioning drivers about a car that could crash without warning. The Sams say the steering locked up and the engine died while they were driving their 2015 Chrysler 200.

Two weeks after they told the automaker about the problem, and days after we spoke with the couple, they received a recall notice in the mail.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar is appealing to the NTHSA about strengthening the recall process, to make sure owners are alerted sooner.

“I own a car but I don’t have one,” Patty Sam said.

Sam’s 2015 Chrysler 200 is parked at the dealership, for good.

“I might not be as lucky next time,” Sam said.

Mid-September, the Sam’s were driving down a hilly stretch of Highway 48 near Clover. The lights started flashing on their less-than-year-old car.

“I was going down the hill and he says, ‘slow down,’ and I say, ‘I can’t. I said I don’t have any brakes.’ He said, ‘well pull off to the side of the road.’ I had no steering. My steering wheel locked up and my engine died,” Sam said.

The couple made it to the shoulder, terrified the car would roll back into the creek.

“It was still in drive. It wouldn’t go to park. It wouldn’t do anything and the emergency didn’t work and so we just left it,” Sam said.

The Sams were notified by Fiat Chrysler their car was being recalled 9 days after the 60 day deadline required by the federal government. Klobuchar serves on the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee which oversees the recall process. he says NHTSA needs to speed up the notification process.

“When it’s something that could kill someone, when it is so clearly something that’s dangerous as this case, you would think that the National Highway Transportation Safety board would make the call to have it be less than 60 days,” Klobuchar said.

And the senator intends to take action.

“The first thing I’m going to do is write to NHTSA and call them and say ok why didn’t this go out sooner. When you have something as dangerous as the electric system shutting down that you immediately at least generally notify the public of the types of cars that are going to be recalled, even if you can’t get those individual notices out in time.

They were so close to death or to severe injuries and it was just kind of a, they did the right thing in terms of how they got the car off the road. But good fortune just doesn’t happen to everyone,” Klobuchar said.

Klobuchar ‎spoke with the NHTSA Administrator. She urged him to use NHTSA’s authority more forcefully and to require automakers to notify consumers of recalls more quickly, especially if NHTSA has reason to believe that lives are at risk.

In the meantime, what can you do to protect yourself as a consumer? NHTSA provides this easy online tool to see if your car is under a recall. They recommend owners check their VIN number every 6 months. While that won’t catch everything, they say it is a good rule of thumb

For its part, Fiat Chrysler gave WCCO this statement about their recall policy:

Today’s vehicles are safer than ever. However, despite the industry’s best efforts to predict vehicle performance, unforeseen driving conditions and outcomes arise. The recalls that may result demand complex engineering and close coordination with NHTSA. A campaign may require the design, development, validation and procurement of new components for which new service protocols must also be developed and tested. FCA US regrets any inconvenience a recall may cause its customers. However, such campaigns are vital to customer safety and the Company is committed to their completion.