Recalls happen constantly in the automotive industry. There are so many moving parts involved, sourced from so many different third-party manufacturers, that it’s honestly more surprising that cars get built at all.
Almost every day, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announces a new safety recall. The cause can range from relatively minor issues, such as a backup camera that stays on a little too long, to serious hazards like the Takata airbags that killed over a dozen people in the United States.
If you’ve never dealt with a car recall before, here’s what you need to know.
Recall Notification Process
Voluntary recalls are made by the automakers to correct an issue with their vehicles. Some recalls might involve just a few vehicles, while others include millions. Once the automaker has decided to issue a recall, it is announced on the NHTSA website. Consumer magazines and news outlets may pick up the announcement so that it reaches a larger audience.
Even after the recall is announced, it might take weeks or months to notify registered drivers of affected vehicles. In fact, you could be driving a recalled car right now and not even know it!
Eventually, registered drivers will get a notice in the mail that describes the defect, the risk it poses, and the plan to fix the problem. You’ll get a list of warning signs to watch for as well as the next steps to take.
What You Need to Do Next
The next step is almost always to make an appointment with your local dealership to get the repair. Only authorized mechanics at the dealership can address the recall. The good news is that the repair is always free. The bad news is that it might be a slow, frustrating process. You’ll have to wait until they have an available time slot and parts, and then wait some more for it to be fixed.
In most cases, the automaker does not have to supply you with a loaner vehicle or reimburse you for a rental while your car is being fixed. That can be especially frustrating if the recall is for a serious issue that makes the vehicle unsafe to drive.
It’s a good idea to check the NHTSA database from time to time, just in case your car has been recalled and you missed the announcement. Simply find your VIN (that’s a Vehicle Identification Number), which is located on the dash of your car below the windscreen on the driver’s side, as well as the inside of the door. It is also printed on your registration card.
Next, enter the VIN into the database. You’ll find any active recalls (up to 15 years old) that apply to your vehicle. Recalls don’t expire, so if there’s an outstanding issue, you can still get it fixed by an authorized dealership.