Everything You Need to Know About Car Recalls

Car recalls help ensure that all vehicles on our roads are safe to drive. In 2018, most of the 6.7 million car crashes in the U.S. were caused by human error. Vehicles with unrepaired mechanical issues or unresolved recalls can cause those numbers to be even higher.

Recalls are generally issued voluntarily by manufacturers. Recalls are issued almost every day and can usually be addressed promptly by new car dealers or, in some cases, the vehicle manufacturer’s representative. Occasionally, larger recalls take time, because the sheer number of affected vehicles impacts the availability of parts or causes delays in repairs (consider the recall of tens of millions of vehicles with Takata airbags since 2014). But, by and large, recalls are nothing to panic about.

Have a specific vehicle in mind? How to find out if it’s affected by a recall:

The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) maintains an up-to-date database of all vehicle recalls in the last 15 years. Get your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which can be found just below the windshield on the driver’s side or on the driver’s side door jam. Then, click on the logo below.

NHTS

Your recall questions answered

When a recall occurs, manufacturers are required to inform registered owners via mailed notifications. However, if you’ve purchased a used car, changed addresses or simply missed the letter in the mail, there’s an easy way to check. Visit the NHTSA website (or click on the link above). Enter your VIN to see if there have been any safety recalls on your car in the last 15 years. VINs are unique to every vehicle and can be found on the driver’s side dashboard below the windshield, and on the driver’s side door jam.
First, don’t worry. Cars get recalled every day. Call your dealership to look at the vehicle; most should be able to fix the issue in a timely manner at no cost. Occasionally, a recall notice will be issued but the manufacturer has not issued a replacement part or does not have a solution for the issue. “If the issue is serious, the manufacturer will recommend not driving the vehicle,” says John Paul, AAA’s Car Doctor. “In most instances, however, the problem can be resolved promptly.”

Recall notices are usually sent out by automakers based on state registration data. Whether the car is new or used, if the address on the vehicle’s registration is correct, you should receive a notice by mail. However, if your address is not current, the notice may not be delivered, or it can be easily missed in a pile of mail. 

If email is your preferred method of contact, subscribe to email alerts from NHTSA. You will receive notifications when a recall is issued for your particular make and model year, but NOT for your specific vehicle. Carfax also offers a free recall alert service for your specific vehicle. Register your VIN at their Vehicle Recall Check website

You should always have a recall taken care of as soon as possible, unless the manufacturer indicates it’s urgent and poses an immediate safety issue. Never ignore a recall. “Failing to get a recalled vehicle serviced endangers everyone on the roads,” says John Paul. Generally, recalls have no expiration date and transfer from owner to owner. So, if you purchase a used car and find out it had a recall notice in the past, you’re still entitled to the repair for free. Once the vehicle reaches 10 years old, the manufacturer may charge a fee, but the repair is still worth doing.
No, recalls only indicate there is a component — usually one of hundreds in the vehicle — that is defective or needs replacement. It is not a reflection of the vehicle as a whole. Today’s vehicles are computers on wheels and have thousands of components that work together. Once the recall issue is fixed, you can go safely on your way.
Recalls are not warranty extensions. Sometimes a repair is not needed immediately, but the part may not last as long as it should. For example, Volkswagen extended the warranty on an ignition switch for certain models to 10 years/10,000 miles. The problem did not require a repair so they didn’t issue a recall, but the warranty would apply if a replacement is needed.
AAA is here to help. We have articles about motor vehicle recalls in our online magazine, or you can email John Paul, AAA’s Car Doctor, your question for a personal response. And, the NHTSA website has a wealth of information as well.
roadside-assistance