Everything You Need to Know About Car Recalls

Car recalls occur all the time. But how do you know if your vehicle has been recalled? And what do you do next?
car recalls

The National Highway Safety Administration reported 38,824 car crash fatalities in 2020. And we know that almost all crashes are caused by human error. It’s a scary proposition to imagine what those numbers would be if the vehicles themselves were faulty. This is why car recalls are so critical.

Car recalls – as well as tire and child car seat recalls – help to ensure that all vehicles on the roadways are safe to drive, thus protecting drivers, passengers, pedestrians and many others. Consequently, it’s important to be aware of – and adhere to – all car recalls. To help better understand the topic, we asked our AAA experts for answers to all your car recall questions.

What is a car recall?

An automobile recall occurs when the vehicle manufacturer or the NHTSA determines that a vehicle fails to meet minimum safety standards. The defect could include anything related to a component or material of the car, or in the car’s performance or construction.

As part of the recall, manufacturers are required to repair or replace the faulty component, or offer a refund. In very rare cases, the car will be repurchased for the owner.

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Does my car have a recall?

When a recall occurs, manufacturers are obligated to inform all registered vehicle owners of the affected cars. This is done through a mailed notification, delivered within 60 of the recall going into effect.

Car owners can also sign up with the NHTSA to receive notifications via email if there is ever a recall.

Can I do a car recall check online?

Yes, just visit the NHTSA website. There, you can type in your Vehicle Identification Number to learn if the vehicle has any safety recalls in the past 15 years that have not been repaired. VINs are 17-digit numbers unique to every vehicle. They can be found on the driver’s side dashboard right below the windshield and the driver’s side door jamb. It will also likely be on the vehicle’s insurance and registration cards.

This method is particularly useful and important if you plan on buying a used car, says AAA Car Doctor John Paul, especially if the car’s maintenance history is not readily available. “If you are buying a used car from a car dealer, check to see that any open recalls are performed before taking delivery of the vehicle,” Paul says. “If you are buying a used car from a private party, check the VIN and see if there are any recalls and have those repairs performed as soon as possible.”

How to Use a VIN to Check Car Recalls

My car has been recalled. What should I do?

Although it may be jarring to get a notification that there is something wrong with your vehicle, it’s no reason to fret – cars gets recalled every day. In fact, there were 886 car recalls in 2020. The first thing you should do is call your local dealer to see when they can look at the vehicle.

The dealership should be able to fix the issue in a timely matter, and almost always for no cost. “Depending on the recall, some additional parts needing replacement due to rust or other damage that normally occurs with age may be your financial responsibility,” Paul says. Otherwise, the repair will be completely free. Once your vehicle is repaired, you can be on your way.

From time to time, you may receive a recall notice, but the manufacturer has not issued a replacement part or has no solution for the issue yet. “The notice will outline the problem and what you should do,” Paul says. “With some serious issues, they may recommend not driving the vehicle or not parking it in a garage.”

In this case, follow the interim safety guidance provided by the manufacturer and periodically check with your local dealer to see when the issue can be fixed. Under no circumstances should you ignore a recall. “Failing to get a recalled vehicle service could possibly endanger you and other drivers on the road,” Paul warns. “Some studies show that 20% to 30% of the vehicles recalled have never been serviced.”

Other Considerations

Here are a few other aspects to know about car recalls, from John Paul:

  • As a general rule, recalls have no expiration date. Additionally, they will transfer from one owner to another. If you buy a used car and only later discover an open recall, you are entitled to the repair even though you were not the owner at the time of the recall.
  • Once the vehicle reaches 10 years of age, the manufacturer may charge a fee for the repair.
  • A car recall does not signify the vehicle is of poor quality. It simply means that there is a defective or poorly performing component that needs to be replaced. It is not an indictment of the vehicle as a whole.
  • Recalls are not the same as warranty extensions (sometimes referred to as secret warranties). In the latter, a part may be determined to not last as long as it should, and the manufacturer may extend the warranty on this particular part. As an example, Volkswagen sent letters to some owners of certain models that the ignition switch warranty has been extended to 10 years or 100,000 miles. This did not require the ignition switch to be repaired, so no recall was issued on the vehicle.

AAA members can save on automotive replacement parts and accessories at NAPA.

Still have questions about car recalls? Ask them in the comments below. 

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14 Thoughts on “Everything You Need to Know About Car Recalls

  1. I had a Ford Fusion with a recall due to Takata airbag ignitor could spontaneously discharge. I asked the
    Ford dealer where I originally purchased it several times about fixing it. Every time I was told that unless
    it discharged they had no current plan to fix it and they were only pro-actively fixing the ones in hot climate
    states (I live in CT). When I privately sold the car I verbally told the buyer and gave them my recall letter. I
    also chose NOT to buy a FORD as my new vehicle partly because of this leaving me driving a potentially
    life threatening vehicle.

  2. I have a 2002 honda civic. there was a paint recall on honda civic cars but i was informed my vin number not included in the recall. The paint started peeling in my car three years after purchase brand new took it to the dealer they said i needed insurance to cover that.

  3. I had a recall related to an electrical problem — at one point in the vehicle, not in the engine compartment, a connection point could corrode possibly leading to a fire under the driver’s seat. (Ouch!) I followed through and the dealer performed the repair. Subsequently, I received another recall notice for the same thing. Scratching my head, instead of ignoring this notice, I called the dealer. Surprise! The original repair was only an inspection to make sure there was no corrosion, but NOT a repair of the problem! The lesson is to be very careful to respond to every recall notice, because there may be a new issue with an old problem!

  4. I was notified in August that my 2015 Ram Rebel pickup is subject to a driver’s side airbag safety recall. The airbag can spontaneously deploy and send shrapnel into the cabin. It is now December, and there is no fix for the defect. The dealership has not been apprised of any time frame for a repair. I filed a complaint with NHTSA. Is there any other recourse that I might pursue? Thank you

    1. Hi Meredith, thanks for the question! Here’s some advice from our Car Doctor, John Paul: After doing some research you are correct there is still no fix for the side curtain airbag involved in the recall. At this point there is little you can do other than call both the dealer and Chrysler to see if they will reimburse you for a rental car until a fix has been verified. Even though the chance of something happening are very slight it would be nice to get it repaired. The other option, and I doubt if the dealer or Chrysler would authorize it, would be to disconnect the system. I doubt this would happen because the chance of the airbag working correctly and protecting you are much greater than an accidental deployment.

  5. I recently got a Mercury Grand Marque a 1997 and now the intake manifold is leaking and I found out there was a recall on it, how long do recalls last, can I still get it fixed under recall?

  6. My Acura 1999 has been broke down since 20 months ? I didn’t know what was wrong with car so I’ve been with out car and now plates out and insurance s also how do I fix this problem

  7. Hi, my Chevy Equinox had a recall but they didn’t inform me. I found out about the recall because my vehicle was experiencing “symptoms”. I googled it and found it did have a recall. The dealership is telling me that the recall expired one month ago! Is this even possible? My vehicle is 2013 – not even 10 years old.

  8. I HATE recalls because bringing my car to the dealer becomes a problem. For example, I brought my Accord in for an airbag replacement. I was told I didn’t need it but when I got my car back, I couldn’t close the hood. I NEVER had trouble closing the hood. They told me it would cost $368 to fix it. Another example is my older Accord had a recall on seatbelts. The dealer had my car for a day just to tell me it needed the repair. I made another appointment to have it fixed. After waiting a couple of hours, they said they had to keep the car because they didn’t have the part! (BTW, I continued to get postcards to have the airbag replaced.)

    1. Maybe you should find a different dealer – I had an airbag recall for my Honda – maybe a few years ago – I took it in to my local dealer (on Route 10 in NJ) and they took care of it, no problem –

  9. We bought a used car from Countryside auto in Holliston, MA. They said they sent it out to Nicks garage to get checked about a few rattles and noises. We asked them not to put a sticker on it because we wanted our mechanic to look it over.. A week later it was in at Brigham and Gill in Natick, MA to get a tie rod replaced as well as the AC. 10 days later AC knobs still not working and hearing the rattling sound even more. They even put it down on repair slip and it said “advised on request. 6 months later the car has died. Timing chain needed to be replaced and valve is bent. Not even paid for. A Nissan Juke 2011. So disappointing. Called Brigham and Gill and they said oh well to bad and hung up!! Got our money and said see you later.

  10. IN SOME INSTANCES, THE AUTO MFG. WILL ATTEMPT TO PROLONG ACTION, NO MATTER HOW SERIOUS THE PROBLEM. IN THIS CASE, THE BEST THING TO DO, FOR PROMPT ACTION, IS TO CONTACT THE NHTSA AT 1-888-327-4236. IN ALL CASES, I WOULD CHECK TO MAKE SURE THAT REPAIRS/REPLACEMENTS HAVE BEEN MADE. SOME DEALERS GIVE “LIP” SERVICE, WHILE NOT, DELIBERATELY, FIXING THE PROBLEM!

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