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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 36,096 car crash fatalities in 2019. 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 jam. 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 763 car recalls in 2018, equaling an average of more than two recalls each day. 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 Car Doctor 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? Curious about any other automotive issues? Submit your question to John Paul and get a direct response from the Car Doctor himself.


  • Nannette T.

    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.

  • 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.)

  • 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.

  • Connie H.

    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


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