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.
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.”
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.