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Everything You Need to Know About Car Recalls

car recalls

The National Highway Safety Administration estimated that nearly 43,000 people died in car crashes in 2021, a 16-year high. 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 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 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

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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 more than 1,000 car recalls in 2021, affecting roughly 35 million vehicles. 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.”

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Other Considerations

  • As a general rule, car 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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43 Thoughts on “Everything You Need to Know About Car Recalls

  1. i bought a used car that has had all of the recalls performed on it up to this date. my question is there was another recall that my vehicle falls under by date vin and time, but my vehicle wasnt involved in the recall, according to the NHTSA website, so i called general motors and they told me at first that it wasnt covered in the recall and after several more minutes on the phone they came back and told me that my vehcle already had the this particular recall recall done, but on the NHTSA wesite it does not list this recall as being performed on my veh. when i asked general motors why it doesnt show to be done on the NHTSA website they just reiterated that according to there records it had been done. who do i believe, and what would be my next step? GM says it was done and NHTSA says it hasnt been performed, and it is a very costly repair to the tune of about $3200 for parts not including labor. any advice would be greatly appreciated

  2. My 2003 Toyota Carolla has an airbag recall that cannot be fixed due to a discontinued part. Do you know what Toyota’s responsibility is going forward? I have contacted Toyota but it is taking a very long time for any information on next steps.

  3. I believe that a previous recall was fixed but is now broken again. How do I find out if my car had a recall which was fixed before I bought it?

  4. My Lincoln has been recalled. I have been advised to unhook the battery and not drive the car. I have been given a loaner. If I drive my recalled car after receiving the loaner, and the car catches fire, will I be covered?

    1. Hello Dave, thank you for your question! I have asked our Director of Traffic Safety to reach out via email to answer your question directly. Thank you – Aleshi

  5. I have a 2016 Hyundai Sante fe sport, there a total of 3 recalls on my vehicle that i have never been notified about. The only reason I know about these recalls is because my engine went bad and when I had it towed to Hyundai they then notified me of the 3 recalls. Hyundai refuses to fix the car because they said I’m over the mileage on the warranty and refuses to fix the safety recall. They are making me go through the better business bureau to go through an arbitration. Are they in the right to not fix these safety recalls, one of them being the reason my engine went bad?

  6. My 2019 vehicle had a recall on it’s fuel pump. The dealer replaced the fuel pump free of charge June 2021. The fuel pump failed in June of 2023. Does the car maker have any responsibility for a second fix?

    1. Good afternoon Mrs. H! I have forwarded your question to our AAA Car Doctor expert. He will reach out to you directly to answer your question. Thank you – Aleshi

  7. I have a 2006 Hyundai Sonata that was recalled for a B1448 code related to the passenger occupancy sensor that controls whether the passenger air bag deploys or not. The recall work was done in 2007. I have the same issue again now in 2023. I want to know if the manufacturer must also cover the work to be done again or if I am financially liable this time given that it’s the second time and/or given that the car is 16 years old. Thank you.

  8. I am curious that once a non safety recall is done can you still keep the old part as with any other repair? I figure it’s not warranty so no need to inspect for defects as the recall already determined that and it is still technically the car owner’s property unless specifically discarding or failing to inform the dealership of the desire to keep the part. Am I correct in this?

    1. Hi William, thanks for the question! Here’s an answer from our Car Doctor, John Paul: Because it is a defective part, it can’t go back out in the “wild” due to liability concerns. In some cases, the defective part (which may be a result of a technical service bulletin or warranty extension) may need to be verified by the manufacture’s field service engineer to get credit (paid) for the repair.

  9. I Bought a Brand new vehicle with an active Recall! The Recall was 3 weeks old and the Dealer claims they had no Idea Brand New car . Are dealers last notified?

    1. Hi Jeffrey, thanks for the question! Here’s an answer from our Car Doctor John Paul: A new car dealer cannot sell a new car with a “Stop Sale” order issued by the manufacturer. In fact, federal law prohibits the sale of a new vehicle with an open safety recall. Where this could change if it was not a safety recall. A non-safety recall, such as an issue with appearance, the radio or even the air conditioner system could still allow the car to be sold. Are dealers the last to be notified? Once a recall is issued either by NHTSA or voluntarily, the dealer should be made aware in almost real time.

  10. You published in this link that recalls do not expire. I called Lexus service in Margate Florida and they said that the two recalls for my 2009 Lexus IS200 expired one in 2017 and the other in 2021.
    Please let me know ifbthisbis incorrect, thanks.

    1. Hi Mayra, thanks for the question. Here’s some insight from our Car Doctor John Paul: This can get a little confusing as there are recalls, such a airbags, fuel leaks and other safety related items, and then there are campaigns. Once a vehicle has been recalled, that recall never expires. Campaigns (sometimes called voluntary recalls or warranty enhancements) generally have an expiration date. There were at least two campaigns or warranty enhancements for your vehicle which according to my information have expired.

  11. I have a vehicle that I bought from a used car dealer that had a recall issued. The dealer did not complete the recall and I never received a recall notice. As a result of the recall not being completed the engine seized and need to be replaced. Is the dealer responsible for the cost of the engine replacement or am I?

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