How Do I Check My Car For Recalls?

  • by: Patrick Peterson
  • December 24, 2019

car recall

It might sound like a once in a while occurrence, but vehicle recalls happen quite often. The big ones, of course, make lead news stories (think Ford’s truck callback or Takata airbags) but in fact, automakers issue recall notices on a nearly ongoing basis.

With all that activity, how can you keep track? Maybe your vehicle is part of the recall, and it’s difficult not be concerned given events like the exploding tire events in the 90s. Automakers associated with recalls send out notices through various means, generally phone calls and mail, but if you miss it, you can easily check through several handy online resources.

What are recalls all about? A vehicle recall is initiated when a manufacturer concludes that a particular model includes a safety defect or other issue that does not comply with federal safety standards. In that regard, recalls are sometimes also issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Vehicle owners are then issued notices that repairs are needed, and these repairs are typically free of charge.

Should I Stop Driving my Car?

In general, recalls are not doomsday alerts of a car’s safety on the road. Many recalls, in fact, are minor but still require the time and hassle of scheduling dealer service appointments. For example, if a particular part on a manufacturer’s vehicle prematurely fails or wears out much sooner than expected, a recall might be issued to replace the part on all applicable models.

In many cases, recalls are not limited to traditional mechanical issues like a sticky transmission. Cars are highly sophisticated technological vessels these days, and computer bugs can be more common than finicky motors. In fact, the software is responsible for operating many of a car’s components, and a computer virus is certainly not repaired out in the garage like “the old days.”

In all cases, however, every recall should be addressed as some are more critical and affect the safety of the vehicle. If the recall issue is not repaired, the vehicle will have an open recall until it is resolved.

How do I know if a car has an Open Recall?

If you want to buy a used car, don’t buy one without checking for previous or current safety recalls. Open recalls are safety hazards to those in the car and everyone else on the road as well. New vehicles with recalls must be repaired by the manufacturer, under federal law.

Checking for recalls is a simple process, using the vehicle’s VIN. The vehicle identification number is like a vehicle’s fingerprint. It is a 17-digit number found on the driver-side doorpost, dashboard near the lower-left corner of the windshield, or the front of the engine chassis. The VIN allows you to research most everything there is to know about a vehicle’s history.

What Should I do if my car is Recalled?

Your first step in a recall situation is to immediately contact your dealer to arrange an appointment to have the recall repaired. If you suspect that your car has a manufacturer safety defect, but a recall has not been issued, have the repair completed and save all receipts and repair orders for possible reimbursement in the event a future recall is issued.

If you are wondering if your car is under recall and what to do about it, follow these steps:

Find your VIN. If you cannot locate your vehicle’s VIN in the locations mentioned above, you can also find it on your registration or insurance card.

Check the NHTSA database. Navigate to the NHTSA’s recall page and enter your VIN. If no recalls are listed, you’re in great shape. Note that you can also use this database to check on other products or equipment for your vehicle. If your database check does reveal recalls, move to the next step.

Call your dealer. Recall work can be completed simply by making an appointment at a local dealership. More urgent recalls should, of course, be addressed with haste, but all recall issues need prompt attention. Keep in mind that all recall work will be completed at no charge.

Update your registration. This step might seem like busywork, but it is critical that your vehicle’s registration is accurate and current. Do this by checking your state’s motor vehicle website with your VIN or license plate number. When registration is updated, your car’s manufacturer will easily be able to reach you in the event of a recall. Remember that auto manufacturers and most motor vehicle departments rely on traditional mail service, so it is very important to keep registration information up to date.

car recall maintenance

How to Verify if a Recall Issue has Been Repaired

In many cases, a recall issue is not addressed even if a vehicle’s owner is aware of the problem. If that vehicle is then sold to someone else, the new owner is at a safety risk. Until fairly recently, consumers could only check the NHTSA website with a vehicle’s make and year to verify any recalls, but they could not verify if a specific recall car had been repaired.
Today consumers can search through the NHTSA or automaker websites to confidently verify whether particular vehicles’ safety issues have been addressed. Even better, the search function applies to all major automakers and motorcycle manufacturers and is updated at least once every week.

This is welcome peace of mind for frustrated consumers who in the past were required to wade through cumbersome registration processes or set up accounts before being granted access to recall searches. In addition to consumer convenience, this search option has increased safety recall completion rates to more than 70%.

If a recall is active during a search, consumers can read a description of the problem and associated repair. If the repair has not been completed, a “Recall Incomplete” message will prominently appear.

Recall data covers the past 15 years, and while automakers are required by law to complete no-charge repairs on vehicles more than ten years old, they often do so as a responsible service to customers.