Vehicle recalls are more common than you might think and they can often impact the safety and the road worthiness of your vehicle.
When a vehicle threatens public safety or fails to meet federal safety standards, an automaker may voluntarily recall it. They notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and have 60 days to send out notices to registered owners listed in state department of motor vehicles data. Other times, investigations uncover defects and the courts order a recall.
If motor vehicle data isn’t current or the owner does not follow through on needed repairs, the manufacturer doesn’t have to follow up once they’ve sent out their notices. The NHTSA estimates around a quarter of recalled vehicles do not undergo repairs.
In a 2016 article, the Wall Street Journal states that vehicle recalls topped 51 million in 2015. This means that there are around 13 million defective vehicles out on the road and, unless you check, you could be driving one of them.
Recalls can cover almost anything on a vehicle, including tires, airbags, brakes, and other defective parts. A General Motors defective ignition switch caused 124 deaths. Over 19 million vehicles used Takata air bags prone to burst which caused 9 deaths. Fiat Chrysler recalled rear gas tanks linked to dozens of fatal fires.
Manufacturers identify defective vehicles by the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Owners can use the safercar.gov website to check their vehicles. The website includes recalls issued by the major automakers over the past 15 years. You can find your vehicle’s VIN by looking for a tag through the windshield on the driver’s side.
Dealers repair a recall problem at no charge, but ignoring a recall jeopardizes lives. Contact the dealership to get the repair process started as soon as possible because, sometimes, the dealership must order parts which could cause some delays. If the recall presents a very real safety threat, they may also advise you not to drive the vehicle until it’s been fixed.
You can take your vehicle into any of the manufacturers dealerships providing it is less than 10 years old. If your vehicles older, you still need to repair it but you may need to pay for it out of your own pocket.
Always check a used vehicle before you buy. Franchised dealerships check their own make for recalls before they resell them, but they do not have to check others. Independent lots and private sellers do not have to check for recalls or do repairs before sales.
Some owners discover the problem and have their vehicle repaired before the manufacturer issues a recall. If you repaired your vehicle through a dealership, they are legally obligated to reimburse for up to a year of the recall. If your mechanic repaired the vehicle you can ask for reimbursement, providing you have a receipt.
It makes sense to take a few minutes to run your vehicle’s VIN through the SaferCar.gov website. If you’re looking to buy a used vehicle and it’s recalled, ask for proof of repair before you buy. Otherwise, you may end up driving a very dangerous vehicle.