What You Should Know About Car Recalls

Cars are safer and better built than they’ve ever been, but manufacturers are also issuing more recalls on cars than ever before. In the age of lawsuits and social media, automakers are doing the most they can to take ownership of issues, but when you receive a letter from your car’s manufacturer notifying you of a recall, what should you do next?

Don’t panic. Recalls are a fairly straightforward process, and not every recall is as urgent as the next. Using the resources in this article, you’ll be able to identify the best way to move forward if your car is subject to a recall.

What Is a Recall?

Recalls take place when a manufacturer identifies an issue with their car that might have negative repercussions on owners and is in violation of federal motor vehicle safety standards.

A good example of this is the Takata airbag recall, which affected a whopping 1.7 million vehicles. In the case of Takata, the recall was for a specific part, the airbag, which multiple car manufacturers used. The defective airbags can harm passengers when they go off, so the various automakers who used them are recalling cars where the suspect parts were used and replacing them with new, safer airbags.

Typically, anytime they issue a recall, vehicle recall laws require the automaker to send out mailers to notify anyone who is registered as an owner of an affected car. However, if you didn’t purchase your car new or are looking at buying a car and want to know whether there are recalls issued for it, you can do so using a free government database. Enter the VIN of the vehicle you want to see a list of open recalls for that car.

There’s a Recall Open. What Should I Do?

Many different models of cars are subject to recalls, and the fact that an issue occurred in some cars doesn’t necessarily mean it affects yours. Also, some people wonder whether there is a statute of limitations on recalls — in other words, do car recalls expire?

While vehicle recalls don’t have a set expiration date, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration only enforces them for what they term “reasonable periods.” In other words, if a vehicle manufacturer goes out of business or stops producing the parts that would be necessary to fix your problem, the recall will become invalid.

Manufacturers will offer you a means of correcting the recall, which usually involves taking your car to a dealership to have the problem repaired at no cost. Most car recalls are voluntary on behalf of the manufacturer, but many are mandatory, which means they get triggered by the NHTSA’s decision to investigate consumer complaints. When they issue a recall, federal vehicle recall laws require your manufacturer to notify all registered owners and purchasers of the affected vehicles by mail.

Once you evaluate the recall notice, which will state whether the recall is mandatory or voluntary and how the manufacturer will right the defective vehicles, you can arrange to have the manufacturer perform the prescribed work. But what if you purchased a car secondhand and don’t know if it’s had recall work done? Do car recalls expire? It’s essential to find out in the case of an engine failure recall or something like the Takata airbag case.

Typically, you can call any dealership and give the VIN of your vehicle to learn from the manufacturer which recalls apply to that specific vehicle and whether they are still an open issue. Remember, there are no federal vehicle recall laws against reselling a vehicle with open recalls, so it’s best to make sure the flaw gets fixed before you buy.

Do Car Recalls Expire?

While you may think you need to get your car serviced immediately after receiving a recall notice, unless your problem jeopardizes your safety, you have plenty of time to resolve the issue. Recalls might seem frightening, but they’re a normal part of car ownership. Even if a manufacturer issues a recall for a severe problem with your car, your manufacturer will typically perform the repairs needed for free. Remember to keep repair receipts for all service work done on your car, because manufacturers will usually reimburse you if a known recall has incurred up-front costs for you.

Scott Huntington is an automotive writer from central Pennsylvania. Check out his work at Off The Throttle or follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington.

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