Don’t Ignore Your Auto Recall Notice

If your vehicle has been recalled for repairs several times, should you be worried? Probably not and here’s why: First, understand that a recall occurs after an automaker or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines that there’s an issue with a car that could pose a safety hazard.

Automakers also may initiate “customer satisfaction” or “product improvement” campaigns to fix problems that aren’t imminent safety risks to a car’s occupants or other motorists—such as infotainment system problems or paint flaws. But by definition these aren’t recalls, and the feds won’t be involved. It might help to know that recalls are an equal-opportunity problem for all automakers.

safety-recall-noticeRecent examples on NHTSA’s website include Aston Martin (the accelerator pedal arm may break), Jaguar (loss of power steering may occur), and Porsche (rear-axle control arms may break). In a sense, you should be reassured that your car has been recalled.

There’s been a ruckus in the media and in Congress with accusations that some automakers, suppliers and NHTSA have been tardy about issuing recalls, putting folks’ lives in danger. In the past, the feds hit Toyota with a $1.2 billion fine for concealing problems with sudden, unintended acceleration in some of its cars. General Motors is in the midst of recalling millions of its cars dating back to the early 2000 because of faulty ignition switches that caused some two dozen deaths.

Just as disturbing, NHTSA data show that some 25% of recalled vehicles don’t make it to the dealer to get fixed. Owners often are unaware of a recall. In your case, the automaker evidently knows how to reach you by mailed letter or through a dealer that services your car. But if a car was purchased used and is maintained by the owner or an independent shop, the automaker might not know how to contact the owner.

Fortunately, NHTSA makes it easy to search for recalls by make, model, and year of a car. You can also sign up for alerts to new recalls sent to your phone or computer. The NHTSA has made it possible to see if there are any open recalls on your own vehicle; you’ll need your car’s 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN), found on the registration and on the dash (behind the lower left corner of the windshield).

The agency also has a free SaferCar app for iPhone and Android operating ssafety-recall-notice1ystems that lets readers know about recalls. For any of these services, go to NHTSA’s website, safercar.gov. Also, it’s advisable to keep the automaker informed of your ownership information if you buy a used car or change your address. Most manufacturers supply postcards for this purpose in the car’s owner’s-manual packet.

Sure, a trek to the dealer and doing without your car for a day or two can be a pain. But NHTSA says a recall repair must be free of charge to the vehicle owner, with a couple of caveats. After a recall is issued, an automaker typically will pay for a repair only if it’s made by one of its authorized dealers. And an automaker isn’t required to make a free repair if 10 years have passed since the car was first sold—although it may do so anyway as a matter of engendering goodwill.

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