How Recalls Work


It seems like in recent years the news has been full information about recalls. Not just automotive recalls, but pet foods, produce, children’s toys, and even something as innocuous as peanut butter. But perhaps the ones that tend to capture our attention the most are the automotive recalls, which is understandable. After all, we might not all have children or pets, and we don’t all eat peanut butter, but every one of us has some kind of with an automobile on a daily basis, either as drivers, pedestrians, or passengers. Also, when people buy cars they expect them to be safe, especially if they have families. When things go wrong with a car, they can be potentially deadly to a lot of people, beyond just the person behind the wheel.

Below is an explanation of how automotive recalls work, and what you should do if you get a recall notice.

How Automotive Recalls Work

The first step is someone noticing that there’s a potential hazard. Sometimes the auto manufacturer realizes the problem and takes the initiative to start a recall. However, as the many have illustrated, it’s also possible for a manufacturer to be aware of the problem for years and not do anything about it.

If the manufacturer does not voluntarily recall the product, then it usually falls to consumers to report potential issues to the (NHTSA). If the NHTSA gets a lot of reports for the same issue, or if several people have filed lawsuits against the company, they will open an investigation. If the investigation shows that there is a legitimate safety issue, they will then push for a recall.

Once the recall has been ordered, the manufacturer will send recall notices to every known owner of that make, model and year of vehicle. The recall letter will include information on the nature of the recall and instructions on how to get the issue fixed.

The manufacturer, along with the NHTSA, will also issue statements to the press in an effort to reach individuals who might have fallen through the cracks. For example, someone who inherited the vehicle from an elderly relative, who is now deceased, might not be in the automotive company’s database as the owner.

What to Do if You Get a Recall Notice

The envelope should say “SAFETY RECALL NOTICE” in big red letters, along with “Important Safety Recall Information” just below it in a slightly smaller font. It should also say “Issued in Accordance with Federal Law” and have the logos for the NHTSA and the U.S. Department of Transportation. When you receive an envelope like this in the mail, you should read it immediately because the reason for the recall could be a pressing issue.

Keep in mind that recalls are only issued when there is a serious safety issue, one that could result in injury or loss of life, so you definitely don’t want to ignore it.

Follow the instructions for making arrangements for repair. This often involves calling a special number and making an appointment to take the vehicle to the dealer.

Make the appointment as soon as you can. Depending on how many people in your area own the same car, the longer you wait the harder it will be to get an appointment. There may also be a deadline that you have to meet to get the repair.

Because recalls are the manufacturer’s fault, there should be no charge for the repair or replacement. The dealer might inspect your car and present find other issues that need attention, but you are within your rights to refuse any other work and just have them do the recall. However, if they do present you with a list of other issues, you should get a second opinion and look into getting the other repairs done as soon as you can.

Depending on the type of recall, the repair or replacement could take several minutes, or several days. The dealership should be able to tell you in advance if you will need to leave your car there, or if you can wait to pick it up.

If you don’t feel comfortable driving your vehicle to the repair place, you can have it towed there, but it might cost you money to do so.

What to Do if You Don’t Get a Recall Notice

If you drive the make, model, and year of vehicle included in the media recall announcement, but don’t get a recall letter, the phone number on the announcement for more information.

If you don’t remember the number, go to the , or to to get the recall information. The NHTSA site will also tell you if a used car that you own was ever repaired during a previous recall.

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