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Car Insurance

What to do when your car has been recalled

Your vehicle has been issued a safety and defect recall. Now what? Learn about crucial next steps to determine your car’s risks and cost of repairs

When the word “recall” is used on the news in relation to a well known auto manufacturer, a national panic seems to ripple across the country. Vehicle recalls make people feel like their safety has been compromised. Afterall, shouldn’t people be able to control their own vehicles? And while we know media outlets sometimes blow stories out of proportion, a recall story certainly gets our attention. Drivers need to know: How do I know if my car has been issued a recall? How do I know if my recall is serious or just a minor fix? How long can I wait before bringing my vehicle back to the dealership?


Vehicle recalls are actually quite common. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that there have been 390 million vehicle, 46 million tire, 66 million equipment pieces, and 42 million child safety seat recalls since 1966. Even though all of these recalls weren’t life threatening, the statistics are still shocking.


How do I know if my car has been recalled?


Whether a recall is initiated due to a minor problem or something more serious the vehicle’s manufacturer will send car owners a letter or email informing them of the appropriate repairs and installations that can be done at a dealership free of charge. The letter should include:


  • All safety hazard risks caused by the defect(s)

  • How to repair the problem at no charge to the owner

  • When the repair will be available

  • Who to contact for the repair(s)

  • Estimate of how long the repair(s) should take


The NHSTA alerts an auto manufacturer when a recall is to be issued. From that point, the automaker has 60 days to notify owners regardless of whether or not repair parts are in stock and readily available to dealerships.


If you have not yet been notified of a recall, you can search for all existing recalls using your vehicle’s make and model at recalls.gov. If you’re interested in searching current and past recall investigations, the NHTSA has an online Investigation Search Engine.


If you notice a defect in your vehicle and aren’t able to find an open investigation from the sources above, you can report your observations to the NHTSA department known as The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI). They specifically look into consumer complaints and issue a recall if they’re found to be true.


What are some examples of vehicle safety related defects?


Defects pose a risk to passengers of the vehicle. To be considered a recall these defects must occur in a group of vehicles or equipment from the same manufacturer. Safety related defects include, but are not limited to:


  • Broken steering components

  • Fuel system component problems

  • Problems with braking or other accelerator controls

  • Wheels prone to cracking or breaking

  • Engine cooling issues due to faulty fan blades

  • Defective windshield wipers

  • Malfunctioning seats and seat backs

  • Collapsing car ramps or jacks

  • Flawed wiring systems

  • Airbags that don’t deploy


How long do car recalls take to fix?


Your recall notice will provide an estimated repair time. While most recall services are handled quickly, if the extent of the recall includes significant repairs then there could be a week or month long waiting list on the dealership's schedule. Even though a dealership should alert you when replacement parts become available, you can be one step ahead of them by making an appointment with their service manager over the phone.


Many of us heavily depend on our cars to get us to work, school, appointments, etc. So when there’s a long wait before you can receive service, it’s tempting to simply continue to drive our recalled vehicles until we can be seen by the dealership. But how do you know if your recalled vehicle is too dangerous to drive? Should you park your car until it has been repaired? It’s up to you to read the recall notification very closely for these answers.


Is my recalled vehicle safe to drive?


You’re responsible for bringing your car to the dealership for service. If you choose not to fix the faulty parts, you could be driving around with a dangerous vehicle or mechanical piece. If you ignored a recall that then lead to a car accident, your auto insurance carrier could deny your claim due to negligence.


If the recall involves important items like acceleration, brakes, steering, suspension, or fuel systems then you should consider it a risk to drive. In rare instances, your recall notice will tell you to stop driving the vehicle immediately. In this case you should have your car towed to the dealership and you’ll be given a loaner until repairs are made.


Minor recall defects are more of an inconvenience than an immediate danger and could possibly wait until the dealer has an opening. However, if you’re not sure how to determine the risk yourself,call your dealer.


Are car recall repairs free?


Usually automakers cover the complete cost of your repairs. However, there are some exceptions depending on the age of your vehicle. Your car can’t be more than 10 years old when the defect is reported. The age of the vehicle is determined by the date of sale to the original buyer. If your vehicle is more than 10 years old when you’re issued a recall notice, you will be responsible for the cost of repairs. Even though this seems unfair, automakers believe that if the vehicle has been on the road for that long before the recall, then the defects wouldn’t severely impact your safety.