Your Car Was Recalled. Now What?

If you feel like you hear about car recalls constantly, you're right. In 2016, there were almost 53 million recalls, according to Roadshow by CNET. And although we're only just into 2018, reports some 50 million Takata air bag inflaters are currently under recall. With car parts constantly being tested and updated, you're bound to get a recall letter yourself at some point. But what should you do when you are on the recall list? (See also: Bookmark This: Save Money With an Easy to Follow Car Maintenance Checklist)

First, there's no need to panic

You're driving along in your car, maybe getting groceries or picking the kids up from school, when you hear the news on the radio — XYZ automaker is recalling four million cars. You have that car, and it's only natural that it scares you a little. After all, your car is not only your primary means of transportation, but if something is wrong with it, could your life be in danger? Fortunately, probably not.

Most recalls are minor, and have very little impact on the way the vehicle operates. If it's a voluntary recall from the manufacturer, it's likely not a big issue. If the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) gets involved, it could be more serious. And although a recall is only issued when it is a safety hazard, those risks can be very small.

Find out exactly what kind of recall has been issued

As soon as you get the chance, call your local dealership or check the internet and find out what kind of recall has been put in place. It could be something as simple as a software update. Maybe one particular part has broken on some models, and the manufacturer is replacing them all as a precaution (most err on the side of extreme caution rather than risk a lawsuit).

You should have also received a letter or email from the manufacturer, and you can verify your issue by typing in your VIN (it's on the driver's side dashboard) to a site like,, or

Read what's detailed in the recall notice

The chances are that you'll be notified about the recall in several ways, including local and national news reports, a call from the dealership, email, and a physical letter. The letter and email will highlight several factors about the recall, and will include:

  • a complete description of the defect or issue.

  • what you should look for to see if your car is already experiencing issues.

  • the dangers the defect presents.

  • what the manufacturer will do to resolve the problem.

  • how long you can expect the repair to take.

  • the name and address of the nearest approved repair facility.

  • contact information should you have additional questions.

Find out if the recall is covered by the warranty or manufacturer

A lot of people assume that the recall is covered. After all, the manufacturer made the mistake, so shouldn't they pay for the repair or replacement? Timing is a big factor in the answer to that question. As points out, there is a 10-year window for recalls. That means 10 years from the original purchase date of the new car, not 10 years from the day you bought it. So if you bought it used when it was 11 years old, you're not within the recall window.

If you aren't covered, you have to weigh the time and expense of the repair against the seriousness of the issue. For example, if it's a faulty wiper blade motor and it hasn't failed you yet, maybe wait until it starts giving you issues. A recall doesn't mean the part is guaranteed to break.

Make an appointment with an approved garage

If the recall affects only a small percentage of cars, you likely won't have an issue finding an appointment time. In many instances, active recalls are checked when you bring your car in for an oil change or tire rotation, and can often be repaired during that appointment.

However, if it's a large recall, or requires a specific part, call ahead and make an appointment for that specific issue to be repaired. This will give the service manager time to order the parts needed to complete the recall. While the majority of recalls can be dealt with quickly, some can have the local garages backed up for months. Hopefully, you can still drive the car safely until then.

If the car is unsafe to drive, make arrangements until it is repaired

Most of the time, the recall isn't going to make the car undrivable or unsafe. However, if the issue poses a serious risk to you and your family, are you really expected to drive it until the repair can happen? In some instances, the waiting list is long. What do you do for transportation?

In some cases, the auto manufacturer may offer to pay for a rental vehicle to customers affected by the recall. However, this varies from case to case, and in some instances it's possible you will have to cover the cost of a substitute vehicle while your recalled car is waiting for repairs.

Stay vigilant

Drive the car and see if everything feels the same as it did before you took it in to be repaired. If you have issues, or something else has come up that wasn't there before the recall, contact the repair facility and voice your concerns.

Even if everything turns out great, that does not mean you are free and clear forever. There may be other recalls issued during the time you own the car, and you should make a point to check in with the NHTSA periodically to ensure your car is not part of a different recall. Parts fail. Problems happen. Be vigilant.

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Your Car Was Recalled. Now What?

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