What should you do if your vehicle is recalled?
It’s not uncommon for drivers to put off routine maintenance issues until the last minute.
But it’s never a good idea, automotive experts say, to put off a safety recall. Your life could depend on it.
“They fall into a safety category for a reason,” said Pete Plagman, service director at highly rated Jim Keim Ford in Columbus, Ohio. “You do need to get the vehicle taken care of right away for your safety.”
Different types of recalls
Recalls are common; there’s a good chance that you or a family member will be issued one for a vehicle at some point. For example, in July 2013 alone, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration listed 25 recalls for vehicles or equipment that didn’t comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
Recalls are broken down into various categories, with safety recalls being the most important. Non-safety related recalls are for faulty radios or air conditioners, or rust issues, for example.
“We’ve had safety recalls for air bags that did not deploy, which in a car accident is a pretty big deal,” said Jason Turrell, assistant service manager at highly rated Diehl Ford in Bellingham, Wash. “We’ve also had recalls for brake fluid leaks and one for fires under the hood.”
Some other serious safety recalls could include tires that crack or break, wiring system problems and faults with fuel system and steering components. One of the biggest recalls in recent history occurred in 2009 and 2010 when various models of Toyota had issues with sudden acceleration, resulting in the recall of millions of vehicles.
The manufacturer's responsibility
Manufacturers must inform the NHTSA of any problems that result in a recall; in some cases the federal government agency will investigate vehicles on its own. Aside from notifying the NHTSA, manufacturers are also required to notify vehicle or equipment owners, dealers and distributors of any recall. The manufacturer is then required to fix the problem at no cost to the owner.
“Everybody is so concerned with lawsuits, that manufacturers are being pretty proactive about it,” Turrell said. “Ten to 15 years ago, it was a big deal. Now they’re trying to get ahead of any problems.”
Dealerships that sell the brand or make of car under recall will be available to do the repair. The manufacturer should notify you of dealerships in your area that will do the work.
Don't ignore a recall
For unknown reasons, many people turn a blind eye to recalls.
“A lot of people see it and think it’s junk mail,” Turrell said. “A lot of people think it’s a huge inconvenience. It’s amazing how many cars come in for oil changes and we’ll see there is an open recall from 2002.”
For safety-related recalls, there is no expiration to get the work done – even if you wait several years. However, on non-safety issues, there often can be an expiration date for the work to be completed at no cost. Most recall work can generally be taken care of in a day, Plagman said.
“We had a case once where a driver ignored a recall for a brake fluid leak that wasn’t considered a safety recall for three or four years,” Plagman said. “It caused significant damage to other areas of the car. The manufacturer didn’t pay for it. They had sent seven letters to the driver over a three-year period.”
Since the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard was put in place in 1966, over 400 million vehicles have been recalled.
If your vehicle has a recall notice, you will receive a letter in the mail explaining what the defect is, what could have caused it, how the problem should be fixed and the next step in the process.
“If you’re the second or third owner of the car, it may take a while for the mail to catch up to you,” Plagman said. “If you think there may be a recall, you can look online or call your local dealership.”
Just like with any automotive repair, look for a reputable dealership – one with high ratings – to perform the work. To check if your vehicle has an active recall, go the NHTSA Web site at www.nhsta.gov.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in August 2013.