What are Recalls?
Vehicle recalls occur when the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) or the automobile manufacturer discovers a major safety issue and recalls the vehicle for repair. Recalls may cover cars, trucks, SUVs, vans, busses, commercial vehicles, and even motorcycles.
How Recalls Work
If a car manufacturer or the NHTSA determines that a vehicle has a safety defect or does not meet current safety standards, they will issue a recall. Recalls may include things like tires, airbags, and even child safety seats.
Once a vehicle recall is filed. The NHTSA gives the manufacturer 60 days to notify customers of the recall. They send out a recall notice by first-class mail. The letter will instruct vehicle owners about what to do and how to get the recall fixed. It may also include a time limit to get the recall repaired for free. Vehicle owners can contact their local dealerships to schedule the repair work. When they bring the car in, they need to show the mechanic the notice, and they will receive the repair at no cost.
When contacting the dealership, they will first ask for the customer's VIN. Not all vehicles of a particular make and model will qualify for a recall. Some may be exempt.
Most Common Examples of Recalls
Vehicle recalls do not necessarily pertain to the entire car or truck. Sometimes they refer to faulty equipment or small parts which could cause an accident if they fail during use. Some common examples of recalls are:
- A faulty steering column could lock up and prevent the driver from controlling the car.
- Wiring issue that presents a fire hazard.
- Leaky fuel systems that could start a fire.
- Sticky accelerators that could cause an accident.
- Dangerous airbags that could injure passengers upon impact.
- Car jacks that do not support the weight of the car could collapse, causing injury or death.
- Seat Belts that do not work correctly.
- Headlights that do not properly light the way.
- Faulty windshield wipers that malfunction and could cause injury or an accident.
- Broken cooling fans that could allow parts to overheat and burn out.
- Braking systems that do not stop the vehicle and could cause an accident.
- Other parts of the vehicle that could break, wear unnaturally, or malfunction, causing harm.
The NHTSA classifies recalls into two categories: Safety-Related or Non-Safety-Related. Some examples of non-safety-related recalls might include excessive oil consumption, malfunctioning air-conditioning or radios, poor paint quality, excessive rust, and premature wear and tear.
Keep in mind that some recalls have a time limit of 10-15 years, and if you don't have it repaired within that time frame, you may have to pay for the repair out-of-pocket.
How to Find a Recall
Finding a recall is very easy. Recalls are tied to the VIN. You can visit nhtsa.gov and enter your VIN there for a quick list of open recalls on your vehicle. However, you can also use GoodCar's recall lookup tool to find out about vehicle recalls. To get even more critical information about your car use GoodCar's vehicle history reports which show residual value, accidents, problems, past owners, and more!
According to the NHTSA, vehicle recall searches on their website will not show:
- A vehicle with a repaired safety recall. If your vehicle has no un-repaired recalls, you will see the message: "0 Un-repaired recalls associated with this VIN"
- Manufacturer customer service or other non-safety recall campaign
- International vehicles
- There may be a delay with very recently announced safety recalls for which not all VINs have been identified. VINs are added continuously, so please check regularly.
- Safety recalls that are more than 15 years old (except where a manufacturer offers more coverage)
- Safety recalls conducted by small vehicle manufacturers, including some ultra-luxury brands and specialty applications
Top 10 Recalls of All Time
There have been numerous costly recalls over time. Some of the most infamous vehicle recalls of all time are listed below:
- Ford (1981) - 21 million vehicles - The issue stemmed from a faulty transmission where a driver would put the car in park, and it would shift into reverse, causing more than 6,000 accidents, 1710 injuries, and 98 deaths.
- Ford (1999-2009) - 15 million vehicles - Faulty speed control devices would leak fluid and cause a fire under the hood of the car. This issue forced multiple recalls.
- Toyota (2009-2010) - 9 million vehicles - The Toyota scandal was a big one when faulty gas pedals got stuck accelerating, causing a runaway vehicle situation and danger. At first, Toyota blamed all-weather floor mats but finally recalled the gas pedal assembly to fix all affected vehicles.
- Ford (1996) - 7.9 million vehicles - In this recall, ignition switches were short-circuiting, causing fires in the steering column. Some of these fires started when the cars weren't even in use, in parking lots and people's garages. This recall affected Thunderbird convertibles, F-350 trucks, and many other models.
- General Motors (1971) - 7 million vehicles - A faulty engine mount caused motors to lift and increase the throttle of the engine, jammed accelerators, and loss of power steering and brakes.
- Toyota (2007-2010) - 5.7 million vehicles - This time, Toyota recalled its all-weather floor mats that were getting caught under the accelerator pedal and causing it to become stuck. Eighty-nine people died because of accelerator problems with Toyota vehicles between 2007-1010.
- Honda (1995) - 3.7 million vehicles - The recall was for a defective seat belt buckle that could break, release, or wear abnormally then fail in the event of a collision. It affected the Accord, Prelude, Civic, and even Acura lines. The seat belts were made by Takata Corp. (the infamous manufacturer of defective airbags).
- General Motors (1973) - 3.7 million vehicles - In 1973, GM had to recall almost 4 million cars from their Pontiac, Buick, Chevrolet, and Oldsmobile lines due to stones getting stuck in the engine compartment and affecting the steering. GM recalled the vehicles and installed a gravel shield over the steering column in the engine.
- Volkswagen (1972) - 3.7 million vehicles - Volkswagen issued a recall in 1972 affecting VW vehicles from 1949 to 1969. The issue stemmed from a wiper screw that would come loose, causing unsafe conditions for the driver in rain or snow. The NHTSA received numerous complaints about the issue before a recall was initiated. However, in a statement to the press, Volkswagen determined that it was not a safety issue and vehicle owners should pay for repairs.
- Audi - (1970s - 1980s) - 400,000 vehicles - Although not one of the largest vehicle recalls, many people will remember this one. The cars would suddenly accelerate without warning. Audi processed three massive recalls in 1982, 1983, and 1987, stating they fixed the problem each time, but it continued. Due to the small market share, the number of affected vehicles turned it into a substantial vehicle recall that made headlines numerous times.
What to Do if There is an Open Recall on Your Vehicle
If you check online and find a recall on your vehicle or receive a recall notice in the mail, follow these steps below:
- Contact your local dealership to schedule a repair.
- Do not put it off; act quickly; most recalls are safety related.
- Have your VIN handy; the dealership will ask for it.
- Take your car in when scheduled and get the issue fixed.
- If it is within the allotted time frame, you won't have to pay a dime.
Enjoy peace of mind when you have open recalls fixed. They ensure your safety and that of your passengers.
Frequently Asked Questions About Vehicle Recalls
What Happens with a Vehicle Recall?
A vehicle recall occurs when the auto manufacturer or NHTSA discovers a safety issue with the car and recalls it for repairs. When this happens, customers are notified by mail and can bring their vehicle to a local dealership to have the repair performed at no charge.
What are the Two Types of Vehicle Recalls?
The two types of vehicle recalls are safety-related and non-safety-related. The most common is safety-related, and they are more emergent than non-safety-related.
Is it Okay to Buy a Car with a Recall?
It depends. You can buy a car with an open recall if you plan on having it fixed. However, if the vehicle is old and the recall time window has passed, you may have to pay for the repairs yourself. Driving a car with an open recall could pose danger to yourself and others.
How Long do Recalls Last?
Typically, the NHTSA gives customers between 10-15 years to have a recall processed. After that, you can still bring it in for repairs but will have to pay out-of-pocket.
Where do I Find My VIN to Check for a Recall?
You can find your VIN on the driver-side dash, inside the driver's side door, on the engine block, and sometimes on the vehicle's side panel.
How Can I Report a Safety Issue to the NHTSA?
The NHTSA collects safety issue reports which often result in vehicle recalls. To report a safety issue that you become aware of, visit NHTSA and fill out the online form, or you can call it in at 888-327-4236 Monday-Friday 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.
What is a Car Recall Check?
A car recall check is an online tool where you can find out if your vehicle is subject to a recall and requires repair.
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