What You Need to Know (and Do) When Your Car is Recalled

Unfortunately, recalls are a common part of life for many car owners and lessors.  If you have recently received a recall notice via mail or have seen news reports indicating that your car may be part of a call back, you likely have some questions.  It is important to take these notices seriously because they often involve major defects that can pose significant safety hazards for drivers, passengers and anyone else on the road.

Auto manufacturers issue recalls—either voluntarily or upon orders from a government entity—when they become aware of significant vehicle design, production or other defects. Recall notices typically describe the specific defect, the steps the carmaker is taking to address the issue and what owners and lessors should do to get their cars inspected and fixed.

A car manufacturer may issue a voluntary recall in certain situations in which it has become aware of certain defects through its own inspections or from customer complaints.  This is a proactive move that is generally meant to get out in front of the problem and nip it in the bud before the defect causes anyone else to get hurt.

In other situations, however, the federal government forces carmakers to recall vehicles in response to public complaints.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the government agency in the United States that handles recalls.  NHTSA investigates complaints about malfunctioning vehicles and determines whether a recall is necessary.  It also monitors carmakers to ensure that they comply with recall requirements.

What You Need to Know If You Receive a Recall Notice in the Mail

The first thing to do is to read the notice carefully.

The notice should give you a decent sense of the severity of the problem and how soon you should get it checked out.  If you receive a notice that your car is potentially equipped with one of those malfunctioning Takata airbags that is known for exploding unexpectedly and has been blamed for a handful of deaths, for instance, you probably want to get that looked at immediately.

A recall notice should also tell car owners and lessors what steps they need to take to address the problem.  That usually entails taking the car to a local dealer for inspection and possible maintenance.  The car manufacturer is required to foot the bill for inspections and maintenance in mandatory recalls.  In some cases, however, the carmaker may not yet know how to fix the problem.  The company should tell owners and lessors whether or not vehicles are safe to drive in the meantime.

What If You Do Not Receive a Notice?

Car owners and lessors who believe their vehicles may be subject to a recall can find out by searching NHTSA’s recall database.  The website is searchable by Vehicle Identification Number, as well as model type.

The NHTSA site may have information about certain defects before a recall has started or notices have been mailed.  That includes defect notices filed by carmakers to notify the agency of a possible problem.  If you are having trouble with your car, it is often worthwhile to check the NHTSA website to see if the manufacturer or other drivers have noticed similar issues.

In addition to recall requirements, many car owners and lessors are also protected under various state lemon laws.  These laws generally require carmakers to fix problems with their vehicles while they are under warranty and to repurchase the vehicle if repair efforts are not successful.  Speak with a knowledgeable lemon law attorney as soon as possible if you believe you’ve purchased a lemon vehicle.

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