Every day, people get into their cars with every reasonable expectation that their vehicle is safe to drive. Although there are many things that can compromise a car’s safety without warning, there are also ways to find out if there are specific issues of concern for a particular vehicle. If a problem with a car or one of its parts prompts a recall, owners of that make and model should be notified of the issue so it can be quickly and effectively addressed by the vehicle’s manufacturer. But what happens when car owners never receive notice of a recall on their vehicle?
Car owners who wonder if the car they are driving is under a recall can look into the matter by checking an online database of recall issues that is maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
How Does the NHTSA Tool Tell if a Car is under a Recall?
The NHTSA tool finds safety issues and recalls by using the vehicle identification number (VIN) that is assigned to the car by its manufacturer. This number distinguishes one car from another. Plugging in a car’s unique VIN code into the NHTSA recall tool will pull up any recall or serious safety issues associated with that car.
What Information Does the NHTSA Recall Tool Share?
The NHTSA recall tool provides information on vehicle safety recalls that have been issued in the past 15 years. This includes recalls from manufacturers of light automobiles, motorcycles, and some medium and heavy trucks.
The VIN search tool will not show if a safety recall has been repaired. It will, however, specify if the VIN entered is associated with “0 unrepaired recalls,” if there are no outstanding recalls to be addressed.
The tool will not list any recall campaigns unrelated to safety issues, such as those that may be launched as part of a customer service initiative.
The tool does not list the recall status for international vehicles. Some more obscure vehicle manufacturers may also be left off the site. In those cases, checking directly with the manufacturer is advisable.
In some cases, newly announced recalls may not be uploaded right away. VIN information is constantly being added to the database as it becomes available. Concerned car owners should check back to see if additional VIN information is added to the site.
How Does the NHTSA Compile Recall Information?
The NHTSA is a government-run organization that monitors vehicle and traffic safety issues. The NHTSA performs research and issues safety standards to prevent car accidents, avoid injuries, and save lives. As part of the administration’s efforts, they track complaints reported from the public. People can report issues with any aspect of their vehicle, from tires to electrical issues to any other malfunctioning equipment.
If enough people report the same problem, the administration may decide it is necessary to open an investigation. If the NHTSA determines that an investigation is not warranted, it publishes information regarding that denial in the Federal Register. If an investigation does take place, the administration may not find a safety flaw. If they do identify a safety defect, the administration may make recall recommendations to the vehicle manufacturer.
NHTSA monitors the actions taken by vehicle manufacturers to address recall safety issues, including issuing recall notices to vehicle owners and to the administration itself as well as tracking the completion rate of each recall.
What Role Does the Manufacturer Play in the Recall Process?
With or without the NHTSA’s prompting, a vehicle manufacturer may identify a safety issue with one of its vehicles or a vehicle part. If the problem presents an unreasonable safety risk or fails to meet minimum safety standards, the manufacturer may decide to issue a recall.
Most recalls are voluntarily initiated by manufacturers without input from the NHTSA. However, the NHTSA assists manufacturers in getting the news out about safety issues and recalls. The manufacturer will notify car owners usually by mail with a recall notice. Manufacturers also issue notice to car safety outlets such as the NHTSA as well as national news broadcasts and websites to spread the word.
The manufacturer is required to repair the defect or replace the faulty part. Alternatively, the manufacturer may offer a refund to the customer to remedy the problem. Repurchasing the vehicle is also an option, yet it is unusual for that to happen.
What Happens When Manufacturers Cannot Notify Car Owners?
It often happens that cars change hands or a car owner moves and the manufacturer is unaware of the change. When a recall is issued, it can be impossible for manufacturers to notify every car owner that may be affected.
Announcements are posted online as well, but there is no way to ensure that affected car owners will see them.
One thing to note is that it sometimes a recall affects only specific vehicles within a given model year. This can be confusing for car owners who hear about a recall for the make and model of their car, but do not receive notification of a recall for their vehicle.
What Should a Car Owner Do to Ensure Their Vehicle is Not under a Recall?
Vehicle owners can visit nhtsa.gov/recalls and use NHTSA’s online tool to search for their car’s VIN. If there is any open recall on the vehicle in question, the owner should contact the manufacturer to set up an appointment to get the issue fixed. The manufacturer should also provide the car owner with instructions on what actions to take in the meantime. For many recalls, the vehicle is safe to drive in the time before the repairs are performed, but this is not always the case.
Where can a Car’s VIN be Found?
Car owners can find their car’s VIN code in one of several places. The 17-character code is imprinted on the car itself in several places.
- On the windshield. Someone seated in the driver’s seat should be able to find the code at the bottom left corner of the vehicle’s windshield.
- Inside the driver’s door. In the doorframe on the front driver’s side of the vehicle, a panel should include the VIN code among other vehicle-related information.
- On the car’s registration. The VIN should be listed on the vehicle registration card, which may be kept in a handy spot for easy access while researching with the online recall tool.
- On the car owner’s insurance card. The VIN may be listed on the insurance card that covers the owner of the vehicle. Not all insurance companies include the VIN on their cards, but it is a possibility.
Does the Owner of a Car under Recall Have to Pay for Repairs?
Most recall repairs are free through the manufacturer. Federal law requires that manufacturers address recall issues at no cost to car owners on cars that are up to 15 years old. This is from the time the vehicle was first sold, not model year or manufacture date. Often manufacturers will provide this service for free even on older vehicles.
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