My Car Was Recalled. What Do I Do Now?

A person drives their car in traffic.
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For two months, Timothy Moore couldn’t drive with a passenger in the front seat of his Toyota Yaris.

He was forced to awkwardly ask his passengers to climb into the back seat of the tiny vehicle to prevent any potential injuries due to the Takata airbag recall.

Takata has faced backlash for its dangerous products since 2013, when multiple automakers discovered that the airbags would explode and spray metal pieces within the vehicles.

Moore’s personal experience with the Takata airbag recall left him extremely frustrated during the four years he owned his Toyota Yaris.

As an editor in the automotive world, Moore discovered the airbag recall two months before Toyota ever contacted him by standard mail. He was upset by the lack of immediate resolution for the recall, as well as other various recalls on his vehicle.

Most individuals don’t do additional research after they’ve already purchased a vehicle, so how are you supposed to know if your car has a recall and what are you supposed to do about it?  

How Do I Know if My Car Has a Recall?

Automotive recalls typically stem from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigations that follow complaints from vehicle owners. In some cases, though, manufacturers take it into their own hands to issue recalls. Regardless of how the recall becomes official, the NHTSA requires automakers to notify vehicle owners of any open recalls via first-class mail within 60 days of the final recall decision.

In 2014, the NHTSA mandated all pieces of mail regarding recalls must have distinctive labeling to avoid being interpreted as junk mail. This includes official markings from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the NHTSA, as well as a red banner across the top with “Important Safety Recall Information” in all caps.

For those who wish to receive recall information digitally, the NHTSA created the SafeCar app for iOS and Android devices.

If you are unsure if your vehicle has an active recall, you can also manually check for one on the NHTSA website. All you’ll need is your vehicle identification number, which is usually on the lower portion of the windshield on the driver’s side of the vehicle.

Recalls Versus Technical Service Bulletins

There is only one formal type of recall, and that is a safety recall..

One of the most notorious and widespread recalls as of late is on vehicles with exploding Takata airbags. This massive recall has affected over 100 million vehicles from 19 automakers, and caused at least 17 deaths and over 180 injuries.

While not every recall is as drastic as this one, it is still incredibly important to quickly take care of a recall on your vehicle.

Technical service bulletins are sometimes mistaken for recalls, but they generally cover non-safety-related issues that affect the normal performance of a vehicle. Things like poor radio reception, rattling interior trim or ignition misfire could all fall under the TSB classification. .

Unlike recalls, manufacturers handle TSBs internally and distribute notifications to dealership technicians. Generally, manufacturers only make TSB-related repairs when they are the direct cause of an issue an owner has with a vehicle, and the repairs are generally made at no cost only if the vehicle is still under warranty.

Another key difference between a TSB and a recall is that manufacturers typically don’t send TSB notices to vehicle owners.

I Need to Rent a Vehicle. How Do I Know it’s Safe?

Until 2016, it was completely legal for a company to allow customers to rent a vehicle with unresolved recalls.

Federal law now prohibits these companies renting these unsafe vehicles, but the law only applies to companies with more than 35 cars in their fleet. If you’re concerned about renting a car with unresolved recalls, you may prefer to rent from a larger company like Enterprise or Hertz.

My Car Has a Recall. Now What?

When the NHTSA issues a recall, the automaker must remedy the problem by repairing or replacing the vehicle. In rare instances, the manufacturer may offer a refund or to repurchase the vehicle.

Your first step is to contact your local dealership to let them know your vehicle has a recall.

Set up an appointment to get the recall verified and repaired. The repair is typically free at the dealership, unless your vehicle is more than 15 years old when the recall is announced.

If the recalled component caused damage to your vehicle that you paid to repair, you may be reimbursed.

Federal law does not require the automaker to cover the costs, but having the receipts from previous services will help determine how much you are owed if the automaker does compensate you.

In January 2017, Moore finally decided to trade in his faulty Yaris for a Subaru Crosstrek. This purchase came sooner than had planned, but the recall, which he did not have remedied before trading the vehicle in, forced his hand a bit.

Morgan Pritchett has been working in the auto industry for four years and recently purchased an electric blue Toyota RAV4 named Rico.