Contact your manufacturer or service center right away and follow our expert's advice.

By Samantha Hunter
June 26, 2020
Kentaroo Tryman / Getty Images

Last year, a report by the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that Americans collectively logged 70 billion hours behind the wheel, driving up to 11,498 miles each year. That's a lot of time spent on the road. So, needless to say, it's important that you maintain the safety of your vehicle at all times, and doing so includes staying on top of any recalls. "As the name implies, 'vehicle safety recall' indicates that a vehicle system or component that impacts safe operation of the car may be faulty and needs to be at a minimum inspected, and potentially repaired," says David Bennett, manager of repair systems for AAA. "By delaying the inspection and/or repair, the owner of the car is taking a chance that the vehicle will not continue to operate normally. This is especially important in the case of those recalls that are more severe and could potentially lead to a crash if the safety system were to fail."

Coincidentally, the organization released a statement in response to the unprecedented surge in vehicle recalls—a record 74.2 million to be exact according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). "AAA believes that the safety of motorists should be a top consideration in the handling of consumer recalls, and urges federal regulators and the automotive industry to review recall procedures and requirements to ensure that they are designed to best protect motorists," said Bob Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA. "Delays in vehicle recalls erode motorists' confidence in the national recall system and confidence in the cars they drive."

This statement begs the question: What is the national recall system, and how does it operate? To answer these important queries, we went to the experts for answers. According to information provided by the NHTSA, a recall is issued when a manufacturer or the NHTSA itself determines that a vehicle, equipment, car seat, or tire fails to meet minimum safety standards. Most decisions to conduct a recall and remedy a safety defect are made voluntarily by manufacturers prior to any involvement by NHTSA. If you're unsure of what to do if your car is part of a recall, we've laid it out for you here.

Have your car serviced regularly.

Individual consumer complaints are what initiate and fuel recalls, so if you notice that something in or about your car is malfunctioning (this includes problems with your vehicle, its equipment, car seats, or tires) it is important to report this information to the NHTSA. All complaints are compiled in a database, and if several complaints are made about the same product or feature then an investigation is opened. Some investigations ultimately lead to recalls. "Vehicle manufacturers are required to notify vehicle owners when a safety recall is announced," Bennett explains. "This can be difficult in cases where a vehicle has been sold—once or multiple times—and manufacturer records have not been updated accordingly. AAA recommends that each time a consumer has their vehicle serviced; they ask their repair facility to check for any safety recalls."

Report any safety issues and fill out an intake form.

To find out if your vehicle is affected by an open recall, you can visit the NHTSA website and enter your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). This unique 17-digit identification can be located in the lower left corner of your car's windshield or on your car's registration card. If your car is indeed part of a recall, you will be directed to specific information concerning that particular recall as provided by the manufacturer. You can also call the vehicle safety hotline (toll-free: 1-888-327-4236) and complete their brief five-step intake form.

Contact the manufacturer.

It should be noted that the NHTSA VIN search tool does have some limitations and will not pull up recall information for recalls 15 years or older (unless the manufacturer has implemented extended coverage), international vehicles, or luxury vehicle manufacturers. Should you discover that your vehicle is part of an active recall, contact your nearest manufacturer repair center to schedule your appointment for a free repair service. At any time, vehicle owners can check for a recall, including sign up for email alerts so that you receive immediate notice if your vehicle is under recall in the future.

Follow these steps to ensure that you stay on top of any car recalls and you'll be doing your part to ensure that our roads remain safe with properly functioning vehicles.


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