How to Know if There’s a Recall on Your Car

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  • A recall on your vehicle is something you need to know about.
  • There's an easy way to determine if there's a lurking problem with your car.
  • The NHTSA has a web-based tool where you can search your car by VIN number to see if there's a recall on it.

It's something you don't want to be in the dark about.

In the context of manufacturing, there's the potential for things to go awry. This holds whether it's household appliances, electronics, or vehicles.

But while you definitely don't want to get stuck with a dishwasher that might leak or a phone whose battery can't hold a charge, a vehicle recall can be a serious thing -- and put your safety at risk. And unfortunately, vehicle recalls aren't at all uncommon.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that car manufacturers issued more than 400 recalls impacting over 25 million U.S. vehicles in 2022. And some vehicles were subject to multiple recalls.

Now often, what'll happen is that you'll get a notice from your vehicle's maker informing you that there's a part or component that's subject to a recall. But that won't always happen, so it's important to do your part to keep tabs on your vehicle. Thankfully, there's an easy way to determine whether a recall is impacting your vehicle or not.

How to look up recall data

As consumers, we all have our own unique identifiers -- namely, our Social Security numbers. That number is something you'll generally need to present every time you apply for a loan or credit card.

There's a similar tracking system for vehicles, and it's called your Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN. You'll need that VIN to determine whether a recall applies to a vehicle you own. And you can usually find it on your car's registration card and/or on your auto insurance card. From there, the NHTSA has a tool you can use to see if your vehicle is subject to a recall.

This tool may have some limitations you should know about. For one thing, if your vehicle maker has only recently announced a recall, it may not show up on the NHTSA's tool right away. Also, the tool will not cover safety recalls that are more than 15 years old unless the manufacturer in question is offering extended coverage in light of them.

Finally, if you own an ultra-luxury vehicle, you may not be able to dig up recall information on the NHTSA's site. But when you're shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new car, the level of customer service is usually such that you'll be informed of a recall by the automaker in question.

What to do if you get a recall notice for your vehicle

Often, you won't need to look up recall information for your vehicle because your manufacturer will reach out to you proactively. When that happens, there will generally be some information on who to call to address the issue at hand.

If you discover a recall independently, call your dealership to set up an appointment to deal with the problem. In some cases, you might only have a limited window of time to get the issue addressed at no cost to you.

You should also know that you won't have to pay for repairs related to a recall if it's been 10 years or less since you bought your car. But even if your car is older, if there's a fix for the recall at hand, it pays to address it. It's never fun to have to pay for car repairs out of pocket. But your safety, and that of the people you drive around, is worth that expense.

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