Does it seem to you that the news announces another car recall just about every other day? Or perhaps you’re confident in your own vehicle’s super sturdiness and disregard any whisper of recalls altogether. Whether car recalls have been on your radar before or not, you need to know what to expect if your car — or a part of it — is recalled.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) explains that recalls are issued when a vehicle, equipment, or tire is deemed unsafe either because of a defect or because it doesn’t meet federal safety standards. If a recall is issued, the manufacturer is required to fix the problem and offer refunds if necessary. In some cases, the manufacturer must buy the vehicle back from the owner.
Recalls aren’t only important for the owners and passengers in the problem vehicle (though they are of course the primary concern)—recalls are also crucial for maintaining overall safety for all drivers on the road.
1. 2016 Recalls in the News and What to Make of Them
Recalls actually happen fairly frequently, so drivers should never think they are exempt. From Esurance: “The NHTSA asserts that since 1966, manufacturers have recalled more than 390 million vehicles, 46 million tires, 66 million pieces of motor vehicle equipment, and 42 million child safety seats in order to correct safety defects.”
While most recalls affect only one vehicle make and model, some have far-reaching impact throughout a significant segment of the auto industry. Take the Takata airbag recall, for example, which has been called “the recall of the century” and is now said to impact as many as one in every 10 vehicles. For dozens of auto manufacturers throughout the world, Takata supplies airbags, but these safety features have recently been said to deploy inaccurately in the event of a crash, sending shrapnel into the vehicle. Over the past three years, Takata has been steadily expanding its airbag recall, and now millions of vehicles across dozens of auto manufacturers have been recalled to replace those airbags. Honda has recalled over 8.5 million cars, Dodge/Ram over 5.5 million, Toyota nearly 3 million, and millions more across other major brands. For regularly updated info about how this massive recall has impacted the auto industry, see here.
Other early 2016 car recalls include:
- Toyota is recalling nearly three million SUVs due to potentially faulty seat belts, reports USA Today.
- General Motors is recalling nearly half a million trucks and SUVs in the U.S. and Canada due to brake pedals that may loosen and fail to work properly, reports the Associated Press.
- According to The New York Times, “automakers including Honda and Fiat Chrysler will recall about five million vehicles worldwide to fix a defect in an airbag component” and Mazda and Volvo may soon do the same.
2. Voluntary Recall vs. Government-Mandated Recall – What’s the Difference?
There are two types of recalls: either a government agency (the NHTSA) discovers a problem and compels manufacturers to recall the vehicle, equipment, or tires, or manufacturers issue voluntary recalls themselves. Edmunds.com notes that while most recalls are voluntary, they usually come about because of NHTSA investigations.
Most recalls are discovered from owners’ reports to the NHTSA. Car owners can report any problems they discover and the NHTSA investigates them all. There’s no “complaint minimum” that must be met before a recall is issued; if a reported problem is found to have merit, a recall investigation begins.
If you have a safety concern about your vehicle, you can report it to Safercar.gov.
3. How to Get Info on Your Own Car
Owners of properly registered vehicles will be notified by mail of recalls related to the vehicle, equipment, or tires. You can also search for recalls by make and model at recalls.gov. For recall notifications about your specific vehicle, go to Safercar.gov. You’ll need your VIN for this search.
Keep in mind: just because your vehicle doesn’t have an open recall now doesn’t mean one won’t happen in the future, even for cars that are a few years old.
4. How Recalls Affect Insurance Rates (Hint: Not Much)
Surprisingly, there are only a few instances when a recall will affect your auto insurance rates.
In the event of a recall, the manufacturer is responsible for all repairs, not your insurer. You don’t make a claim when a recall is issued; instead you make an appointment with the dealership and they take care of the repairs. Then, once the problem that instigated the recall is addressed, your car will be back to its normal condition, so your insurer should have no reason to increase your rate. The one caveat is that manufacturers aren’t always required to pay for recall repairs in cars over 10 years old.
It’s a good idea to submit all recall and repair paperwork to your insurer, though, because some recalls can affect vehicles’ safety ratings. People who don’t comply with recall repairs might therefore have cars with lower safety ratings than those who had all necessary repairs made, even if it’s the same exact vehicle. And as we covered in Quoted, lower safety ratings can mean higher insurance rates.
Plus, if you ignore a recall, you could be on the hook for higher insurance rates and all repair costs in the event of a crash. Esurance reports that “not fixing the faulty part means you’re driving around with a defective and possibly dangerous component.” If that component fails, it could cause you to crash, and your insurer could deny your claim based on negligence. Your post-crash insurance rates would then almost certainly increase.
A little saving grace: if you genuinely miss a recall and have a crash or other car trouble because of it, you still have a few options: you can call a lawyer, your state attorney general, or your local district attorney’s office to understand your legal options, according to Esurance.
5. Be Wary of the “Used Car Loophole”
Used cars and their relationship to recalls has been a recent topic of legislative debate. Auto dealers are not currently required to make repairs to recalled vehicles or equipment before selling them. However, many believe this “used car loophole” will soon tighten.
In December, Autonews reports, lobbyists for auto dealers were able to keep a ban on selling used cars with open (and unrepaired) safety recalls off a highway bill President Obama signed. The bill did, however, put an end to rental car agencies loaning vehicles with open recalls. Despite the legislative failure, government and industry agents are working to close the loophole on used cars. The NHTSA vowed to fight to end the sale of any vehicle with an unfixed safety recall.
Before you buy a used car, it’s a good idea search for open recalls on the vehicle and ask the seller for proof that repairs were made — but keep in mind, sellers don’t have to offer recall information to you before purchase, so buyer beware.
If you buy a used car with an open recall that needs repairs, you can usually take it to the franchised dealer to have the problem fixed.
If your vehicle is the subject of a recall, you can bet it’s serious. Don’t delay repairs or fixes—it won’t cost you anything, and while repairs might be an inconvenience, recalls aren’t suggestions, so don’t take them lightly.