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How To Know If Your Car Or Its Parts Are Recalled

By Aaron Crowe

Like regular maintenance of oil changes, tire rotations and coolant changes, checking for recall notices for your car and its parts is becoming a normal responsibility of car ownership.

Auto part recalls seem to constantly be in the news — General Motors is the latest with 2.6 million small cars recalled to fix faulty ignition switches, and 3.4 million large cars recalled for a similar problem.

Automakers and dealers send recall notices to owners, but owners can move and not get the notices, or used car buyers can be left out of the notification loop, among other reasons for not knowing if your car has recalled parts.

“People often think it’s the previous owner’s or dealership’s responsibility to ensure that vehicle recalls have been completed, but that’s simply not the case,” says Andrew Bradway, head auto warranty administrator at DriveTime Automotive Group, a used car dealer and financing company. “It’s up to you, the potential car buyer or car owner to keep track of recalls and get them serviced.”

Auto dealers don’t have a legal responsibility to alert customers to recalls, Bradway says. California legislators, however, are considering a bill that would require dealerships but not private party owners to repair recalled vehicles before sale.

Bradway has a simple solution: “Make it part of your regular maintenance schedule and don’t ever rely on the manufacturer to notify you of an issue,” he says. He sets up a reminder on his calendar every six months to check online for recalls, then calls his dealership to see when he can bring his car in to get it fixed.

Recall repairs must be paid for by the manufacturer under federal law.

Where to check for recalls

Checking for a recall is easy, with a few sites offering searches for your car’s model year, make and model to see the recalls, complaints and investigations for your car. Checking can be as easy as setting a Google alert for your car with the word “recall.” Here are some websites to check:

Safercar.gov. This site provides access to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, database of safety issues for vehicles, child restraints, tires and equipment. You can search by vehicle model year and make, and learn about investigations and safety recalls to your heart’s content.

NHTSA.gov. The general website has all kinds of information about highway safety, but if you dig deeper and find the section on recalls and defects, you’ll find a list of the latest recalls. This area also links to the recall search site listed at Safercar.gov that’s set up by the NHTSA. Complaints can also be made at the NHTSA website.

Recalls.gov. This is an online resource for all sorts of recalls from six government agencies, including the NHTSA, Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard. If you’re wondering if your boat, car, food, medicine or other consumer products are recalled, this is a good place to start.

Who decides if a car is recalled

A voluntary recall by a manufacturer is the most likely reason for a recall. This can help avoid lawsuits by getting a problem fixed faster. The NHTSA, however, can issue recalls for safety problems if manufacturers don’t voluntarily initiate a recall.

The federal government is more likely to issue safety recalls for older vehicles, since used car owners are more likely to report problems to the NHTSA than to dealers who they may have not bought the car from.

Look for technical service bulletins

Another thing to keep an eye out for is a technical service bulletin, or TSB, for your car. These are used by automakers to inform dealers about issues that can emerge after a car leaves the factory, and can alert you to a potential problem years before a recall is issued.

The bulletins aren’t recalls and focus on nonsafety-related defects that could affect a car’s performance or longevity, such as parts failing early or not working like they should. GM, for example, alerted dealers in a TSB in 2005 to a potential ignition switch problem that is now a major problem for the automaker.

But not every car experiences problems related in its TSBs. The problem may only show up in a portion of the production run, or under certain conditions. Some manufacturers may extend warranty coverage for a specific issue, though TSBs don’t entitle customers to free repairs.

To check for TSBs for your car or a car you’re considering buying, check Safercar.gov under the “Service Bulletins” tab, or ask your dealer for bulletins for your car.

Another good source of information is car enthusiast forums where drivers and even vehicle technicians at the dealerships will post information about TSBs, says Kristofer Kirchen, president of First Florida Insurance Network of Central Florida. Or do a Google search for your vehicle and “TSB,” Kirchen recommends.

Doing all of this, of course, can be a lot of work. But a calendar reminder or online search reminder shouldn’t take too much effort, and will probably take a lot less time than taking your car in for an oil change.

Aaron Crowe is a writer who covers the auto industry for CheapCarInsurance.net.