Automotive recalls happen far more often than you might think. Big ones, like the seemingly endless Takata airbag recall and Volkswagen’s Dieselgate fiasco tend to make national news headlines. But the truth is, vehicle recall notices are issued all the time for all kinds of safety concerns, from the major to the very minor. It doesn’t matter if you bought your vehicle new or used, or if you bought it recently or have owned it for years — if there’s an open recall on your car, truck or SUV, you’re entitled to a repair.
Automakers are required by law to send out recall alerts to owners, including via mail, email and sometimes over the phone, but these notices can be pretty easy to miss. Thankfully, keeping tabs on open recalls is actually a very simple process.
Here’s how to find out if your specific car, truck or SUV is under recall and what to do about it.
1. Locate your VIN
Your unique 17-character vehicle identification number, or VIN, can be found in a number of places on your vehicle. Think of it like your vehicle’s serial number. By law, every vehicle built since 1981 has its VIN printed behind the lower driver’s side corner of the windshield, as pictured above. You can also find your VIN on your vehicle registration or insurance card, or on a placard on the driver’s door jamb.
If you prefer to avoid typing out all those letters and numbers, there are a number of third-party apps available for both iOS and Android that can use your smart phone to scan your vehicle’s bar code (often located on the windshield or in a door jamb) that can automatically scan for recall information. Many of these apps will also tell you all about your particular vehicle’s specifications and maintenance history.
2. Check NHTSA’s database
The US government works with automakers to report, track and share recalls through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Your first step is to check out the federal agency’s recall page, at nhtsa.gov/recalls and enter your VIN. If nothing comes up, you’re golden. If any open recalls do populate, move on to our third and final step.
You can also use NHTSA’s site to check on vehicle-related products, including as car seats, tires or auxiliary equipment, as well as recalls for motorcycles and motorhomes.
Many automakers have their own recall portals online and toll-free numbers, as well.
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3. Schedule service with your dealer
Recall work can be performed at your local dealership, simply by scheduling an appointment. Some recalls are more urgent than others, but regardless, you shouldn’t wait to have this important work completed. In some cases, the dealer can even arrange to have your vehicle towed if the matter is particularly serious. No matter the type or extent of the recall, all repair work is completed at no cost to you, the owner.
For even more peace of mind, you can receive recall email alerts from NHTSA, by signing up at nhtsa.gov/alerts.