How To Protect Yourself From Auto Recalls

Posted Friday, Nov 30, 2018

Consumers need to do their part by participating fully in recalls. If you get a notice, take it seriously. Too many car owners don’t respond to them, so the free safety fix is never done. A 2012 NHTSA-sponsored study found that 21 to 25 percent of the problems covered by recall notices between 2006 and 2010 remained unrepaired. Carfax, which tracks used-car vehicle histories, calculated that more than 36 million cars now on the road have uncompleted recall work. In some cases, owners don’t know there’s a problem because they bought their car used and the previous owner didn’t get the work done. Other times, automakers lose track of who owns the car because it has been sold and resold a few times. But a lot of people simply disregard the recall letter, especially if their car doesn’t show signs of the problem described. That’s a mistake, just like ignoring a fire alarm in your building because you can’t smell smoke. “You’ve got to pay attention to all [recalls],” Rosekind says. “A recall means it’s a safety issue. But we’re looking at increasing our communications to help people understand them more clearly. We want them to be safe, but they’ve got to take action as well.” It’s easy to find out whether your car has an unresolved recall repair. With your vehicle identification number (VIN) in hand, go to your automaker’s website or to NHTSA’s site, at safercar.gov; punch in the number; and see whether recall work is pending. (You can find the 17-digit VIN on the car, its registration paperwork, or your insurance card.) Or call any franchised dealer for your brand. More information is at ConsumerReports.org/carrecalls. Second, if you notice that something seems wrong with your vehicle, say something. Get involved. If your car develops a problem that you think could put you or someone else in danger, such as a fuel leak or a serious steering or braking defect that’s not related to wear and tear, report it to the automaker’s customer-service department and NHTSA’s safety hotline (at safercar.gov). Automakers and the government depend on consumer complaints to find out about safety concerns and do something about them. If no one reports a problem, it’s as if it never existed. Of course, you should get your car fixed if it seems unsafe to drive. If the repair is later covered by a recall, you’ll probably be reimbursed for the expense that the dealer charged for the repair. Battling ‘recall fatigue’: One reason consumers don’t respond to recall notices promptly could be that there are so many, an unintended consequence of stepped-up enforcement and automakers’ increased accountability. It’s also a function of their new willingness to address problems in older vehicles, a situation that should calm down in time. In the interim, however, more recalls means more chances for consumers to ignore them, which is happening with rising frequency. “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get customers to come in to get the recalls done,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda. “There is definitely recall fatigue.” Mendel suggests that NHTSA should create different categories of recalls, where truly dangerous defects would be distinguished from problems that could wait until a car owner’s next scheduled service. An alternative is the system used in Japan, where a vehicle’s registration can’t be renewed unless the owner can prove that all recall work was done. Consumer Reports’ auto experts consider those solutions to be compelling, but a key objective remains providing NHTSA with adequate funding to properly protect America’s driving public. Check on recalls for your car with our search tool. And for more about car safety, go to ConsumerReports.org/carsafety. 5 Key Questions About Recalls: 1. How do I find out whether my car has been recalled? Go to your vehicle manufacturer’s website or to safercar.gov, and plug in your vehicle identification number (VIN). 2. How do I find out whether the used car I’m buying was recalled and the problem was fixed? Same as above. 3. Should I worry about my car’s air bags? Any recall should be taken seriously. To get some perspective and learn about the greatest dangers, read “Everything You Need to Know About the Takata Air-Bag Recall.” 4. How do I know whether my recalled car is safe to drive? If your car is unsafe, the recall notice from NHTSA or the manufacturer will say so in clear language. 5. How do I file a complaint? Go to SaferCar.gov.