Auto Recalls

Dealing with Auto Recalls

Ever since consumer advocate Ralph Nader brought to our attention the potential problems with Chevy Corsairs in the 1960s, American automobile manufacturers have taken great pains to make sure their cars are safe. They've responded with seat belts, airbags, reasonable designs, and have even gone so far as to announce auto recalls (with a little government prodding) whenever they discover that something's wrong with a car design after the car has been widely sold. Indeed, there are few car models today that haven't been subject to one or more auto recalls during their use-lives. While some recalls are widely advertised, some aren't -- if you want to keep track of all the recalls for your car, you'll have to hunt for them.

Sources, sources

Not all auto recalls are safety-related; sometimes they're for items that are prone to break but aren't dangerous -- for example, the car's fuse box cover. You may not give a flip about that, but you should make some effort to keep track of the various safety-related auto recalls, just in case something serious pops up. One great source of information is the magazine Consumer Reports, which has been providing information on all types of safety recalls for over 20 years. The government also offers a list of all auto recalls at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov. This site updates their recalls on a monthly basis, and it's easy to search for a particular auto make and model, whether you've got a Bentley or a Ford.

Dealing with recalls

In the United States, safety-related auto recalls are handled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Often, problems come to the agency's attention when consumers file complaints; if enough complaints are received, the NHTSA begins an investigation. If the NHTSA finds that a manufacturer is responsible for a particular mechanical or safety fault, it issues a recall, and the manufacturer is required to send out official notices to all individuals who have purchased the defective cars. They are then obliged to fix the problem at no cost to the consumer, as long as the car is younger than eight years old.

Realize that recalls don't get off the ground overnight. The manufacturers are given a reasonable amount of time to send out notices, so that they can isolate the cause of the problem and figure out how to fix it. Then they have to make sure that all the dealerships have the parts they need. If you receive notice that your car has been recalled, or otherwise discover this is the case while perusing the abovementioned recall sources, you should be able to take the car into the dealership to be repaired. A word of caution here: usually, the recall applies to a limited number of a particular make, model, and year of an automobile, and your car may or may not be one of them. Check the recall notice carefully, and if necessary gather information such as your car's Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), place of manufacture, and the like before taking your car in to be repaired. Just as importantly, call and make an appointment before you take it in -- even though the dealership has to fix it, they won't be too happy if you show up unannounced.

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