Driving a car that has been in a car recall without getting the problem fixed can result in serious safety issues as well as lead to unnecessary costs. There were 1.4 million cars for sale with unfixed problems from car recalls last year, according to a new study by CarFax, the vehicle history information provider.

The vast majority of car recalls are considered safety issues and while they range from minor to very serious, all can result in unnecessary out-of-pocket expenses.

A car recall can sometimes affect the mechanics or performance of the car, which would cause the owner to bring the car to a mechanic for repairs. Independent mechanics don’t necessarily check to see if the problem is the result of a car recall. They simply complete the repair as requested, causing unnecessary expense, since car recalls are repaired at any dealership for free as long as the affected car is not more than 10 years old.

Other car recalls can affect the mechanics or performance of other aspects of the car, resulting in additional problems and additional costs beyond the original issue that caused the car recall.

Because recalls are frequently associated with a potential safety issue, an unfixed car recall could result in a car fire or collision, leaving the consumer with additional expenses from a car insurance deductible, loss of use or even buying a new car if the car is a total loss.

The driver’s car insurance rates could also rise if he is considered at fault for the collision, because the driver is considered ultimately responsible for the operation and maintenance of his car. In this instance, a driver may be awarded compensation in a lawsuit if he is injured or he injures others or suffers another type of loss due to the car recall issue.

Fortunately, protecting yourself from unnecessary expenses due to an unfixed recall is easy. First, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires all manufacturers to notify registered owners by mail of any car recalls, using the contact information obtained from each state’s department of motor vehicles. So simply watch your mail and respond promptly to any notices. Keep in mind that if the address is incorrect, or you are the primary driver of the car but not the person it is registered to, you may not be notified.

If you own a used car, check the traffic safety agency’s database periodically for recalls on all the cars in your household or sign up to receive an automated e-mail listing recalls for up to three brands of your choosing as they occur. The e-mail is not model-specific: it will contain recall information for all models within that brand.

Before you buy a used car, check the agency’s database or use the free Recall Check service from CarFax if you know the car’s VIN, or vehicle identification number. Ask the seller for paperwork that shows that the repairs have been completed. In most instances, only dealerships are authorized to complete recall repairs, not independent mechanics, so review the paperwork carefully.

If you pay for a repair that is the result of a car recall, you may be entitled to reimbursement from the automaker, but only if you had the repair performed before the recall was in effect. The requirements for reimbursement differ depending on the automaker, so be prepared to show a detailed receipt, outlining the repair and the costs. Call the automaker’s customer service number found in your owner’s manual to learn the details for reimbursement.

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If you have a car question, e-mail it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories.

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