What to do if your
car is recalled
The National Highway
Transportation Safety Administration says that about 72 percent
of recalled vehicles are ultimately repaired. That means nearly
one-third of owners of eligible vehicles never bother to respond
to a recall notice, even when it's a potentially serious safety
concern and the repair won't cost the owner a dime.
In case your auto is recalled, here's a look at the
process and how you can get it repaired with the least amount of
When an automotive company launches a recall, it buys
a list of registered owners from each state's department of motor
vehicles and mails out the notices. Notices relating to safety concerns
say so clearly in big black letters. Problems that are not safety
related, such as lousy radios or paint that peels, are sometimes
the subject of recalls, as well, but the notice won't mention safety.
When you get the notice, take your eligible vehicle
to any dealership selling your brand. It doesn't have to be the
dealership where you bought the car, truck or motorcycle. Dealerships
are required by law and by their contracts with automakers to make
the recall repairs at no charge to owners. Recall notices don't
expire as long as the vehicle is less than 10 years old.
The manufacturer pays dealers for making the repairs.
The manufacturer can refuse to reimburse a local garage, so stick
with dealerships. If you take your vehicle to a dealership and
its management refuses to make the repair or wants to tack on
an additional fee, contact the manufacturer making the recall
and complain. You'll find contact information on the notice. Also,
get a second opinion on costly repairs that the dealer suggests
in concert with the recall repair; these repairs aren't covered.
If you had the repair made up to a year before the
recall, the automaker is required to reimburse you as long as
a dealership made the repair. Automakers can deny the claim if
the repair was made at a local garage or if you made the repair
yourself. This is a good reason to save all repair receipts. Down
the road, any repair might be part of a recall and you'll need
the receipt to claim your refund.
Before a dealership sells a used car, truck or motorcycle,
it is required to make any unmade recall repairs. If you buy a
used vehicle from a private owner, check yourself to see if there
are recall repairs that should have been made on the car. You
can do that by searching NHTSA's
database for recalls on your model. If the repairs were made,
there should be a sticker on the inside frame of the door. If
there's nothing there, chances are they weren't.
NHTSA identifies problems and initiates recalls
as a result of consumer complaints (as well as reports from manufacturers).
If you own a car that has a problem you think should be evaluated
as a potential recall issue, you can call NHTSA's toll-free hotline
at 1-888-327-4236 or fill out a vehicle owner's questionnaire by
downloading it from the agency's Web
site (select "Complaint Form" from the index). You
also can search the consumer-complaint database to see if there
are other owners who have had the same problem.
Jennie L. Phipps is a contributing
editor based in Michigan.
-- Posted: Feb. 15, 2005