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Dealing with a car recall

By Claes Bell ·
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Posted: 5 pm ET

While combing through the news in the world of cars today, I found out something disturbing: My Mazda may have a genetic defect that could be lethal -- to me. Apparently, 215,000 Mazda 3s and 5s built from 2007 to 2009 have a high-pressure pipe in their power steering system that is prone to rust.

Mazda cars like this one can suddenly lose power steering assist.

Mazda cars like this one can suddenly lose power steering assist.

That rust can make its way into the power steering pump, potentially activating a kill switch that could turn the power steering off "at any time while driving the vehicle," in the words of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In other words, imagine you're driving around a curve in the mountains and the power assist shuts off without warning. Now try not to fly off the road into a ravine.

This defect can be corrected through surgery at the dealership, but still, it would have been nice if the recall had been issued a little sooner. Apparently, this has been a known issue since 2008, but the company is just now starting to get around to issuing a recall and actually offering a fix for the potentially deadly issue.

Putting aside questions about the wisdom and/or ethics of waiting nearly two years to address a problem that could have resulted in a fatal car accident for myself and my loved ones, let's take this opportunity to look at how car owners should handle a recall.

  • If you receive a recall notice from your car manufacturer, resist any urge to ignore it or procrastinate. Right now, I am thinking about the 45 minutes I will have to drive to the nearest Mazda dealership to address the issue, and dreading the inconvenience and time sink that will result. But the recall repair must be done. Car companies do not issue recalls lightly. It costs them millions or even billions of dollars to do so, and you can be sure that if there wasn't a significant risk to your health and safety, they would just let sleeping dogs lie.
  • When you take the car in to get a recall address, keep all the documentation they give you. If you ever want to sell or trade in the vehicle, you will need to be able to prove you had the fix done.
  • Don't take no for an answer. If a recall is issued for your vehicle, you are entitled to at least one free repair for the problem in question, as long as your car is less than 10 years old. That means that if a dealer tries to charge you for getting a recall done, don't pay. Instead, give the NHTSA auto safety hotline a call at (800) 424-9153 or try calling the manufacturer.

Do you have any other tips for dealing with a vehicle recall? Any experiences to share?

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