Automobile Recalls: How to Keep Your Family Safe

Automobile recalls serve a vital purpose: they help us keep our families safe by alerting us to problems with our vehicles – problems that if not addressed can result in serious injury or death.

You’ve probably heard about recalls in the news. One of the most notorious vehicle recalls started in 2009, when Toyota issued a recall for four million vehicles thanks to accelerator pedals with a dangerous tendency to stick. At least one high-profile accident caused by the defect resulted in the deaths of four passengers.

In another major recall, from 1996 to 2010, Ford was forced to recall a whopping 14 million vehicles at a cost of $280 million in replacement parts alone because a faulty electronic switch in the cruise control could overheat and start a fire.

Automobile defects are dangerous, so it’s important for you to be aware of any recall notices regarding your vehicle.

Here are ways you can stay ahead of the game and be alerted to any defect that poses a threat.


Have you ever wondered if there’s something on your vehicle that is subject to a recall? One of the best ways to find out is from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA recall website is This site features a recall look-up that allows you to search for recalls by your vehicle identification number (VIN).

All you have to do is enter your VIN, and you’ll find out every safety recall on your vehicle over the past 15 years and whether your specific vehicle has been repaired as a result of a recall. It’s a great tool and something all drivers should refer to every so often to keep their families safe.

If you don’t have the VIN handy, you can also use the Consumer Reports recall search tool. While this search tool doesn’t inform you as to whether your vehicle has been repaired as a result of a recall, it will tell you whether your vehicle type was subject to any recalls based on the year, make, and model of your vehicle. The Consumer Reports site also hosts a summary of the latest recalls, so you can scroll through to see if your vehicle is listed.


Many accidents on the road happen because of tire failure. Some of these are just due to wear and tear, but accidents also happen because the tire itself is defective or unsafe.

The U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association provides a tool that allows you to search for tire recalls. Every tire sold in the U.S. comes with what is called a tire identification number (TIN). This is typically located on the tire’s sidewall and starts with “DOT”.

All you have to do is enter the TIN for each tire into the search tool and you’ll learn if they are subject to a safety recall.


The NHTSA estimates that 25% of all recalled vehicles never actually get fixed. You want to find out whether a recall applies to your vehicle so you are in the safe 75%. According to Rosemary Shahan, the president of the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, “Not getting it repaired can mean you are driving a ticking time bomb.”

The first step is to call a local dealership. It doesn’t have to be the dealership that sold you the car, just a dealership that sells your vehicle brand. They’ll set up an appointment, evaluate the problem, and tell you what they’ll do to your car to address the recall and fix the problem.

By law, recall repairs are free of charge. However, if there are any additional repairs that you agree to that are outside the scope of the recall notice, you’ll have to pay for those repairs. If you have any doubts about what might be covered by the recall notice, contact the manufacturer or get the dealership’s suggested changes in writing.

Be careful when buying used cars. Check a vehicle’s recall status using the tools listed above. Note that an independent dealer or an individual does not have to make recall repairs before they sell you the used car. Plus, a dealership doesn’t have to make repairs for any used cars they sell that aren’t a part of its “brand.” For example, a Ford dealership can sell you a used Dodge truck without making recall repairs.

Make it a habit to check recall notices, and keep your family safe on the road.

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