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Greg Webb
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How Safe Is Your Car? Steps to Check on Your Vehicle

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Has your car or truck been recalled recently? Are you like some people I know who have recall notices but have failed to take their cars to the dealership? There has been a deluge of GM and other manufacturers’ recalls in the last several months and consumer safety advocates are worried. Has the American public become so used to the talk about recalls that we have failed to pay attention to potentially dangerous or deadly automobile defects.

If you are still driving one of the 2.6 million GM vehicles recalled for faulty ignition switches you should be paying attention. There have been 13 deaths and 54 accidents directly linked to this defect.

Jesse Toprak, an industry analyst with Cars.com, ran auto dealerships in the late 1990’s. His first hand experience is that people do not tend to take auto recalls seriously: “There is a thought that, ‘Manufacturers are being overprotective and there’s nothing wrong with my car’.”

Recalls are rising in numbers in the auto industry as other manufacturers react to the GM debacle and try to avoid similar problems. GM is facing huge fines, lawsuits, and criminal and Congressional investigations because of their lack of timeliness in reporting serious defects.  “The millions of recalls that have been issued this year made the situation worse, and response rates lower. The typical consumer reaction seems to be, ‘My car’s running fine. Do I need to bother?’ says Jack Nerad, veteran of the auto industry and executive market analyst for KBB.com. “The fact is, they should bother, but getting them to grasp that is a bit like trying to push a string.”

Automobile owners should be paying attention to recalls for their cars and checking safety records for used vehicles. You may be buying a vehicle that’s several years old and not under the umbrella of a dealership. Safety issues are rarely disclosed by the seller, individual or business, so the burden is on you as the purchaser to know everything you can about your vehicle.

How to Check on Your Vehicle’s Recall Status

When an automaker discovers an issue with a vehicle it will issue one of two notifications before the level of seriousness rises to a safety recall.


  1. The Consumer satisfaction campaign is used by automakers that want to offer a free fix or extend warranties for a specific issue like defective paint jobs or leaky trunks. It’s more of a courtesy offering—good customer service. They won’t tell you and chances are your dealership, if you bought from a dealer, won’t either. It is up to you to find out. Www.safercar.gov provides that information but you have to search the site to find it.
  2. Technical Service Bulletins are sent to dealers to let them know about potential problems and the recommended ‘fix’. You can find these at www.safercar.gov as well by looking under the Search for Recalls tab. The site allows you to sign up for emails alerts so you can keep up with what’s happening and there is a SaferCar mobile app for iPhone and Android models.  You can use the technical service bulletin to help negotiate free repair work with your dealer. The service bulletins are designed for the dealerships—they are not issued to the consumer and typically are not offering free fixes.
  3. Recalls are issued by the auto manufacturer when an issue is serious enough to result in harm to the vehicle or passengers. These recalls typically include information on the defective part and necessary steps for getting your vehicle serviced. Your dealer will have notice of the recalls and can schedule your vehicle for a service visit to fix the issue or replace the part at no charge. The NHTSA website has a recall page with up-to-date listings of recalls.

It is a good idea to take a few minutes to check SaferCar.gov or NHTSA.gov and review any safety issues concerning your current vehicle.  Safety is never a waste of time.