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How Do I Find Out About Vehicle Recalls?

Aug. 30, 2021
6 mins
A business woman drives her car

It’s one of those calls you would prefer not to get: There’s something wrong with your vehicle, and the manufacturer needs you to bring it in for a repair.

Millions of automobiles are subject to safety recalls every year, but often it’s only a minor repair at no cost to you.

Drivers should always take vehicle recalls seriously and follow the guidance promptly for their safety and others on the road. After all, a vehicle recall could be due to a potentially dangerous issue.

Why vehicles get recalled

Several factors drive vehicle recalls. Suppose there’s a consistent problem with a specific make of car or truck. In that case, complaints from multiple sources, including individual vehicle owners, government agencies, consumer protection groups, police and lawyers, can add up. Transport Canada screens all these complaints, which will prompt the vehicle manufacturer to take the proper investigative steps and run tests to confirm the problem and determine the fix.

From there, a recall notice goes out to inform vehicle owners of the defect and what they must do. The necessary repairs are usually free of charge and carried out by an authorized dealer or shop. While some recalls can mean you’re separated from your vehicle for a short time, most are straightforward.

Serious defects might include airbags that don’t deploy when they should or deploy when they shouldn’t. It could be faulty ignition switches that can turn off the vehicle’s engine, causing sudden power loss, preventing airbags from functioning in a collision, or safety belts and child safety restraints that fail.

Other defects that might prompt a recall usually involve malfunctioning features, such as a faulty lock on the glove compartment or the sunroof not opening properly. While these issues are not about safety, they are issues nonetheless. In Canada, it could be a simple oversight that initiates a recall, such as a lack of warning labels in both official languages. No matter how minor the problem, it’s wise to get the issue fixed as soon as possible whenever a recall is issued.

How you are notified of a vehicle safety recall

Major recalls tend to make the news. Regardless of the magnitude of the problem, vehicle manufacturers are required to send out recall notices to each car owner. However, if they don’t have your current contact information or you are the second owner of the vehicle, you may not get notified.

If you suspect that your vehicle is the subject of a recall, you can check the manufacturer’s website or social media feed. Depending on the nature of the problem, some automakers might only send out the notice via technical service bulletins to dealership service departments to check for and fix a particular issue the next time you bring a vehicle in for a regular service or repair.

The Government of Canada also posts a wide range of recall notices online, including vehicles and children’s car seats. Transport Canada’s Recalls and Safety Alerts mobile app provides real-time notification of vehicle recalls. Its Motor Vehicle Safety Recalls Database also tracks vehicles or tires subject to a recall.

What to do if you receive a vehicle recall notice

No matter how trivial the problem, be sure to follow the instructions in the notice from your vehicle manufacturer. If the next steps aren’t clear, get in touch with the manufacturer via phone or online. If the notification states your vehicle is unsafe to drive, keep it off the road until repairs are made.

Don’t wait for formal notice, either. If you suspect your vehicle may be subject to recall or is unsafe to drive, find out for sure. As a rule, it’s always a good idea to register your tires and your child’s car seats with their respective manufacturers to receive recall information directly.

Make sure you know your vehicle identification number (VIN), so you can look up your vehicle to see if it might have a problem. Remember that not all vehicles of a specific make, model and model year group are necessarily subject to a recall. It may be just a particular group of vehicles manufactured at the same facility or a subset with a specific part changed midway through production.

How recalls can affect your car insurance

Major, high-profile recalls are usually followed by insurance companies assuring car owners their policy costs will remain the same. Still, it’s a good idea to take recalls seriously, so your premium isn’t affected.

Repair costs and car safety ratings are two of many factors that impact your auto insurance rates, and both can be influenced by vehicle recalls. You could find that because your car has been deemed unsafe after a recall, your insurance rates increase. This could be because the model now poses a greater risk to insurance companies, with a higher likelihood of the driver filing a claim.

However, if you’re in an accident because of a safety recall you did not know about, your insurer will typically pay the claim and seek reimbursement from the manufacturer.

While your vehicle is under recall, review your auto insurance policy to see if you have rental car benefits if your vehicle needs to go into the shop for repairs due to a recall.

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Be proactive

Being aware of vehicle recalls isn’t just about your safety but also passengers and others on the road.

When you buy your next new or used car, check online to see if the vehicle is subject to any recalls and contact an authorized dealer to find out if repairs have been carried out. Buying from a dealer registered with organizations such as Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council or Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council ensures the full disclosure of a vehicle’s history and condition, which can help you avoid any nasty surprises.

If you suspect your car has a serious issue, but there’s been no notice, be the one to sound the alarm. You can report a problem with a vehicle, tires, or child car seat to Transport Canada’s Defect Investigations and Recalls Division.

Gary Hilson

Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has produced thousands of words for print and pixel about business and technology for a variety of publications and corporate clients. When he’s not tapping on the keyboard, Gary collects comic books, attends live theater, constructs Lego, and buys books he always intends to read.

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