What To Do If You Think Your Car Is Under Recall: An Explainer For 2021

Illustration for article titled What To Do If You Think Your Car Is Under Recall: An Explainer For 2021
Screenshot: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Over the past few years, even the most reliable and safe car companies have issued recalls for millions of vehicles. Chances are some of you may be affected, and if you suspect your car is in an open recall, please do not panic because there’s an app for that.

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OK. That stupid phrase dates back to 2009 but it’s relevant today; at the time we last wrote about recalls, it was mostly in the context of mail recall notices.

In 2021, you don’t have to rely on physical mail like some 20th century yutz, as NHTSA developed the SaferCar app:

NHTSA announced the SaferCar app in August of 2020, and it builds off what the agency put in place years ago: the easy-to-use VIN tool that drivers can use at no cost. Using the tool on the website, you just punch in your VIN and get immediate results. It’s free to download, and it runs for both Android and iOS users.

The app makes it even easier to check by providing a dedicated interface where, again, you can punch in your VIN. Or you can use the app’s cool feature that turns your phone into a bar code scanner. Then all you have to do is scan your car’s VIN bar code and you’re off to the recall races.

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Screenshot: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
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I’ll admit that I spent way too much time scanning the VIN proper (you know, the one behind the windshield) before I realized it’s the bar code on the door jamb that must be scanned. So, make sure you open your driver’s door first, then scan away.

All of our previous advice still applies. You’ll have to schedule a visit to the dealership, and that can suck, but recalls are for your safety. Sometimes they can be a little mundane, but it’s best to act in a timely fashion. And remember that any service mandated by the recall is free.

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Sure, the trip to the dealer means someone might pester you about a trade-in, but just let them know you’re there because the company has to fix their own snafu, so thanks but no thanks.

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Screenshot: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
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And mail notices are still in use, so if your car is part of a recall you will get a piece of mail delivered at some point. But if you want to be ahead of the curve with any potential recalls, I recommend downloading the app and inputting your car’s info.

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Screenshot: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
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There are two caveats. The first is the concern over you and your car’s privacy. Only you can judge whether it’s worth it or not to input anything into the app. And the second is that the app will refresh in the background and keep up to date only if it’s left open on your smartphone. If you swipe the app away or kill the app in background, it might delay the information. Opening it every once in a while and letting it update should be all you need to do to stay up to date on potential issues.

Recalls are scary and can potentially be very dangerous, but now more than ever it’s easy to keep an eye on these.

Staff Writer at Jalopnik. Periodista automotriz, Naturally Aspirated Stan.

DISCUSSION

Thanks for the reminder. Checked to see if any new recalls — nope.

For laughs, check the complaints. First one:

Car burns too much oil. Took it to Jiffy Lube, they did oil change. Within a week, engine light was on. Took it to mechanic. I was two quarts low.

As if it never occurred to them that maybe Jiffy Lube screwed up? Or worst case, this is a 14 year old car that averages 20k miles per year, so it probably has at least 250k miles on the engine and might be due some serious work?