What To Do If Your Car Is Recalled: An Explainer

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Following General Motors' recall of over 5,000,000 cars last month, and Toyota's recall today of over 6,000,000 more vehicles, you might just want to assume that if you are within, say, 25 miles of car at any point, something is going to get recalled. Here's what happens next.

Step One: Don't Panic

You're going to get a recall notice in the mail. It will look like this:


It looks like all the other random crap traditional mail is used for today, but don't throw it out. It's probably important, if you don't want to die the horrible death of somebody that ignored something that looks like junk mail. (This is also the death we will all encounter someday for that very mistake.)

When you open it up, you'll read a very serious-sounding letter, but basically it just tells you that the mighty industrious global conglomerate that you bought your car from screwed up royally.

It will go on tell you lots more things, many of them boring, and those things will vary based on whether or not you're in a Chevy or a Honda or a Toyota or every single other vehicle on the planet that's been recalled over the past 30 days, but the takeaway is this:

- Your car is defective, somehow

- There is some sort of risk associated with this defect, which usually means there is a possibility of fire or loss of control of the vehicle or something like that


- You need to bring the car into a specific dealer for repairs

- If you can't bring the car in for the repairs right away, what you can do instead (pray, probably)


And, perhaps most importantly:


That last bit is really the important part here. As part of the Highway Safety Act of 1970 that created the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), you cannot be charged for the recall and replacement of a defective part.


So don't let the cost of dealer maintenance stop you.

Step Two: Bring Your Car Into The Dealer

Do not be afraid of this mysterious "dealer." They look like this:


It's probably where you got your car from. They don't bite, mostly, especially if they're not trying to sell you anything.

Note: the dealership pictured here is not your actual car dealer. It's just a picture that I found on the Internet. Don't go looking for this one. This is a Packard dealership. You probably don't have a Packard, and if you do, there is no more Packard to be issuing recalls. Your dealership will probably say "Chevrolet" or "Toyota" on it, or something. Plus the recall notice should tell you where you're going, anyways. I shouldn't have to tell you this. It's embarrassing. This is why we can't have nice things.


The letter you've received will tell you what day you can start bringing your car in for the recall repair, usually within 60 days of the recall notice. There will often be advice about who your closest dealer is and a phone number. Call the most convenient dealer of the brand who sold you the car (if it's a Honda, call a Honda dealer).

You're going to want to bring your car in early, because you and every other genius who decided to purchase an automobile within the past 20 years is probably going to have to bring their car in.


And no, waking up at the crack of noon to roll your car in around 2 PM does not qualify as "early." If you do that, then you'll probably be waiting in line forever and you'll probably just expire out of boredom before anything gets fixed.

That would be bad.

Find out what time your dealership service center opens for business and try to set up a time as early as possible.


There will be a line already of people.

Wait, in your car, on that line. If your car catches fire because of the recalled part, well, you've just seen the consequences of not getting your car fixed. That's called a "learning experience."


If you do manage to get your car fixed, though, you'll probably have to wait. They might have some godawful crap excuse for coffee, uncomfortable chairs, and if it's a really nice dealership, some cookies and magazines.

Eat the magazines, read the cookies. It'll help the time pass quicker.

Step Three: Go Home

Or really, go anywhere. Go to work, go to the park, go anywhere that isn't the car dealership.


Your car is now repaired, and totally, 100% defective-free, until the next recall notice which you'll probably get in a few days because that's just how life is in our times. Get used to it.


If the kind people of your local automotive dealership accost you, saying many things besides are wrong with your car, well, that's not part of the recall. That's on you, champ. You gotta figure out for yourself what kind of person you are. No government-mandated recalls are gonna replace your dirty air filter that you will then be charged $500 for no discernible reason.

And that's about it. Done.

Frequently Asked Questions!

- What do I do if the recalled part looks so bad that I'm afraid to drive the deathtrap sitting in my driveway?


Usually recalls aren't for imminent dangers, and the parts that are being recalled are statistically unlikely to break and kill you. In the unlikely event your car is really dangerous they'll tell you to stop driving it immediately. However, that's quite rare.

THAT BEING SAID, there is a serious reason you're being asked to bring your car in for repairs. Just don't drive more than is necessary, I guess. If the recalled part is really bad, like in the case of the faulty ignition switches made by GM over the last decade, the company may offer you a (relatively) defect-free loaner vehicle to assuage your fears while you wait to get your car fixed.


- Do I really really have to take the car in? What if I don't have time, or my job doesn't allow me to bring it in during regular dealership hours?

As I mentioned before, the recall notice should present you with some alternatives. If you're still confused, call the dealership mentioned in the letter. If they don't help, call the manufacturer. If you're still having trouble, contact the NHTSA.


If a seedy dealership, an unfeeling megacorporation, and a faceless government can't help you, you're probably SOL.

What if my question isn't answered here?

That's one of the glorious joys of the Kinja (TM) Blog System of Blogwire Hungary Szellemi Alkotást Hasznosító Korlátolt Felelősségű Társaság. Put it in the comments, and we'll do our best.


And please, please don't let your car kill you.

Photo credits: Jason Torchinsky, NHTSA, The Boston Public Library, Steve Cadman