It’s not your imagination: There really have been more auto recalls this year than ever before.
The most recent recall in the news involves the air bags made by Japanese equipment supplier Takata. These air bags can explode on impact and release shrapnel that cause further death and injury to drivers involved in a crash; in the past six years at least five deaths have been attributed to the faulty air bags.
The recall involves more than four million cars throughout the southwest, made mostly by Honda Motor. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said this week that Takata must expand the recall beyond its current scope.
On Friday morning Toyota announced a recall of some 423,000 of its luxury Lexus brand cars because of a possible fuel leak that could increase fire risks. And General Motors, of course, grabbed headlines earlier this year when it recalled 2.6 million vehicles with a faulty ignition switch that has been linked to more than 20 deaths. In the first action by a state against GM, Arizona filed a lawsuit against the company, seeking billions in damages from the alleged car defects.
There have also been dozens of other recalls this year involving millions of cars for everything from defective headlights to loose floor mats. In most cases, the recalls involve minor issues that don’t pose a huge safety threat. As of last month, automakers had recalled more than 56 million vehicles this year, more than three times the number of new cars and trucks Americans will buy in 2015.
“A big part of this is really manufacturers erring on the side of caution more than ever before,” said Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. “No manufacturer wants to be labeled as hiding information, so they’re more willing to pull the trigger on a recall.”
The glut of recent recalls, however, has become so commonplace that many consumers have simply begun tuning them out. That’s a dangerous practice, say consumer advocates – especially without doing any research into the scope of the recall or the issue it’s aimed at fixing.
Here’s how to find out whether your car is subject to a recall, and what to do about it:
ONE: Find out if your car has been recalled.
Most manufacturers publish a list of all cars that are potentially subject to recall based on the year, make, and model of the vehicle. However, since autos produced in different plants may use parts from different suppliers, you’ll need to run the VIN number on your car to be certain whether it’s affected. The easiest way to check is to enter that number at SaferCar.gov, for a recall report specific to your vehicle. While you’re there, sign up for email alerts for any future recalls that might affect your vehicle.
You can skip this step if you regularly take your car into the dealership for an inspection. Dealers will check to see if there are any outstanding recalls during that inspection and usually will repair any issues for you during that visit. One note: Unaffiliated mechanics won’t run this check during an inspection.
TWO: Contact your manufacturer.
Once you’ve learned of a potential defect, call your manufacturer’s customer service department to find out what issue the recall focuses on and whether there truly is any danger. “They should be able to tell you if it’s something that needs to be addressed immediately,” said Phil Reed, consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com. “For the most extreme cases, the manufacturer may set up a separate phone line for inquiries and information.”
Once you’ve gotten all the facts, you can decide how quickly you need to move to get the repairs made
THREE: Make an appointment with your dealer.
Dealers must fix any recall-related issues for free. If they don’t have the parts to make a repair right away, and it’s an immediate safety issue, ask for a loaner car to drive for the time-being.
All of these recalls, by the way, have been a boon for auto dealers, who are getting paid (by the manufacturer) to do the repairs – as well as getting face time with lots of potential customers who may not otherwise have come onto the lot. So be careful not to get upsold on repairs, or to make an auto purchase you weren’t previously planning on.
FOUR: Check for recalls before buying a new car.
If you are in the market for a used car, be sure to run that vehicle’s VIN to be sure it isn’t subject to a recall. Last year, more than 3.5 million cars for sale online had an open safety recall, according to Carfax.
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