Everything You Need To Know About Vehicle Recalls and Technical Service Bulletins or TSB’s

By Lauren Fix, The Car Coach

Vehicle recalls seem to occur all the time, whether for critical safety repairs or other manufacturing faults. It’s important to know whether you have a reason for concern if your car is recalled and what you should do about it. TSB’s and recalls are two things that are used to deal with these issues.

What is a Vehicle Recall?

A recall happens when the manufacturer or the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has documentation that a vehicle, equipment, seats, or tires create a safety risk—if the vehicle fails to meet minimum safety standards, the units affected are called back to fix the problem.

Credit: Alexauto321

However, not all car problems warrant recalls. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may also issue recalls for emissions-related problems. NHTSA can fine an auto manufacturer if a manufacturer does not disclose car defects or if they downplay the seriousness.

This is what happened with GM and the ignition switch failure, Toyota’s unintended acceleration, Takata airbags, and the Volkswagen emissions issue, to name a few.

If your car is affected by a recall, you must return to dealerships to have it repaired. An independent repair shop cannot repair the problem.

Carmakers usually initiate car safety recalls once car defects and/or malfunctions have been identified, either in the factory or from feedback from dealers or customers.

NHTSA also receives car complaints directly from the public and investigates them. If the automaker has not issued a recall and NHTSA will issue the recall itself.

If there is a recall, automakers send out notices through the mail, titled ‘Safety Recall Notice,’ which lists the defects, risks, and action required.

You can also check NHTSA.gov or SaferCar.gov, where you can look up your car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to check for recalls. Remember that second and third owners might not receive the notice. You will need your 17-digit vehicle identification number for the repair.

Be aware: some recalls require that you stop driving your vehicle immediately until the repair is done.

If you are buying a used car, make sure to check the NHTSA and SaferCar.gov websites for any outstanding recalls.

What is a Technical Service Bulletin?

Recalls should not be confused with technical service bulletins (TSBs), which the manufacturer issues for less serious problems that affect the normal operation of the vehicle. TSBs cover known problems and provide repair instructions for service technicians at the dealerships.

Credit: TireZoo

Unlike recall-related repairs performed on a no-questions-asked basis, TSB repairs are made only to resolve problems that dealers can verify; these repairs will be free of charge if the vehicle is still under warranty.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tracks TSBs as well. You can use this information to communicate with the service department.

Even if you buy a used car, you are eligible for the recalls or the TSBs if it’s under warranty

In the USA, all safety-recall repairs on cars up to 15 years old must be free. Older vehicles might still be covered. For example, the Takata airbag recall covered cars from 1995.

Here’s the bottom line? 

Recalls are not the end of the world, and a repaired car should be perfectly safe to drive and as sound as any other vehicle. Be sure to save the paperwork as proof when selling or trading in your car.

It’s essential to know whether you have a reason for concern if your car is recalled or you receive a TSB in the mail. Watch the video to find out everything you need to know.

If you have a question or comment, please leave it below.

Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®, is a nationally recognized automotive expert, analyst, author, and television host.  A trusted car expert, Lauren provides an insider’s perspective on a wide range of automotive topics and aspects, energy, industry, consumer news, and safety issues.   

Lauren is the CEO of Automotive Aspects and the Editor-in-Chief of Car Coach Reports, a global automotive news outlet. She is an automotive contributor to national and local television news shows, including Fox News, Fox Business, CNN International, The Weather Channel, Inside Edition, Local Now News, Community Digital News, and more. Lauren also co-hosts a regular show on ABC.com with Paul Brian called “His Turn – Her Turn” and hosts regular radio segments on USA Radio – DayBreak. 

Lauren is honored to be inducted into the Women’s Transportation Hall of Fame and a Board Member of the Buffalo Motorcar Museum, and Juror / President for the North American Car, Utility & Truck of the Year Awards.  

Check her out on Twitter and Instagram @LaurenFix.

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