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How You Can Check for Auto Recalls

What is an auto recall?

When a vehicle model (or group of models) has a problem that impacts its safety, the manufacturer or federal government will issue a recall. This can be a specific year/make/model, or it could be several years/models within the manufacturer’s lineup.

Why check for auto recalls?

Before you buy a used car, it’s always a great idea to check to see if it has had recalls in the past or if current recalls exist as this can affect the value and safety of the vehicle.

How many vehicle recalls are there?

An estimated one in six vehicles on Canadian roads have unfixed, or open safety recalls, meaning they’ve been deemed unfit to drive by their own manufacturers. The CBC reports that safety-related auto recalls have increased by 74% over the last six years – accounting for 22 million Canadian cars and light trucks in 2015 alone.

What is the Takata recall?

Chances are you’ve heard about the Takata airbag recall discussed in the news or by Transport Canada. This is the largest automotive safety recall in history – impacting millions of vehicles from nearly two dozen brands.

In 2013, Japanese automotive parts manufacturer Takata recalled 3.6 million cars after a series of deaths and injuries associated with defective airbags. Shortly afterward, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration expanded the recall to include millions of additional vehicles from many more manufacturers. Since that time, the number of vehicles and brands impacted has continued to grow.

Vehicles equipped with Takata airbags are being recalled to replace frontal airbags on the driver or passenger sides as they have potential to deploy explosively, causing significant injury to vehicle occupants. The main problem is the metal cartridge inside the airbag – the inflator. If the housing around the inflator is ruptured during a crash it could send sharp metal pieces into the vehicle’s cabin.

Is this the only type of car-related recall?

Driving your vehicle safely has a lot to do with its tires. It sounds obvious, but as the part of your car that connects with the road, your tires play a significant role in the overall safety-level of your vehicle. Vehicle safety features like 4WD, AWD and anti-lock brakes can all help you stay safe behind the wheel, but if your tires are damaged, poorly constructed or not appropriate for the road conditions you’re driving in, you won’t be as secure as you could be.

While airbag and brake recalls get more media attention, tire recalls are more common than you think. Recent tire issues that have caused recalls include bulges developing in the tread, tread separating from the tire, cracking sidewalls and air-loss – all of which can increase the risk of a crash.

It is also possible to see recalls on child seats, sunroofs, trailers, steering wheels and more. If it’s attached to your car in any way (even if it didn’t come attached to the vehicle) a recall can impact your safety, the safety of your passengers, so it’s important to have them fixed.

Can you buy or sell a used vehicle with an outstanding recall?

While vehicle manufacturers are required to notify the vehicle’s original purchaser of issued recalls, dealers and private sellers can legally sell vehicles with outstanding recalls. This is why it’s so important to check for issued recalls before purchasing a used vehicle.

How do I find out if my car has a safety recall?

Manufacturers are required to notify the original vehicle purchaser if their vehicle is recalled. While the contact information for many used vehicle buyers is passed along to the manufacturer, it is important for used car buyers to let the manufacturer know that they are now the registered owner of a vehicle so they can be notified if it’s recalled. A franchised dealer can also ensure that the manufacturer’s database is updated to include you as the current owner.

This also applies to tires – when you purchase a new set of tires, register them with the manufacturer so they know how to contact you in the event of a recall. Here is a list of tire manufacturers with links to make it easy for you to register with them.

Ideally, if your vehicle is recalled you will receive a letter from the manufacturer in the mail. It will include a description of the problem, the potential consequences and recommended steps to have it fixed. You will be prompted to contact your local dealership to make a service appointment and have your vehicle repaired. The recent spike in safety recalls has complicated this process, as in some cases (the Takata airbag recall being most prominent) the number of vehicles needing repair vastly outnumbers the parts available, and many vehicle owners are waiting months to have their vehicles repaired to safe standard.

How to check for car recalls in Canada and the U.S.

If you want to ensure that there are no unfixed safety recalls on a specific vehicle, obtain the VIN and run a vehicle history report. Along with providing other pieces of important information, a vehicle history report is a critical tool to finding out the history of a specific car.

For a broader search, Transport Canada lists the latest road safety recalls on its website by make, model and year. We’ve also included a great website that will help you investigate any potential U.S. recalls.

Transport Canada also offers a handy service that regularly posts new auto recalls. You can sign up to receive notifications of newly issued recalls by clicking here.

Links to recall checkers:

Links to recall checkers by brand:

Can I get a recall fixed for free?

Here’s the good news – once you find out about a safety recall on your vehicle you can have it fixed for free. Simply notify the closest franchised dealership and make an appointment with their service department as soon as the required parts are available, and you can get your vehicle back up to safe standards without spending any money.

Auto recalls are meant to keep our roads, and the people on them, as safe as possible. While you can’t prevent a recall, there are steps you can take to reduce its impact on you and your family. The first step for used car buyers is to find out if the vehicle you’re considering has an unfixed safety recall. The next step is to make sure the vehicle’s manufacturer has your contact information so they can notify you if the vehicle is recalled down the road. And, of course, as soon as you find out about a recall on the vehicle you’re driving, contact your local dealership and get the ball rolling on having it fixed.

What if my vehicle is recalled but the part is not available?

Increased numbers of vehicle recalls mean increased demand for the parts required to repair the problems. If you receive a recall notice, or discover a recall on your vehicle from a recall check tool, Transport Canada or manufacturer database, it’s important that you call a local dealership to let them know that you’re waiting for repair. It could also help to contact a dealer of the same manufacturer in a nearby town as they may not have as much demand for a limited number of parts. There are stories in the media of customers waiting months (and even years) for the parts needed to fix their airbag recalls. Stay on top of it, and reach out to your dealer periodically to make sure you’re kept top of mind.