How To Know if Your Car Has an Active Recall

Use your VIN to check for recalls.

A Tesla Model S and "Recall" stamp.
The Drive

Aside from the folks who regularly read automotive enthusiasts and news websites like The Drive and Car Bibles (Ed. Note: Hello, we appreciate you.), most people hear about recalls strictly from the news or a viral story on social media. You might hear about the Mercedes-Benz cars that might lose power steering, Chevrolet Bolt EVs that might catch on fire, or the Jeeps with transmissions won’t stay in Park. It might seem like recalls are irregular or rare occurrences, but the opposite is actually true. Recalls happen every single week, and it’s important to know how to find them. 

Today’s reality is that every single manufacturer has issued recalls, both big and small. No automaker is exempt, and recalls have become a reality of the imperfect manufacturing process we currently abide by. That’s sometimes thanks to poor production and other times due to human error. Lucky for consumers whose cars have been infected by recalls, taking control of the situation is easier than you might think. 

2021 Lexus ES
Lexus

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The internet has been a great disseminator of safety information about your specific vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has pages that list customer complaints, manufacturer service safety bulletins, and active and old recalls. Before you begin exploring the pages upon pages of terrible things that have occurred to your vehicle, it’s best to understand how recalls work, and how you proceed if your vehicle has one. 

To do that, The Drive has created a simple explainer guide to show you the way. Fingers crossed you won’t have to deal with a recall any time soon.

What Is a Recall?

A recall occurs when the NHTSA determines that a vehicle has an issue detrimental to its safety or its emissions and the vehicle no longer meets legal safety standards and requirements.

What Do Recalls Include?

A recall could be for virtually any type of issue that affects the safety of the driver and the vehicle. Some examples we’ve seen include exploding airbags, failing infotainment systems, missing bolts, corrosion, risk of fire, exposed wiring, parts that could fall off, loss of power, jerky transmissions, or unintended acceleration

How Many Vehicles are Included in Recalls?

This can vary between a single vehicle to millions, depending on the issue. Every recall is different.

2021 Mazda Miata
Mazda

Even sportscars go through recalls from time-to-time. 

How Do I Know if My Car Has an Active Recall?

Some people find out about recalls the old-fashioned way — manufacturers send out a notice through the mail — but it’s easy for that to get lost or thrown away. For those without that notice, the quickest way to check if your car has a recall is by visiting nhtsa.gov/recalls and using your vehicle identification number, ir VIN. 

Click the link above, input your vehicle’s VIN, and the tool will identify any recalls associated with your vehicle. 

There are also some alternative methods to check if your vehicle has a recall. Your vehicle’s manufacturer often has recall lookup tools just like the NHTSA and we’ve listed them below for your convenience. You can also call your local dealership and ask them to check. The recall-specific phone numbers for each manufacturer are listed below. 

Lastly, it’s possible to sign up for regular emails from the NHTSA that list every new recall that is announced. 

What Is a VIN?

VIN is short for vehicle identification number, which means there’s no reason to say VIN number. A VIN is a vehicle’s individualized serial code used to place it within the government’s records. It’s now made up of a combination of 17 letters and numbers, and you need it for numerous reasons such as insurance, selling the vehicle, checking history before you purchase a used car, or checking if the vehicle has an active recall.

Where Can I Find My Car's VIN?

A car’s VIN usually can be found on the lower portion of the driver’s side dashboard/windshield, within the information displayed on the driver’s side door jamb, on the vehicle’s title, or on your registration. You also might find it on your insurance card/information. 

2021 Toyota C-HR.
Toyota

A diminuitive offering from Toyota. 

Every Manufacturer’s Recall Website and Contact Information

Use these tools to determine whether or not your vehicle is in safe operating condition.

Acura 

Audi 

BMW

Buick

Cadillac

Chevrolet 

Chrysler

Dodge

Ford

GMC

Honda

Hummer

Hyundai

Jaguar

Jeep

Kia 

Land Rover 

Lexus 

Mazda 

Mercedes-Benz

Nissan 

Oldsmobile 

Pontiac 

Porsche

RAM

Saab

Saturn

Subaru

Tesla 

Toyota

Volkswagen

Volvo

Video: The NHTSA Quickly Explains Recalls

Learn more from this helpful video put together by the NHTSA. 

FAQs About Recalls

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!

Q: What’s up with the Takata recall?

A: Takata actually has two serious recalls currently active and affecting tens of millions of vehicles. In both cases, it’s possible that the Takata airbags, which have been used by nearly all manufacturers, could explode and create dangerous shrapnel or underinflate. For more information, visit the NHTSA Takata recall hub. If you haven’t already, check your vehicle for this recall right now.

Q: Do recalls have expiration dates?

A: No, recalls do not have expiration dates.

Q: Do recalls show up on a Carfax? 

A: Recalls likely will not show up on a Carfax, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do your own research. Carfax documents will often show repair work and maintenance done to vehicles, so if something stands out, you can research why that repair was made. Otherwise, Carfax has its own recall lookup search tool.

Q: Can I get a loaner vehicle when my car has a recall?

A: This depends on the recall and the dealership. It might be possible to get a loaner vehicle while your vehicle is in the shop, but it’s not guaranteed. Discuss this topic with your dealership before proceeding with any recall work or repairs so you can prepare. 

Your insurance also might have a loaner provision for while your car is in the shop for repairs. Check your policy to confirm.

Q: What will it cost to have a recall repair completed?

A: On recalled vehicles, the blame is solely on the manufacturer, so they are responsible for doing the repair and paying for it. However, there are always very strict circumstances surrounding recalls and specific parts that need to be repaired or replaced, and if a shop does more than that, you might be on the hook for extra costs. It’s also possible that something related to a recall caused additional issues with the vehicle that the dealership would not pay for.

Q: I heard my car has a recall, but the VIN lookup says it doesn’t. Why?

A: Just because you heard the Ford Explorer has a recall does not mean that your personal Ford Explorer is included in that recall. Recalls are identified in part by the time period in which specific vehicles were produced, and the issue is contained to that timespan. So, if the recall issue started March 20, 2021, but your vehicle was produced March 1, 2021, your vehicle would not be included in the recall.

Q: I paid to have a problem fixed on my car, and now there is a recall for that problem. Can I be reimbursed?

A: It’s possible, but it will require strict documentation of your previous repairs, and you’ll need to work closely with your dealership to find out if a reimbursement is possible. Start by calling your local dealership.

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