How To Know If Your Car Is Recalled — And What To Do About It

Millions of vehicles are recalled every year, but their drivers may not always know it.

A driveway leading to an empty garage of a home with the door open.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Car recalls happen more often than you might expect. As of late February, around 2.3 million vehicles had already been recalled, and new recall announcements pop up every single day. 

Whether it's a faulty airbag, a software bug or a mechanic flaw, recalls don’t happen until thousands of cars are already on the road, and one of them might be yours. If your car is part of a recall, the fix is usually easily manageable, but you have to know it's happening first.

Manufacturers are required to mail out notices to drivers whose cars have been affected, but that can happen weeks after the recall takes place. For example, Kia was required to recall some 427,000 Telluride SUVs due to a rollaway risk in early May, but the letters are set to go out in mid-May.

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That’s why it’s a good idea to periodically check to make sure your car is not part of a current recall. 

Why do car recalls happen?

Car recalls have been on the rise recently. According to a 2022 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the average number of yearly car recalls in a 10-year period is 46% higher than the number of recalls in the 10 years prior.  

Part of the reason for all the recalls may be because car manufacturers have to use complex electronic parts in vehicles, which makes cars more likely to malfunction, ABC News reported.

Who recalls cars?

Car recalls often come from two places. The automakers themselves will sometimes voluntarily issue recalls on their vehicles if they notice a defect. Otherwise, the NHTSA, a government organization, will announce vehicle recalls if they believe a car doesn’t meet minimum safety standards. 

How to know if your car is recalled

NHTSA has its own vehicle recall website that lists any announcements regarding car defects. To use it, you simply need to plug in your vehicle identification number (VIN). If you’re not sure where that number is on your car, you can plug in your license plate number or your vehicle’s make and model.

NHTSA also runs the SaferCar app, a mobile platform that automatically alerts you to any car recalls. Once you download the app on your phone, you can add different cars to your “garage,” and the app will keep tabs on recall efforts for those models. 

Kelley Blue Book also has a recall portal that will require either a VIN, license plate number, or make and model.

Cars in two lanes of traffic.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Check these websites regularly. Sometimes, if a vehicle recall is recent, not all VINs will show up under the recall announcement. VINs are added regularly to the report, so you may still be entitled to get your vehicle fixed.

Car manufacturers will often have their own recall portals as well. If you know your car’s manufacturer, you can do a search for their recall websites and enter your VIN.

Car manufacturers will also send out notices in the mail to affected drivers. That letter will detail what defect is spurring the recall, a short-term solution for drivers (like “do not drive” or “engage the emergency brake”), and a detailed timeline of how the manufacturer will fix the problem.

What to do if your car gets recalled

If you find out your car is getting recalled through a notice in the mail, it will likely have instructions on how to proceed. 

Usually, the automaker will instruct drivers to contact a nearby dealership that will make the necessary repairs to the car. Dealerships are required by law to make repairs in a timely manner, but the availability of parts, especially as manufacturing is bottlenecked, may slow down the process. 

When a recall is issued, the automaker is required to fix the driver’s vehicle for free or reimburse the driver for any repairs they had to take on themselves. Even if you are the second or third owner of your car, you can get the defective part or mechanism fixed for free.

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Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a reporter covering finance, tech and science. She previously covered biotech and health at Crunchbase News and enterprise technology at Business Insider.