illustration: Vladwel/iStock

Vehicle Recalls 101

By AMA Staff

Defective airbags. Faulty ignition switches. Fuel-line leaks. These are just some of the more serious and extensively publicized reasons why vehicles have been recalled in the past few years. But there are many more vehicle recalls that don’t make the news. Here’s how to know—and what to do—if your car is subject to a recall.

Canadian law requires that automotive manufacturers let you know when a recall has been ordered. Whether the reason for the recall is a minor one, like an update to your car’s computer, or a major issue such as defective air bags, the recall notice should explain the exact nature of the problem, what the manufacturer has done to rectify it, and the steps you’ll need to take to ensure your vehicle gets fixed.

However, that notification is typically sent through traditional mail—which can pose a problem. If you’re the second (or third, or fourth) owner of a car, your vehicle’s manufacturer probably doesn’t have a way to contact you in the event of a recall. So it’s a good idea to get in touch with your manufacturer or local car dealer to provide them with your address. Do the same if you’re the original owner of your car, but have changed addresses.

You can also proactively check for recalls online: Transport Canada has an extensive, searchable database.

If you’ve received a recall notice, or if you find your car listed on one of the government-run databases, the next step is to call the service department of your local dealership. It’s relatively rare for a recall to affect every unit produced of a particular model of vehicle; more likely, it’ll apply to a vehicle (or vehicle part) built at a certain factory during a defined period of time.

AMA’s Colin Fritz oversees AARS partners

Your dealer can run your car’s vehicle information number (VIN) to confirm whether or not it is specifically subject to any recalls. Some automakers, such as Toyota, also allow you to perform a VIN search yourself. Here’s a list of those that do.

Should recall-related service be required for your car, be aware that it may not be an instant fix. Even if a recall notice has been issued, your dealer may not yet have received the replacement part or software update from the manufacturer.

Rest assured, however, that unless the manufacturer and/or Transport Canada explicitly advise against driving a recalled vehicle, your car should still be safe to use while you await your service appointment. The majority of recalls do not deal with imminent safety concerns.

Automakers are obliged to cover the cost of parts and labour related to any recalls they issue. Of course, there’s always the chance that additional maintenance concerns—unrelated to the recall—will be found when you take your vehicle in for service. In such cases, the technician should notify you of his or her findings and recommended course of action, as well as its cost, so that you can decide whether or not to proceed with the work.

Extra check: If you’re thinking of buying a used vehicle, get a CarFax report—you can order it through AMA—to find out if the car has been reported stolen, rebuilt or salvaged in Canada or the U.S. It’ll also show title information, odometer readings, accident indicators and reported service and repair info.

More maintenance: A recall, of course, is hardly the only time you should take your vehicle for service. When it’s time for an oil change, tire rotation, part replacement or any other fix, trust an Approved Auto Repair Service facility to get the job done right and for a fair price.