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  • Federal law requires recall repairs to be free of charge for vehicles up to 15 years old.
  • You are eligible for a refund from the manufacturer if you’ve repaired the issue and paid it yourself within a particular time range.
  • You can visit the NHTSA website to check for vehicle recalls. Entering your car’s VIN should show if it’s eligible for recalls.

You might have received a notice from your vehicle’s manufacturer or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that your vehicle has been recalled. If this is the case, you might be wondering whether it is still safe to drive or if you’ll need to shell out money to fix the issue. In this article, we’ll answer some common questions when it comes to recalls.

Are Recalls Free?

Federal law requires that all recall repairs are provided free of charge for vehicles up to 15 years old. This is calculated from the moment the car was sold to the first owner, not from the model year or date of production. If a vehicle has exceeded the 15-year window, some vehicle manufacturers or dealers will still voluntarily provide a recall repair for free.

You don’t need to pay money for a recall repair, but you still need to go through the inconvenience of bringing your vehicle to the dealership and letting them fix your vehicle. Depending on the issue, this might take a while.

Can I Ask for a Reimbursement?

If you’ve already repaired the issue and paid for it yourself, you might be eligible for a refund from the manufacturer. However, the repair must be completed within a particular time range, and the reimbursement request must be submitted as soon as possible after getting a recall notification. In some situations, you have only 10 days to request a refund, and you must always provide evidence detailing the cost of the repair. Recall announcements include information such as dates and eligibility for payment.

Even outside of these particular boundaries, the NHTSA reports that manufacturers have frequently voluntarily agreed to reimburse vehicle owners for repair costs that would later be covered by a recall.

How Will I Learn About a Recall?

If your vehicle is eligible for a recall, your vehicle manufacturer will send an official recall notice via first-class mail. A “Safety Recall Notice” and federal logo will be printed on the label. The notice will explain any potential safety hazard and detail when and how you can fix the problem.

Mailed letters are frequently sent out days or even weeks after a recall is first posted online. Unfortunately, recall notices might not be delivered to second or third owners, and automakers might be unable to contact car owners who have changed addresses without notifying their local motor vehicle registration. This is why it’s recommended that you sign up for a recall reminder using the NHTSA website.

How to Check If Your Vehicle Is Eligible for a Recall

You can use the NHTSA website to check for vehicle recalls. The website searches for vehicle recalls using your VIN or vehicle identification number. This can be found on the lower left of your car’s windshield or your car’s registration card. Any open recalls should appear after you enter your vehicle’s VIN.

How Long Does It Take to Repair a Recalled Vehicle?

Given how many modern vehicles rely on software and computers, some recalls can be done through a simple software update. Over-the-air software updates are done automatically, so owners don’t need to go to a dealer to have it done.

However, most recalls require physical repairs. After an initial recall announcement has been made by the manufacturer or the NHTSA, it’ll take several weeks before dealerships are equipped to make the necessary repairs. Once dealers are ready, most recall repairs are quick, although some may require more time.

Sometimes automakers issue a recall before a fix is available. If this occurs, owners will receive two notifications: one when the recall is issued and another when a fix is ready. Other times, dealers might not have enough replacement components to repair all of the automobiles that require repairs, as was the case during the early days of the Takata airbag recall. You should ask your dealer how long the fix will take so you won’t be surprised if your vehicle needs to be left at the dealer for an extended period.

Occasionally, the prescribed fix doesn’t remedy the issue, which will cause the vehicle to be recalled again. In rare circumstances, repairs are so complex that dealers need to send the vehicle back to the factory. There are even rarer circumstances where the manufacturer will buy back or replace your vehicle. This normally occurs only when there is a defect that cannot be repaired, such as when Subaru discovered weak welds in a small number of new Legacy sedans and Ascent and Outback SUVs in 2018. A welding robot at the facility had been configured incorrectly, and the vehicles had to be discarded because the poor welds damaged their structural integrity.

Will I Get a Substitute/Loaner Car?

In the rare occurrence where your vehicle will take some time to be repaired, you’ll need another vehicle to get to places. Unfortunately, car manufacturers aren’t required by federal law to provide a loaner car. That said, manufacturers will occasionally provide one at the expense of the dealer. 

Should I Stop Driving My Car If I Get A Recall Notice?

Most of the time, the recall notice will tell you whether your vehicle is still safe to drive or not. It’s good to note that most recall notices don’t come with “do not drive” warnings, which are issued when vehicles have a serious issue that can put your life in danger. Some recall notices even indicate that the vehicle needs to be put outdoors because the vehicle has an issue that makes it a fire risk.

A recall might instill fear that your vehicle has a hidden issue that can compromise your safety. However, as long as you take the notice seriously and get it repaired immediately, it shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Recalls can be a hassle, but they’re a sign that car manufacturers are concerned about safety.

About The Author
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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